Mildred Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up in Toledo, Ohio. After graduating from the University of Toledo, she spent two years in Ethiopia with the Peace Corps. Returning to the United States, she recruited for the Peace Corps before entering the School of Journalism at the University of Colorado. as a member of the Black Student Alliance she worked with students and university officials in structuring a Black studies program at the university. Mildred Taylor's first book about the Logan family, Song of the Trees, won the Council on Interracial Books Award in the African American category. It was also a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year in 1975. The TIMES called it "Triumphant . . . a true story and truly told": Horn Book said "The simple story has been written with great conviction and strength"; other reviews called it "absorbing", "powerful", "a moving story". Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry received the Newbery Medal in 1977. The Medal is presented annually to the most distinguished American literature for children.
The Logan children are starting a new school year. As they go to school, they are met by their friends from other families, including Jeremy Simms, a white boy, who walks part of the way to school with them. When at the school, segregated from the all white county school, they are greeted by the announcement that they are to receive new books this year. When Little Man, the youngest Logan finds that the 'new' books are ten year old castoffs from the white school, he refuses to take his. His older sister Cassie does the same. Their mother, who teaches grade seven, solves the dilemma by pasting a piece of paper into each book to cover its history of ownership. She does the same with all her grade seven books. Later, the whole family is working in their cotton fields when their father arrives home unexpectedly. He brings with him a Mr. Morrison, who is a huge man. He injured a white man in a fight and needs somewhere to live. Mr. Logan brings him to his farm both to offer him work and to provide some protection for the family against an as yet unnamed danger. On their way to school in the rain on foot, the Logans are splashed by the county school bus full of whites. The driver delights in this and the white children enjoy the joke. After other occasions, the Logans get revenge by digging a washout which breaks the school bus's axle, putting it out of commission for two weeks. The children hear of night riders who are about to settle a score with the black community. The children hear of a recent incident in which the night riders set fire to four black men, and think that the night riders are out to avenge the damage to the school bus.
Think about what it's like to be part of a large family, what it's like to start school, and how people who are different are treated. This story involves a number of characters in a dramatic novel in which the conflict between black and white Americans is described. Look at the front cover of the book. Read the title and ask: Who do you think these characters are? What can you tell about them just from their clothes and the way they are behaving? What questions do you have about the story from looking at the cover?
Help students to understand the underlying problem/solution pattern of the story by beginning a problem/solution chart and developing it in later lessons as the students read further into the story. The chart may look similar to the one shown here:
|Name of Character(s)||Problem(s)||Steps Taken to Arrive at Solution|
|Little Man||He is outraged at being given a book which is a castoff from the white school||He refuses to take the book, even though he is punished for it.|
Save the chart for use in further sessions.
One of the themes in this book is that of racial conflict. Ask: "What is racism? What examples of racism can we see in this story so far?"
Begin a Comparison and Contrast log showing the similarities and differences between the white and the Afro-American children. An example follows below.
(Comparison and Contrast)
|White Children||Black Children|
|Ride the county bus||Walk to school|
|Wear poor clothing||Also wear poor clothes|
|Get new books||Get books only when whites are finished with them.|
Remember that the night riders were out. Make some predictions in your response journal. Ask yourself these questions:
The children discover from T.J. that the night men were not coming for them after all. On the night they rode, they caught Mr. Tatum and tarred and feathered him for calling the storekeeper a liar. Mr Morrison moves into the old shack on the edge of the farm. The younger children like him, but Stacey feels that Mr Morrison has stolen his job of 'being the man of the family'. T.J. steals the seventh grade history test from Mrs. Logan's desk in her home. Stacey tries to stop the cheating during the examination, but is caught by his mother with the notes. Since he won't tell on T.J., Stacey receives the beating. Meanwhile, T.J. escapes to the Wallace store, where the Logans are forbidden to go. Stacey breaks the rules to find T.J. and settle the score. The fight has hardly begun when Mr. Morrison appears with the wagon. He breaks up the fight and takes them home. As they arrive home, they see Mr. Grainger's car leaving. He has been trying to get Big Ma to sell him the two hundred acres which was once Grainger land. Big Ma tells the tale of how the land came to be Logan land. When Stacey confesses his fight at the store with T.J., Mama takes the children to visit the Berrys, where they see the result of one of the night men's rides. Mr. Berry is one of the survivors of the burning. As they return home, Mrs Logan conceives the plan of boycotting the Wallace store. Big Ma takes T.J., Stacey and Cassie with her to market in Strawberry. Cassie sees the way blacks are treated in a community, and doesn't like it and doesn't understand it. When they arrive home, the children find that their Uncle Hammer is visiting from the north. He has a good job, and a car just like Mr. Grainger's. Later, when Cassie tells her story of Strawberry, Hammer jumps up angry and heads out to avenge his niece. Mamma quickly sends Mr. Morrison after him. She tells the children the story of why the whites treat the blacks the way they do. The next day they all go to church in Hammer's car. Before they leave. Hammer gives Stacey the new jacket which was intended to be a Christmas present. On the way back from church, they go for a drive through the countryside. When they come to a one lane bridge, the Simms' yield to the big car, thinking it is Mr. Grainger. Hammer laughs at them as he drives by, but Mama says that one day they will have to pay for the insult.
Review the student's answers to the questions from the previous lesson.
Read chapters 4-7 and compare your predictions with the actual text.
The author has more than one purpose in writing a book, particularly this one. In this book, the author tells a gripping story of life in the South during the Great Depression, but she also causes us to question our own values and our own way of dealing with problems. Discuss plot. The plot is developed by moving from a problem to a solution, then on to another problem. Add more detail to the problem/solution chart from the material just read. Comprehension questions
Stacey gives T.J. his new coat after being tricked. He receives a stern lecture from his Uncle Hammer. Cassie starts to plot her revenge against Lillian Jean. On the day before Christmas, Papa comes home from his work on the railroads in Louisiana. During an episode of story telling, Mr. Morrison tells them of his family's death at the hands of the night men. Mama explains her plan to boycott the Wallace store. Shortly after dinner, Jeremy Simms appears at the house, to give Stacey a homemade wooden flute for a Christmas present, then leaves. Papa explains that it is not good for black folks to have much to do with white folks. Mr. Jamison agrees to back the credit for the sharecroppers at the store in Vicksburg, knowing that he will be unpopular. Mr. Grainger threatens Papa with the prospect of losing his land to the bank. Cassie starts her planned revenge on Lillian Jean. During the examinations, T.J. is caught cheating and fails. T.J. tells the whites what Mrs. Logan is teaching, causing her to be fired. The Logans stop being friends with T.J., who takes up with the older Simms boys. Jeremy tells of the way T.J. is only serving as the boys laughing stock, but T.J. doesn't see it. Mr. Grainger threatens the sharecroppers and the store boycott weakens. During a trip to Vicksburg, the Wallaces attack Mr. Morrison and Papa. Mr Morrison drives them off, but Papa's leg is broken. Now there is no wage earner in the Logan family.
In the section you are about to read, the plot develops more quickly. The characters are well established and the author concentrates on telling the action of the story. By using a flashback technique, she tells us something of the history of the animosity of the whites toward the blacks. In a flashback, the author injects into the sequence of the story an event or events that happened earlier. Begin a flowchart of the major events of the story thus far. Begin in the middle of the page to leave room for the earlier events which we will discover. An alternative to the chart is to record the events on index cards. Then give them to another student to put into chronological sequence.
Read chapters 7 through 9 to learn more of the background to the racial tension.
A flashback is an event or events that happened before the time of the story. Place events from flashbacks into the flowchart of the story, showing that the adults are telling of incidents which occurred at an earlier time.
Add to the problem/ solution chart as before, showing how the story flows from problem to resolution to problem.
Point out that the book is for the most part written from a first-person point of view in which the story is told by Cassie, one of the Logan children. But when a flashback occurs, the adult telling the story tells it from their own point of view, which is a different first person point of view. Mr Morrison's story of his family's death is a good example. (pp 147-150). Be sure you understand point of view - the position from which the story is told. In the first person point of view, the story teller is part of the story and describes himself or herself as 'I'. In the third person point of view, the storyteller is completely outside of the story as if he or she were a spectator, and refers to all characters as 'he' or 'she'.
Remember the stories that the adults told of times before. These were intended to give the children reasons for why things are the way they are now. Ask these questions:
Mama and Papa worry about how they will pay the mortgage and the taxes on the land. On a trip to a neighbor's, Mr. Morrison has another run in with Kaleb Wallace. Mr. Morrison comes out best, but Wallace threatens to get even. Mama tells him she's worried that the threats will be carried out. The bank calls the mortgage due and threatens to take the land. Mama keeps the men from doing anything rash, and sends to Hammer for money. Hammer brings the money himself, part of which comes from selling his car. T.J. is now part of the 'gang' of the Simms boys, and admits that he will do anything to get the pearl handled revolver in the store. Late one night he comes to the children's bedroom, badly hurt and tells them of a bungled theft at the store. T.J. climbed in a window and let the Simms' in, but they were caught by the storekeeper. The Simms' knocked down and possibly killed both him and his wife. After they fled, the Simms' beat T.J., hoping to keep him from telling anyone about the crime. The night men assemble, and go to T.J.'s home. They break in, injuring family members, and take T.J., intending to lynch him. Mr. Jamison holds them back, trying to get T.J. arrested and put safely in jail. Mr. Morrison and Papa head for T.J.'s house to help. During the quarrel, lightning starts a fire in the Logan's cotton fields. Mr Grainger sees the threat to his land, and orders everyone to fight the fire. By the time the fire is out, all the members of the community of both races have come together to fight the fire. Cassie discovers that Papa started the fire in an effort to save T.J.. The story ends with T.J. in jail, and Cassie wondering what will happen to him, to her father and to the Logan land.
Review what has happened in the story so far. Predict what might happen next. Find clues or foreshadowing, that might tell them what will happen next.
Finish reading the book to find out what happens and who succeeds or fails.
Put the remaining problems and solutions into the chart and discuss it. Were there alternative ways of solving the problems? Were other solutions better?
Add the rest of the story events where they belong in the sequence.
Discuss the theme of racial conflict. Some of the common factors in racial conflict are:
Not understanding one another's culture.
Go back to the differences and similarities chart. Find examples of why the whites might fear the blacks. Find examples of how they were similar. Find examples of misunderstanding caused by their culture.
Write in your log your reaction to the book. Ask: "would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?"
It is the day after the bus crash. Last night, the night men appeared at the farm and then backed out and disappeared. If you were Cassie or Stacey What would you have written in your diary?
Draw a picture of how you think the Logans' home looked during Christmas dinner.
Write a letter to the Chairman of the School Board. Tell him how you think the school system should be changed and why. If you think it might cost more money, give him ideas on how the changes can be paid for.
If you were Jeremy Simms and it were you telling the story, how would it be different? Tell the story from Jeremy's point of view.
Write a letter to T.J. in jail. Tell him honestly what might happen to him. Tell him what mistakes you think he made. Tell him how he could have prevented what happened. Tell him how you are going to help him.
Respond to the Author