Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
Tracie's NEW BOOK!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lincoln and Douglass and American Friendship

Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship
by Nikki Giovanni
Illustrated by Bryan Collier

About the book:
In 1865, at the reception to celebrate his second inauguration as president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln kept an eye out for a special guest: Frederick Douglass. Although Lincoln was white and Douglass was black although Lincoln was born free and Douglass had been born a slave, both were central figures in the American abolitionist movement.
This is a glimpse into an unusual friendship between two great American leaders. At a time when racial tensions were high and racial equity was not yet established, Lincoln and Douglass formed a strong bond over shared ideals and worked alongside each other for a common goal.
Award-winning poet, writer, and activist Nikki Giovanni’s lyrical text combines with Bryan Collier’s stunning cut-paper collages to tell the story of this unique historic friendship.

About the author:
Nikki Giovanni has written many collections of poetry for both children and adults as well as several books for children including Rosa, The Sun is So Quiet, and Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking at the Harlem Renaissance Through Poetry. Nikki lives in Blacksburg, Virginia, where she is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech.
Bryan Collier grew up in Pocomoke City, Maryland, where he began painting at the age of fifteen. Bryan’s first books, Uptown, won the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award. He has also received Caldecott Honors for his illustrations in Rosa and Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Brainstorm a list of everything you know about Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Sort the information into the following categories: early years, education, and beliefs. After reading the book add more information into these categories in a new color to review what you learned.

Questions to consider:
  1. Read the author’s note. Do you think people act out of fear or do you, like Nikki Giovanni, agree that people act out of respect? Give examples that defend your answer.
  2. Describe the letters that open the story. Do you ever write letters or email to your own friends? Why can writing be as important as speaking in friendship? Could it ever be more important?
  3. What was the occasion at the White House? Why were people celebrating? What is the most important celebration or party you’ve ever attended?
  4. What topic did Mary Todd and Abraham disagree on? How do you think this might have affected their family life? Is it necessary for married people to agree?
  5. How does the author play with time in the book? Why do you think she made that choice? What are we able to learn because of the change?
  6. Describe how Douglass found freedom. Do you think you would be brave enough to run away by yourself or not?
  7. Why did Lincoln walk five miles back to the store? What does this show us about his personality? Do you think Lincoln was born that honest or taught to be so?
  8. Douglass dreamed of setting sail on the ships he worked on in Baltimore. Why? What do you dream about for your own future?
  9. What activities can you do that are exactly the same as Lincoln and Douglass? What does it mean to “ better themselves?” How will you?
  10. Predict what Lincoln saw in New Orleans that opened his eyes. Why do you think  the illustrator added the faces to the live oak trees?
  11. Lincoln and Douglass’s friendship bloomed based on what three important things? List the three most important things needed to become your friend.
  12.  How did both men know that slavery was wrong? Explain how you come to the conclusion that something is wrong.
  13. Describe John Brown’s plan in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. How did the expansion of slavery make it hard for everyday northern farmers to make a living?
  14. Why did the Douglass’ support John Brown’s idea financially but not otherwise? What fate was Mammy Pleasant spared by not reaching Virginia in time?
  15. Explain how the south knew “there would be no compromise on the issue of slavery” if Lincoln was elected. How did this turn out to be true? What resulted?
  16. Why was there a misunderstanding at the reception for Frederick Douglass and his wife? What did Douglass refuse to do? Would you refuse the same injustice?
  17.  What does Douglass mean by “we have the right captain to steer the good ship America?”  What will Lincoln rely on as he does so? Whom do you rely on to help you?
  18. Do you think the friendship of Lincoln and Douglass was important to each of them? Was it important for the country? How can our friendships change us as people?
  19.  Which illustration in the book is your favorite? Why? Why do you think Bryan Collier used the palette of colors that he did?  Why do you think the page depicting the Civil War was created without any words?
  20. Study the timeline of Lincoln and Douglass’s lives. What is the most interesting fact that you learned from this format? Create a timeline of one of your most important friendships.


Language Arts:
Nikki Giovanni uses beautiful imagery to tell this story from Lincoln and Douglass’s friendship. “Stars sparkled brightly as the jewels peeping from the earlobes of the ladies.” Make a list of phrases that appeal to your senses as you read. As you write your own next story try to use your senses, too, inspired by Nikki Giovanni’s example.

As you read the story fill out the following chart about the characters.
Interesting facts:
Abraham Lincoln

Frederick Douglass

Mary Todd Lincoln

John Brown

Mammy Pleasant

Have students create a simple board game which allows the players to advance by stating the correct definition of the following words from the book: cadence, reception, overseer, refuge, congress, mutual, abolitionist, seized, arsenal, emancipation, tracts, foolhardy, plantation, inevitable, nominated, compromise, dominated, grim, festivities, decline.
Create a diagram that compares the 1800’s to life today in the following categories: Rights of people, transportation, education, clothing, and entertainment.

Research and write a newspaper story about one of the characters or incidents mentioned in the story (John Brown’s revolt, for example). Be sure you can answer the five journalistic questions when you’ve completed your research (who, what, when, where, and why).
Inspired by Bryan Collier’s cut-paper collage create a piece of art exploring the importance of friendship. Experiment with a variety of materials- old magazines, newspapers, cloth or even creating some papers. You might try starting with a sketch or jump straight to scissors and glue and see where it leads you. Write a brief artist’s statement about your process.