Teaching Guide About the Book
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Forty acres for farming, just for the asking, and maybe a mule thrown in, too. That's what General Sherman of the Union Army has promised to give former slaves. It's hard for Pascal to imagine. All his life he's lived on a South Carolina plantation, enslaved to a master. Now the twelve-year-old boy and his strong-willed older brother, Gideon, just back from the War Between the States, are free to start a new life for themselves and rebuild their shattered family. But no one, least of all Pascal, believes it's going to be easy in a region where anger and prejudice still run very deep. "A stirring story of self-determination," is how Publishers Weekly
described this distinguished novel, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction. A "fine historical novel," observed Booklist.
"Robinet skillfully balances her in-depth historical knowledge with the feelings of her characters." Discussion Questions
Activities and Research
- How did slavery destroy Pascal and Gideon's original family? How did they create a new one for themselves?
- What are some of the methods that plantation owners used to make their slaves feel powerless? What powers did the slaves have at their disposal? What were the risks of using them? What were the rewards?
- Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves, in 1863, but Pascal didn't leave his plantation until 1865. Why did the news take so long to reach him? What communication devices were available back then? Which have been invented since?
- Pascal's mother is dead before the novel begins, but she is still an important character in the story. What did she value most? Why did she die? Why is Pascal angry at her? Why is he proud of her?
- Recalling a whipping he suffered back on the plantation, Pascal grits his teeth and wonders, "How had I lived through that?" What do you think? How did he endure such physical brutality? Could you have? Why or why not?
- Pascal's teacher, Miss Anderson, was from New England and new to Georgia. Why do you think she left her home to go down South? Why is she so uncomfortable around her students at first? What does she expect of them? How and why does she change over the next several months?
- Pascal is disabled-lame in one leg and with a weak arm. How does his disability affect the way others treat him? How does it affect Pascal's self-image and his behavior?
- "Maybe freedom's different things for different people," Pascal decides in Chapter Three. What does freedom mean to Pascal? What does it mean to Gideon, Mr. Freedman, and Nelly? What does it mean to you? Do you feel free? Why or why not?
About the Author
- Learn more about Reconstruction, the critical period just after the end of the Civil War. Use the bibliography at the end of the novel as a starting point for your research. Also look for documentary films about the period in libraries or video stores.
- Make a civil rights time line that begins in 1863, at the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and continues into the present. Include landmark dates in the long struggle for equal rights for all Americans.
- Using everyday materials, construct your own small-scale version of the house that Pascal's new family builds on their land. Be sure to include a porch as well as a secret escape hatch.
- Imagine that you are Pascal, finally settled in Georgia's Sea Islands. Write a letter to your old teachers, Miss Anderson and Miss Harris, about your new home.
- Using a detailed map of South Carolina and Georgia, chart the route that Pascal and his group could have taken from South Carolina, into Georgia, and then toward the Sea Islands.
Harriette Gillem Robinet is the author of several acclaimed historical novels, including The Twins, The Pirates, and the Battle of New Orleans, Mississippi Chariot, Children of the Fire,
and If You Please, President Lincoln.
Over the years, she has researched and heard many stories of slavery. Her mother's parents had been slaves as children on Robert E. Lee's estate. But it wasn't until she started working on Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule
that she discovered the tragic story of Reconstruction, the time just after slavery. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Ms. Robinet graduated from the College of New Rochelle and completed graduate studies in microbiology at Catholic University. She now lives in Oak Park, Illinois, with her husband, McLouis Robinet. Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule
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Atheneum Books for Young Readers