Twelve-year-old Marie is a leader among the popular black girls in Chauncey, Ohio, a prosperous black suburb. She isn't looking for a friend when Lena Bright, a white girl, appears in school. Yet they are drawn to each other because both have lost their mothers. And they know how to keep a secret. For Lena has a secret that is terrifying, and she's desperate to protect herself and her younger sister from their father. Marie must decide whether she can help Lena by keeping her secret...or by telling it.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Twelve-year-old Marie is one of the popular girls among the black students in her school. When Marie meets Lena, a dirty and poorly dressed white girl, the two become instant friends. They suffer taunts from Marie's black friends, and face racial prejudice at home. Though racism is strong in their school and the entire town of Chauncey, Ohio, Marie and Lena quickly learn that they are soul mates. Both girls have lost their mother, and their friendship is tightly bound as they share their deepest and most personal secrets. When Lena tells her a terrifying secret, Marie is faced with a tough decision. Would she help Lena more by keeping her secret or by breaking her promise and telling it?
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Born February 12 in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. A former drama therapist for runaways and homeless children in New York City, she now writes full-time and has received The Kenyon Review Award for Literary Excellence in Fiction. Though she spends most of her time writing, Woodson also enjoys reading the works of emerging writers, encouraging young people to write, heated political conversation with her friends, and sewing. At one time, she made most of her own clothing, but now she makes mostly scarves and quilts for her friends.
Jacqueline Woodson began to consider becoming a writer when she was chosen to be the literary editor of a magazine in the fifth grade. Eventually, three books helped convince her to pursue a writing career: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Daddy Was a Numbers-Runner by Louise Meriwether, and Ruby by Rosa Guy. Before reading those books, Woodson thought that only books featuring mainstream, white characters or works by William Shakespeare constituted valid literature. But in those three books, Woodson saw parts of herself and her life, and realized that books could be about people like her; and she knew she wanted to write them.
Jacqueline Woodson raises many issues that are worthy of classroom discussion. This guide offers questions to think about regarding friendship, racial prejudice, peer pressure, and family problems. In addition, there are several activities that create opportunities for students to explore those issues and relate them to their own lives. The novel is also appropriate for interdisciplinary units in language arts, science and math, health, social studies and art. This guide can be used to help students become more socially sensitive individuals.
Suggested Classroom Activities
Select several poems about friendship, and read them aloud to the class. Ask the students to compare and contrast the meaning of friendship in each poem. Then place the students in small groups and ask them to list ten specific qualities that they look for in a friend. Have each group write their qualities on chart paper and tape it to the wall. How many different qualities are listed? How many groups list similar qualities? As a class, try to rank the qualities in order of importance.
Lena is dealing with a severe family problem and confides in Marie (page 12). Why does Lena ask Marie to promise not to tell her secret? Marie helps Lena just by being her friend. What more could Marie do to help Lena? Perhaps there are times when keeping a secret is more harmful than telling it. Ask students to name some situations in which this may be true. Invite students to put themselves in Marie's place. Have them consider how they would deal with Lena's secret.
Prejudice (Racial Prejudice)
Marie's father disapproves of her friendship with Lena (page 26). What causes an intelligent man like Marie's father to feel such hatred toward white people? What message is he sending to Marie? Ask the students to read national and local newspapers every day for a week and collect articles that deal with some form of racism. How prevalent is racism in our nation? Ask them to think about ways to combat acts of racism in their neighborhoods and school?
Most of the girls at Chauncey Middle School want to be like Sherry. In fact, it is Sherry's influence that gets Marie voted "Best Dressed" (pages 35-6). Ask students to discuss the following questions: At what point in the novel does Marie begin to realize the importance of being an individual? How does meeting Lena change Marie? What does Marie need from Sherry that she isn't getting? How do your peers influence the way you see yourself?
Family and Relationships
To what is Marie referring when she says "I wanted to learn how to grieve and how to walk through the world feeling whole when half of me had walked away"? (page 25). Marie finally accepts the fact that her mother will probably never return. Do you think Marie ever "feels whole" again? Ask students to trace the changes in Marie from the beginning of the novel to the end.
What does the following message from Marie's mother mean? "You never wake up any morning sure of your life's interaction with the day." (page 115) Encourage students to discuss how this last postcard contributes to Marie's healing process. Does Marie finally understand why her mother left? Invite students to predict how coming to terms with her mother's absence might shape Marie's future.
Regardless of the color of their skin, Marie and Lena become soul mates. What is a soul mate? Ask students to interview classmates with different cultural backgrounds. Find out about their families, their special interests and hobbies, their favorite subjects in school, etc. After completing the interviews, ask each student to identify a soul mate. Suggest that these students sit next to one another, eat lunch together, and share free time for an entire week. Then ask each student to write a short paper about their experience with their soul mate.
Chauncey, Ohio, was at one time a coal-mining town. Many of the miners died of black lung disease. Ask students to research the symptoms and treatment of black lung disease. What precautions do mining companies take today to avoid health hazards? Are there government regulations regarding health and safety in the mining industry? Suggest that students act as health inspector, and prepare a speech for mining employees that gives advice regarding personal health and safety on the job.
History (Civil Rights)
Marie's father was actively involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. At the school library media center have students research the March on Washington and other civil rights marches. Then ask them to act as journalists and write a newspaper article about the marches. Include an interview with Marie's father.
Lena is an excellent artist, and often plays out her emotions through her art. At the end of the novel, Marie goes searching for Lena. She finds a tiny piece a paper with a picture on it and a note that says "Elena Cecilia Bright and her sister Edion Kay Bright lived here once." (page 113) Marie never says what Lena had drawn. Suggest that students draw the picture that Marie finds at Lena's house. Ask them to title the picture and explain how the picture relates to what Lena might have been feeling when she left.
Teaching Ideas prepared by Pat Scales, Library Media Specialist, Greenville Middle School, Greenville, SC.
Many critics have called I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This "poignant," "poetic," and "compelling." Discuss the meaning of those words, and ask students to locate scenes in the book that they feel are the most poignant, poetic, and compelling spots. Ask them to use a thesaurus to think of other words to describe this novel.
An ALA Best Book For Young Adults
A Coretta Scott King Genesis Award Winner
A Publishers Weekly Flying Start
x "A haunting and beautifully poetic novel." -- Starred, The Horn Book Magazine
x "This exceptional book . . . raises questions for which society has no answers." -- Starred, School Library Journal
x "Wrenchingly honest . . . full of hope and inspiration." -- Starred, Publishers Weekly
x "In [this] quiet, beautiful friendship story . . . racism and class prejudice . . . [are] graphically confronted." -- Starred, Booklist / Focus Review
x "Woodson's poignant prose deftly understates issues of race, abuse, and loss." -- Pointer, Kirkus Reviews
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