At the end of "I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This", Marie's friend Lena and her little sister Dion ran away to escape their abusive father. Now, disguised as boys, Lena and Dion search for their mother's relatives, unable to afford to make even one mistake.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
The companion to the Coretta Scott King Honor Book I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This
Lena takes her younger sister and runs away from their abusive father in an effort to find a home where they might feel safe.
For a long time, 13-year-old Lena has been abused by her father. But when he begins abusing Dion, her little sister, Lena believes that the only solution to their problem is to run away. Leaving a note for her best friend Marie, Lena and Dion take off, hitching rides with truck drivers. The idea is to find their deceased mother's home in Kentucky, and a relative who might be willing to take them in.
Though Lena knows that they are unlikely to find their relatives, she desperately wants to give Dion a "real" family. But the road is a dangerous place for two girls alone. Lying becomes harder, and the winter grows colder. What both girls would love more than anything is a place to belong and to be together always, a place to call home.
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.
Through the character of Lena, Jacqueline Woodson asks readers to think about contemporary issues such as child abuse and runaway children. Questions related to the themes of dealing with abandonment and fear, teamwork, survival, and the need for a sense of family will encourage students to search for answers to these very real problems in our society. In addition, this guide offers activities that connect the novel to the language arts, social studies, science, health and safety, math, and art curriculum.
Invite a social worker to speak to the class. Ask them to discuss how their agency helps children and teenagers who don't have the security of a safe home. How do they gather their information about families in need of help? What is the responsibility of a neighbor, teacher, clergy, or any citizen to report child abuse cases?
Discuss the different forms of abandonment. How does Lena feel abandoned by both her mother and father? Dion has few memories of her mother. Why is it so important to Lena that she help Dion remember their mother?
In spite of their father's abuse, Dion still misses him. Lena says, "Our daddy--well, he needs somebody to help him learn to--to treat us right. But he don't know it yet." (p.46) Ask students to discuss whether they think Lena and Dion's dad ever gets help, and whether the girls will ever see him again.
Ask students to discuss what Lena means when she says, "It was easier to be afraid of strangers than to be afraid of your daddy." (p.9) Why is Lena afraid of calling the child welfare office? How does Dion deal with her fear? Discuss why it is important to talk about your fears with someone.
Lena thinks that she and Dion are a good team. What is each girl's contribution to the team? How does Miz Lily use teamwork to get the girls back to Chauncey? Ask the class to discuss how society must use teamwork to help child abuse victims, runaways, and the homeless.
Lena quotes a poem that Marie once read to her: "Living means teaching and surviving and fighting with the most important resource I have, myself. . . ." (p.54) How does this line of poetry relate to Lena? Ask students to cite evidence that Lena is a resourceful person. How is she a teacher?
Dion further interprets the poem when she says, "It means, for me, recognizing the enemy outside and the enemy inside." (p.54) What is the enemy inside Lena? What is her outside enemy? Which type of enemy is the most difficult to fight?
Sense of Family
More than anything, Lena and Dion need a sense of family. Have students discuss how this "sense of family" was present before their mother died. What is Lena searching for when she says, "Just want to walk the land mama walked"? (p.55) At what point does Lena admit that it is unlikely that they will find her mother's family?
Ask students to discuss why Lena calls Marie from Miz Lily's house. What is she searching for? How might Marie's father provide the girls with the "sense of family" that their daddy couldn't provide?
Miz Lily is kind to Lena and Dion and helps them find a home. Have the students write a thank you letter that Lena might write to Miz Lily after they return to Chauncey.
Dion loves to read, and especially enjoys poetry. Ask students to browse poetry anthologies and locate a poem that expresses Lena and Dion's feelings at the end of the novel. Have students share their poems and explain their choice to the class.
Lena and Dion leave Chauncey, Ohio, in an effort to get to Pine Mountain, Kentucky. Their idea is to stay near towns that are large enough to have a hospital, since their lie is that their mother just had a baby and they are on their way to the hospital to visit her. Ask students to study a map of the United States and plot three different routes that Lena and Dion might have taken.
Dion explains to Lena that the greenhouse effect is the cause of the warm days. Ask students to go to the library and find information about the greenhouse effect. Have them gather statistics regarding winter temperatures in their area for the past 20 years. Do their findings reflect the greenhouse effect?
Health and Safety
Ask students to discuss why hitchhiking is dangerous. Lena is smart enough to know that they shouldn't accept rides with strangers, but she feels desperate. What safety precautions does Lena take? Have students cite other scenes in the book that indicate that Lena is aware of health issues such as diet and cleanliness.
Ask students to use the Internet or almanacs to find the latest statistics on the number of runaways in the United States. Then have them find the latest statistics on the number of missing children. Draw a graph that compares these statistics.
Lena is a talented artist. Have the class create a mural that includes each person that the girls meet along their journey. Remind them of Larry the truck driver, the waitress who gives them food, Miz Lily, Marie, and her father.
Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor's School for Arts and Humanities, Greenville, South Carolina.
The vocabulary in Lena isn't difficult, but students may find a few unfamiliar words. Ask them to define such words using hints from the context of the sentence.
Explain to students that reviewers search for words that best describe their feelings toward a novel. Ask each student to think of at least three words that they would use in a review of Lena.
x "...Woodson conveys the love the protective heroine feels for her sister as well as the compassion of strangers. . . .Soulful, wise and sometimes wrenching, this taut story never loses its grip on the reader." -- Publishers Weekly, Starred
I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson[0-440-21960-4]
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