Our homeschool writing class recently finished two important historical novels: How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle and 40 Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriette Gillem Robinet. Both are middle grade (ages 10 and up), and are short, easy reads, but substantial in content, shining a spotlight on particular moments in U.S. history: Indian Removals in 1830, and the early months of Reconstruction (1865).
1. How I Became A Ghost by Tim Tingle
Written by a Choctaw storyteller, Tim Tingle, How I Became a Ghost tells the story of a young boy and his family forced to leave their home in Mississippi. From the book’s opening line, the reader discovers that the protagonist, Isaac, will not survive the Trail of Tears. But how will he and the Choctaw people cope with tragedy, and how will they heal?
Personally, I wondered: could the answer to this question shed light on how we, as a whole nation, can heal from our past? Luckily, we happened to be reading the book during the time of the 2021 presidential inauguration, and like most, I was enthralled by the poet Amanda Gorman’s recitation of her poem titled, The Hill We Climb. Our homeschool group read the transcript of her poem, noticed these words:
“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”
We were inspired to write our own poetry with a similar theme: how can we heal from historical trauma?
My group of homeschoolers used a phrase from the book—chi pisa lachike, which means “I will see you again” in Choctaw language—to springboard their writing. The poetry they created was thoughtful and heartfelt . . . I was so impressed!
2. Forty Acres And Maybe A Mule by Harriette Gillem Robinet
Set during Reconstruction, the author gives us a human story centered on the historical events of Circular 13, which gave out land to former slaves, and Circular 15, which took the land back. Young Pascal leaves a plantation in South Carolina with his older brother, Gideon, and heads to Georgia in search of a Freedman’s Bureau, which has promised formerly enslaved families forty acres and maybe a mule. Pascal’s search for the true meaning of freedom is a major theme.
I gave our group two essay options after completing the book:
- Explain what happened to former slaves in Georgia in April – September 1865 (the time period of the book). If you could change one historical event in the novel, what would it be? How might it have affected the course of history?
- Pretend you are Judith Bibb. Write an opinion piece for a newspaper that explains what you see happening to former slaves in River Stop, Georgia, and what you think should change and why.
After reading Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule, you could follow with a book from the Civil Rights era in order to compare the years 1865 and 1965—an interesting juxtaposition: slavery ends, segregation ends . . . how does the country respond to each, and why do you think it takes one hundred years for civil rights? March Forward Girl by Melba Pattillo Beals and/or Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, both memoirs, are great options!
You can find more historical fiction options for US History on the blog here and here. If you sign up for the email list, you’ll receive a bundle of freebies that includes more Middle School History and Literature Resources.