Recommended for grades 2-5
You may think Freedom Summer tells a story heard over and over again about Black History. To some extent it does, but the way the story is told makes quite the difference. First off, Deborah Wiles states in ‘A Note About the Text’ that she is a white author trying to convey the uncertain feelings of the 1960s from a child’s perspective. I made sure to read that section to my students to build some background knowledge. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware they named the movement to help Blacks register to vote, “Freedom Summer” until I read that note. I also wanted my students to understand that even though The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, that it doesn’t mean certain Southern White folks didn't still hold prejudices.
Wiles story focuses on two young boys—the protagonist, Joe and his best friend, John Henry. The reader experiences their light-hearted playful summer days, filled with swimming, imagining themselves as firemen, and games. Then, you find out that the boys play in the creek because John Henry isn’t allowed to swim at the pool…because he’s black. You soon find out that John Henry’s mother is the maid at Joe’s house. One day, Joe is sitting down to dinner when he finds out that all people, no matter their color will be able to swim in the pool and go anywhere else they like for that matter. Joe cannot stay still in his excitement and rushes into the kitchen to let John Henry know. They make plans to visit the pool the next day.
The story itself never explicitly tells you that The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed.
First inferencing question: Why are all people, no matter their color, allowed to go to places like the pool now?
The next day, the boys walk to the pool and discover that it’s being tarred over.
The reader is never told that the White owner closed the pool instead of complying with The Civil Rights Act.
Second inferencing question: Why is the pool being tarred over?
Joe and John Henry become frustrated at not being able to do this simple summer activity together—Joe is markedly upset because he wants to be able to see things through John Henry’s eyes. As they are walking past the general store, Joe pulls out two dimes and asks John Henry if he wants an ice pop. John Henry lets him know he has his own money and the two walk side by side into the store.
The story stops at this point, so logically the next question I asked my students was: What are Joe and John Henry going to do once they are in the store?
This is a nicely told story to add to any Civil Rights Era Collection and definitely to your list of books to teach inferencing.
Wiles, D. (2001). Freedom summer. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.