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What age for Uncle Toms Cabin read aloud?


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#1 busymama7

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Posted 12 May 2017 - 01:03 PM

I want my teen boys to read this soon and I'm debating about reading it aloud to all the kids. The youngest two don't follow the books even if they are in the room but the others are 7, 9 and 11. I have never read it and I'm not sure if the content would be ok for them. In the fall I read the Scarlett Letter to them and all but the 11 year old would just go outside and play so that is an option too. (She was sent to play too but overheard enough of the first chapter that she was sucked in and wanted to hear it 😉)

Thanks

#2 Farrar

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Posted 12 May 2017 - 04:20 PM

Given the need to contextualize the racism and issues in the book, I cannot imagine reading it to kids this age. Really, it's not even a book I would strongly consider assigning to teens unless they were voracious readers with a special interest in American history of the period. It's an *important* book historically, but not a work of amazing literature.


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#3 busymama7

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Posted 12 May 2017 - 05:55 PM

Given the need to contextualize the racism and issues in the book, I cannot imagine reading it to kids this age. Really, it's not even a book I would strongly consider assigning to teens unless they were voracious readers with a special interest in American history of the period. It's an *important* book historically, but not a work of amazing literature.

Thank you. I had no idea. I know *of* the book and the impact it had but as I said I've never read it. This would be as part of their living books history and it is also assigned in one sons IEW US history book. I thought it was standard high school reading.

Is there a book you would reccomend in its place for high school age?

Edited by busymama7, 12 May 2017 - 05:58 PM.


#4 Farrar

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Posted 12 May 2017 - 06:12 PM

For high school? I might read an excerpt? And read something about it. It's covered in most good US history textbooks. And read some excerpts of primary sources for abolitionism - like William Lloyd Garrison and so forth. It's been awhile since I studied that. I don't think you need a replacement book per se... I'd just use the time to read something else entirely if the focus is literature... and, like I said, if a student had a particular interest in the debate about slavery, the mid-1800's in the US, early American literature, etc. then you could absolutely read it.

 

I think it's more important to be sure to read at least one slave narrative during high school. Obviously Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is the most famous, but there are many others.

 

If you're looking for a read aloud for your 7-11 year olds for that period, Elijah of Buxton isn't far off - still pre-Civil War, but barely. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, and A Gathering of Days are all also books in the first half of the 1800's but about totally different subjects in American history.

 

 


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#5 Lori D.

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Posted 12 May 2017 - 07:54 PM

Agreeing with Farrar's comments and ideas.

 

And yes, OP, you're right -- Uncle Tom's Cabin IS read quite frequently in high school History or American Lit. classes. And while it's not that well written, I certainly understand why people read it, as it was written in the times and it is one of several works of the time that brought a lot of white attention to the issue of slavery. But... it also is written by a white woman, and is written in the mindset of the times -- so, still VERY white perspective and stereotyping of black slaves. In fact, the derogatory term "an uncle tom", meaning a black who is an excessively servile towards whites, came (long after the book's publishing) from the personality of the title character of the book.

 

(Also, totally an aside, but quite interesting: in the 1960s musical film, The King and I, has a unique play-within-the-play version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Thai-style. :) I could only find the first half of it to link.)

 

Totally your choice whether or not to read Uncle Tom's Cabin -- you will be in good company if you do, as many high schools still use it. However, if you are wanting a primary source from a black slave point of view to substitute, in addition to Farrar's suggestions, I really like To Be A Slave, which is a non-fiction collection of oral accounts by slaves. In the forward, editor Julius Lester discusses that his intent was to make these accounts available to middle school/high school students. So while tough issues are mentioned, it is within bounds of not being too graphic or too mature for ages 12-13 and up.

 

For your youngers, check out this list of 13 Honest Books About Slavery Young People Should Actually Read (a few are young adult titles for tweens/teens). Also check out the Carol Hurst: Slavery in the United States list, which has brief descriptions and is listed by age/grade appropriateness.


Edited by Lori D., 12 May 2017 - 08:00 PM.

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#6 Paige

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Posted 12 May 2017 - 08:07 PM

I would save it for ages 12 and up, probably more like 14. If you haven't read it, I definitely recommend pre-reading it before making a decision. It's not a hard read, but it can be a heavy book. 



#7 Kinsa

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 06:43 AM

I would not read it to anyone younger than 15 or so.

Edited by Kinsa, 13 May 2017 - 08:09 AM.

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#8 Farrar

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 08:04 AM

You know, I don't think it is still commonly read in public high school, at least not in its entirety. Homeschool and Christian programs both tend to lag behind in their book lists, so it wouldn't surprise me if it were still on a lot of homeschool lists and programs though.
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#9 Serenade

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 09:11 AM

My son read this book this past year, and I think it was very worthwhile. He was almost 17 at the time. He read it along with the study from Beautiful Feet books, so there were a lot of questions presented for him to consider, think about, and write about. Beautiful Feet Books has a lot of heavy lit analysis, and Uncle Tom's Cabin has been referred to again and again, as questions come up regarding complementary themes in other books. There is a lot of discussion about Christianity, the Bible and slavery, and how some used the Bible to justify slavery, but also how Uncle Tom took strength from his strong faith. If one really works the book, and considers the many angles and perspectives shown, I think this can be a really great book for modern-day teens to read because it requires a lot of thinking and evaluating. That's my take, anyhow. I don't recommend it as a book for casual reading. I think some of the other books mentioned above might be better for that.

ETA: Removed some content so as not to offend.

Edited by Serenade, 13 May 2017 - 08:48 PM.

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#10 Tanaqui

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 10:20 AM

I agree 100% with what both Lori D. and Farrar said. Not only is it simply not the world's greatest piece of literature, but I think it is better to read books written by black people when talking about black experiences. If you're going to read a book about slavery, something written by somebody who was actually enslaved is the way to go.


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#11 Farrar

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 10:25 AM

My son read this book this past year, and I think it was very worthwhile. He was almost 17 at the time. He read it along with the study from Beautiful Feet books, so there were a lot of questions presented for him to consider, think about, and write about. Beautiful Feet Books has a lot of heavy lit analysis, and Uncle Tom's Cabin has been referred to again and again, as questions come up regarding complementary themes in other books. There is a lot of discussion about Christianity, the Bible and slavery, and how some used the Bible to justify slavery, but also how Uncle Tom took strength from his strong faith. If one really works the book, and considers the many angles and perspectives shown, I think this can be a really great book for modern-day teens to read because it requires a lot of thinking and evaluating -- there is nothing easy and spoon-fed here. That's my take, anyhow. I don't recommend it as a book for casual reading. I think some of the other books mentioned above might be better for that.

 

So... the book by a white woman about slavery filled with racist stereotypes is the serious, real book about the topic, but the actual slave narratives suggested above are simplistic and spoon fed for casual readers? Because that's how your post reads.


Edited by Farrar, 13 May 2017 - 10:26 AM.

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#12 Tanaqui

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 10:33 AM

So... the book by a white woman about slavery filled with racist stereotypes is the serious, real book about the topic, but the actual slave narratives suggested above are simplistic and spoon fed for casual readers? Because that's how your post reads.

 

 

This reminds me of a complaint Frederick Douglass (and others) had about white abolitionists. Escaped and generally freed slaves were very popular speakers in abolitionist groups - so long as they stuck solely to slave narratives. As soon as they tried talking more generally about the issue than just "this is what happened to me", they were told to stop.


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#13 Paige

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 10:40 AM

So... the book by a white woman about slavery filled with racist stereotypes is the serious, real book about the topic, but the actual slave narratives suggested above are simplistic and spoon fed for casual readers? Because that's how your post reads.

 

When we read it, I presented it as a way to understand what white people were thinking at the time. It was to illuminate the white abolitionist movement and it was important because it gave the movement momentum. It was a sensation at the time, so reading it gives insight into what the people were discussing and thinking at that time. We read it along with Frederick Douglas's autobiography, Harriet Tubman's (auto?)biography, and one other female autobiography of an escaped slave but I forget the title. We also read a good book about John Brown. 

 

I think if we want to understand history, we should try to read multiple contemporary perspectives. Thinking about it now, I realize I did not select a book written by a slavery apologist which I guess shows my bias. I don't really regret not putting one in, though, because we had plenty to read. Uncle Tom's in a lit class? I'd pass. Uncle Tom's as part of history? I think it can have a place. 


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#14 winterbaby

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 11:02 AM

I read it in public high school in the '90s but it was taken in context of its influence and perspective, not "straight" if you will. A peek into the mind of the time, and not solely in terms of the racial issue. I tend to think that a kid who can tell a potted narrative about the influence of such and such books - which they've never actually read - is exactly the type of education I'm trying to avoid. And the idea that Uncle Tom's Cabin is deeply objectionable is a bit of a stretch for me... an awful lot of nineteenth century literature on all topics is written in that sort of overstated, almost patronizing style, so it would be equally a mistake to attribute that aspect to racial attitudes.

 

But I think it would be a horrible read-aloud. I wouldn't want to have to act out those dialects and attitudes, and it just doesn't fit into my understanding of what read-alouds are for - warming the heart and modeling of character, worldview, and literary taste. This would be a book for the older students to read on their own in the mode of analysis.


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#15 Farrar

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 01:22 PM

When we read it, I presented it as a way to understand what white people were thinking at the time. It was to illuminate the white abolitionist movement and it was important because it gave the movement momentum. It was a sensation at the time, so reading it gives insight into what the people were discussing and thinking at that time. We read it along with Frederick Douglas's autobiography, Harriet Tubman's (auto?)biography, and one other female autobiography of an escaped slave but I forget the title. We also read a good book about John Brown. 

 

I think if we want to understand history, we should try to read multiple contemporary perspectives. Thinking about it now, I realize I did not select a book written by a slavery apologist which I guess shows my bias. I don't really regret not putting one in, though, because we had plenty to read. Uncle Tom's in a lit class? I'd pass. Uncle Tom's as part of history? I think it can have a place. 

 

I absolutely agree with all that. If you're arguing against a point, I don't think it was mine.

 

My point is that the PP I responded to implied strongly that Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best book to read, the one with the best depth of perspective and that the books suggested above were for casual readers. Some of the books suggested above are children's books, because we're talking about two different age groups here - high school and younger siblings who aren't even in junior high school. However, the other thing several people, myself included, said was that it's important to read slave narratives. Are those seriously the books that are the facile ones? And furthermore, while Uncle Tom's Cabin is an important book that gives a clear window into the time period, is it really the literary achievement that the PP tried to say it is?

 

Many families are not going to read a large selection of full books about slavery for high school. If you have to choose a single work or two to read in total, I absolutely would not say this should be one of them. I would argue strongly that to learn about slavery, the best thing we can do is read things by people who were enslaved. And while works like this can supplement a look at the time period - especially for a more in depth course or a particularly motivated student - such as you did, the primary emphasis should be on the words of slaves themselves.


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#16 Carol in Cal.

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 07:36 PM

I homeschooled through 8th grade, and didn't assign it.

 

IIRC DD read "Amistad" (which covered the Middle Passage in detail), "Amos Fortune, Free Man", "Life on a Southern Plantation" (1850s), and several slave narratives.  We had already covered racism pretty extensively before that.  We talked a lot about the legal requirement to return slaves who had escaped, and the moral issues around that.  We talked even more about the moral issues around a human 'owning' another one and being able to separate families, torture, and even kill him.  And about the increase in laws to keep that system in place--the rush to make the territories into free or slave states, the banning of teaching reading, the tiny, grossly distorted exposure to the knowledge of God, the ongoing segregation.  We went to see a stage version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and compared it with the movie.  This was over a period of several years--I'm thinking mostly in the 6th and 7th grades.

 

I read UTC to decide whether to assign it and decide that it would break DD's heart, and that I had already made the points she needed to learn without it.  I was glad to have finally read it after hearing it referred to forever.  I loved it, not as great literature, but as literature that sets out an example of a person dealing heroically with horrendous circumstances.  I also reread Huckleberry Finn for the same reason, and did not assign that one either.  I had forgotten how casually and incredibly violent it was, and also just in general I can't get the n word out of my mouth so could not have read it or even significant portions of it aloud for discussion.  Also, just in general, I found it pretty condescending as well.  

 

So there you have it.

 

I think your kids are too young for UTC, and that you should read it yourself before you decide whether to use it with the older ones.  

 

ETA:  One thing to know about UTC is that it was based somewhat on pieced together historic facts, and it swayed the North strongly toward abolitionist sentiments from a more 'it's none of our business' stance, so much so that Lincoln reportedly said to the author when he met her in 1862, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!"


Edited by Carol in Cal., 13 May 2017 - 09:42 PM.


#17 Serenade

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 08:45 PM

So... the book by a white woman about slavery filled with racist stereotypes is the serious, real book about the topic, but the actual slave narratives suggested above are simplistic and spoon fed for casual readers? Because that's how your post reads.


I don't think it reads that way at all. I'm sorry you took it that way.

I've taken the spoon-fed bit out, in case others take offense as well.

Edited by Serenade, 13 May 2017 - 08:47 PM.


#18 Homeschool Mom in AZ

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Posted 13 May 2017 - 11:29 PM

We read the Fredrick Douglas autobiography because we prefer first source materials. If you want your kids to know about the slave experience, why not read the book written by a former slave?


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#19 J-rap

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Posted 14 May 2017 - 12:20 AM

My kids read it in high school, but I don't think I'd ever do it as a read-aloud.  It does make for a lot of good discussion though.


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#20 busymama7

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Posted 14 May 2017 - 09:15 AM

My kids read it in high school, but I don't think I'd ever do it as a read-aloud. It does make for a lot of good discussion though.


Thanks. The main reason I was considering reading it aloud was because both teen boys are dyslexic and I imagined it would be a tough book for them to get through.

I appreciate all the advice to read words from actual slaves. I was also planning Fredrick Dougless and I love all the ideas that are posted above so I will look at them closely. The reasons I wanted to read UTC are because I know how influential the book was but I haven't ever read it and because it was assigned in my one sons IEW book. I looked and it is two lessons on a contrast essay and I think we could tweak the topic to fit another book. Or maybe I will assign it to them to read. It is 21 hrs long on librovox and they usually listen to about 1/2 hr a day when we do audio (not the only book they would be reading) so it would be a LONG commitment. I'm still deciding.
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#21 happybeachbum

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 03:16 AM

Thank you. I had no idea. I know *of* the book and the impact it had but as I said I've never read it. This would be as part of their living books history and it is also assigned in one sons IEW US history book. I thought it was standard high school reading.

Is there a book you would reccomend in its place for high school age?

 

Frankly I would read books about slavery by former slaves such as Incidents of a Slave girl etc. There is an autobiography Tom The Life of Josiah Henson Formerly a Slave which Uncle Toms Cabin is based on.  


Edited by happybeachbum, 19 May 2017 - 03:21 AM.


#22 happybeachbum

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 03:26 AM

Agreeing with Farrar's comments and ideas.

 

And yes, OP, you're right -- Uncle Tom's Cabin IS read quite frequently in high school History or American Lit. classes. And while it's not that well written, I certainly understand why people read it, as it was written in the times and it is one of several works of the time that brought a lot of white attention to the issue of slavery. But... it also is written by a white woman, and is written in the mindset of the times -- so, still VERY white perspective and stereotyping of black slaves. In fact, the derogatory term "an uncle tom", meaning a black who is an excessively servile towards whites, came (long after the book's publishing) from the personality of the title character of the book.

 

(Also, totally an aside, but quite interesting: in the 1960s musical film, The King and I, has a unique play-within-the-play version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Thai-style. :) I could only find the first half of it to link.)

 

Totally your choice whether or not to read Uncle Tom's Cabin -- you will be in good company if you do, as many high schools still use it. However, if you are wanting a primary source from a black slave point of view to substitute, in addition to Farrar's suggestions, I really like To Be A Slave, which is a non-fiction collection of oral accounts by slaves. In the forward, editor Julius Lester discusses that his intent was to make these accounts available to middle school/high school students. So while tough issues are mentioned, it is within bounds of not being too graphic or too mature for ages 12-13 and up.

 

For your youngers, check out this list of 13 Honest Books About Slavery Young People Should Actually Read (a few are young adult titles for tweens/teens). Also check out the Carol Hurst: Slavery in the United States list, which has brief descriptions and is listed by age/grade appropriateness.

 

Though. I do agree I also think it's because many haven't read the book.  Uncle Tom and coon are derogatory words aimed at AAs within the B. C. who are considered "Sell Outs"  Interestingly Uncle Tom as not a derogatory term until years later. 

I can't remember if it was Before the Mayflower or From Slavery Too Freedom that mentioned that black slaves didn't think taking something without asking from white masters was stealing.  If that same black person took something without asking from another black slaves they considered that stealing.

Don't get me on Anna and the King of Siam.   I have no idea why anyone in this day and age would produce another adaptation of this book.  The book and movie(s), Plays(s) insulted this king and it's country by portraying a pretty advanced country as backwards.  The king even said he really didn't have anything to do with her and it's mostly fiction.  That is of course the part about her being a governess not being the made up part.  


Edited by happybeachbum, 19 May 2017 - 03:41 AM.

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#23 happybeachbum

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 03:33 AM

I absolutely agree with all that. If you're arguing against a point, I don't think it was mine.

 

My point is that the PP I responded to implied strongly that Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best book to read, the one with the best depth of perspective and that the books suggested above were for casual readers. Some of the books suggested above are children's books, because we're talking about two different age groups here - high school and younger siblings who aren't even in junior high school. However, the other thing several people, myself included, said was that it's important to read slave narratives. Are those seriously the books that are the facile ones? And furthermore, while Uncle Tom's Cabin is an important book that gives a clear window into the time period, is it really the literary achievement that the PP tried to say it is?

 

Many families are not going to read a large selection of full books about slavery for high school. If you have to choose a single work or two to read in total, I absolutely would not say this should be one of them. I would argue strongly that to learn about slavery, the best thing we can do is read things by people who were enslaved. And while works like this can supplement a look at the time period - especially for a more in depth course or a particularly motivated student - such as you did, the primary emphasis should be on the words of slaves themselves.

 

This same thing also applies to the Help. Most don't realize how sanitized the book and movie.  This woman in 1912 made sure to tell folks what it was like.  I had family members who were sharecroppers, Pullman porters, housekeepers etc. in the Deep South, South west etc.  I was born many of these people were in their 80's/90's and 100's were http://historymatter...s.gmu.edu/d/80


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#24 Carol in Cal.

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 08:48 AM

This same thing also applies to the Help. Most don't realize how sanitized the book and movie.  

ITA, especially the movie, which shockingly underestimated the danger that the house maids were putting themselves into, to the extent that it was embarrassing.


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#25 Penelope

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:11 AM

I read UTC on my own as a teen. I decided I don't want to have my kids spend the time reading it unless they would like to.
It's not well-written, and there are much better books for understanding this heinous part of our history. We did read a couple of chapters excerpted from a Norton anthology, so we did discuss the importance of the book and that way my kids will be familiar with the names of the characters and the main incidents, since they are referenced in other works.
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#26 Renai

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 09:47 AM

I agree the only value of UTC is for an abolitionist's view of the time. Interestingly, the slave she based the book on was nothing like the character in the book. Josiah Hensen was a strong (character-wise) male who was highly respected. To a point- since his freedom was reneged. He escaped with his family to Canada and operated a successful business there. He also petitioned the Canadian government to open a vocational school for escaped slaves. He has an autobiography, that another pp has posted above. I haven't read it yet though. I have read To Be A Slave, which I recommend, and several other narratives that I cannot recommend even for the teens.
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#27 happybeachbum

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 03:09 PM

I agree the only value of UTC is for an abolitionist's view of the time. Interestingly, the slave she based the book on was nothing like the character in the book. Josiah Hensen was a strong (character-wise) male who was highly respected. To a point- since his freedom was reneged. He escaped with his family to Canada and operated a successful business there. He also petitioned the Canadian government to open a vocational school for escaped slaves. He has an autobiography, that another pp has posted above. I haven't read it yet though. I have read To Be A Slave, which I recommend, and several other narratives that I cannot recommend even for the teens.

 

As I mentioned in another post there are so many books that are on high school book that I think are not age appropriate.  



#28 happybeachbum

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 03:16 PM

I absolutely agree with all that. If you're arguing against a point, I don't think it was mine.

 

My point is that the PP I responded to implied strongly that Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best book to read, the one with the best depth of perspective and that the books suggested above were for casual readers. Some of the books suggested above are children's books, because we're talking about two different age groups here - high school and younger siblings who aren't even in junior high school. However, the other thing several people, myself included, said was that it's important to read slave narratives. Are those seriously the books that are the facile ones? And furthermore, while Uncle Tom's Cabin is an important book that gives a clear window into the time period, is it really the literary achievement that the PP tried to say it is?

 

Many families are not going to read a large selection of full books about slavery for high school. If you have to choose a single work or two to read in total, I absolutely would not say this should be one of them. I would argue strongly that to learn about slavery, the best thing we can do is read things by people who were enslaved. And while works like this can supplement a look at the time period - especially for a more in depth course or a particularly motivated student - such as you did, the primary emphasis should be on the words of slaves themselves.

 

 

I didn't read Diary of Patsy a Free Girl, but I have read Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl when I was a kid.  I think the HBO Dear America series just couldn't do it justice.  My favorite one HBO made is still Color Me Dark (though of course the book is better) I think that's why I liked Night John the book and the movie.  The People Could Fly is a great book too.  Just reading black folk tales tells you a lot about what people thought.  Listening to many of the old hymns as I got older I realized were hidden messages about how black people felt, hopes and dreams etc.



#29 Fifiruth

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Posted 20 May 2017 - 08:56 AM

My ds asked me if he could stop reading it (he was in 10th grade) because he didn't want to read the n-word over and over and over again.

#30 EKS

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Posted 20 May 2017 - 11:55 AM

Both of my kids read it as part of their high school American history course.  So the older one was 14 and the younger was 13.  They were well aware of the history surrounding the book's writing and the events and attitudes displayed in its pages.

 

There is *no way* that I'd do Uncle Tom's Cabin as a family read aloud.



#31 Pen

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Posted 20 May 2017 - 02:39 PM

My ds enjoyed Uncle Tom's Cabin at age 13 as an Audible book. It is an exciting story, enough to hold its own with Harry Potter and so forth in his view. A friend of his just read it at 14, as a text for school. My son also has dyslexia and trying to read it as text would have been too hard. My ds was hugely interested in Civil War and it was one of many things he read related to that era. 


Edited by Pen, 20 May 2017 - 02:45 PM.