Thirteen-year-old Maggie Pugh has lived in Kinship, Georgia, all her life.
In all that time almost nothing has changed. If you are poor, you live on the
west side of town. If you are rich, you live on the hill in the north end and
get to go boating at the country club in Troy. If you are white you use one
bathroom at Byer's Drugs and if you are colored you use another.
All that starts to change in the summer of 1960. It is the summer when Maggie's
younger sister, Gardenia, triumphs in the Hayes County Little Miss Contest. It
is the summer when Maggie must decide whether or not to tell anyone about the
horrible thing she saw. Most of all it's the summer of Maggie's first camera, a
tool that becomes a way for her to find independence and a different kind of
In Kinship, Georgia everything begins to change for 13-year-old Maggie Pugh in the summer of 1960. It is the summer when Maggie must decide whether to tell anyone about the horrible thing she saw. Most of all it's the summer of Maggie's first camera, a tool that becomes a way for her to find independence and a different kind of truth.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Thirteen-year-old Maggie Pugh has lived in Kinship, Georgia all her life. In all that time almost nothing has changed. If you are poor, you live on the west side of town. If you are rich, you live on the hill in the north end and get to go boating at the country club in Troy. If you are white you use one bathroom at Byer's Drugs and if you are colored you use another.
All that starts to change in the summer of 1960. It is the summer when Maggie's younger sister, Gardenia, triumphs in the Hayes County Little Miss Contest. It is the summer when Maggie must decide whether or not to tell anyone about the horrible thing she saw. It is the summer when Pert Wilson, Maggie's friend, teaches Maggie that friends sometimes have to tell each other difficult things. Most of all, it's the summer of Maggie's first camera, a tool that becomes a way for her to find independence and a different kind of truth.
In the Classroom
Using Spite Fences in the Classroom
Spite Fences shows what life was like in the deep South at the beginning of the civil rights movement. It depicts the hatred and violence that accompany racial prejudice. Maggie Pugh's personal perspective offers a strong appeal that will attract many readers. Students will learn about the complexities of family life and American culture and will experience the importance of outsiders looking in--like Maggie--to tell the truth.
Suggested Classroom Activities
Ask students to list, individually or in small groups, recent local or national events that signify racial disharmony in the United States. After reading the book, have students look at this list and identify connections they find between these current and actual occurrences in Spite Fences.
At various points, determined either by students themselves or by you as the teacher, have students record their responses to what they read in Spite Fences. Students can discuss their ongoing responses in small groups, and you can read them to monitor their progress and help answer any questions they may have while reading the book.
After students have read the book, before engaging in post-reading discussions or activities, have them write an overall response to Spite Fences, in which they discuss their connections with the book. Asking what Spite Fences made them think about is one way to help students articulate their response to the book as a whole: Have you ever experienced a situation where you knew that something was wrong but were afraid to tell? How did the black churches support the civil rights movement? What is the significance of the use of "fence" images throughout the book?
Spite Fences is rich in themes. It's the type of book that makes one think, and students will probably mention some of the book's various themes as they write about or discuss the book. Students interested in a particular theme can deepen their understanding of it by engaging in an extending activity. Following are some sample activities related to themes in Spite Fences. Having students create their own activities or projects is, of course, highly advised.
Prejudice -- Racial, religious, and social prejudice abound in Kinship. Create a class scrapbook of newspaper clippings describing incidents that could be interpreted as motivated by prejudice toward one's race, religion, or economic status. If class members have experienced such prejudice, they could write about it in the form of newspaper articles and include them in the scrapbook.
Friendship -- Maggie's relationships with Pert, a Roman Catholic, and Zeke, a black man, show that true friendship ignores religious and racial distinctions. Maggie tells her mother there's no shame in friendship (page 224), but the dominant feeling within the town is that people should stick to their own kind. Taboo friendships are often written about in literature concerned with social injustice. Ask students to list other literary works that deal with controversial friendships.
Family and Relationships (Family Problems) -- Pert helps Maggie understand that abusing one's child is unacceptable parental behavior. Maggie gets out of her abusive situation by leaving home and living with Pert. Inviting a school counselor or social worker to speak to the class about family relationships might help students understand the options available to abused children today.
Social Change -- Maggie learns that social change involves people standing up for what they believe is right. For her it means having the courage to tell the truth. For Zeke and George Hardy, it means making a nonviolent statement about unfair laws and customs. Stage a classroom debate in which one side argues that unless social change follows legal procedures, the means do not justify the ends, and the other side takes the stance that any means are justifiable if they achieve positive social change.
History (Civil Rights) -- History is composed of the stories of many individual people. Krisher mentions some historical figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (page 200). After gathering the information about Dr. King's teachings and practices provided in the novel, interested students can conduct further research on his life and present it to the class. Historical research could also extend to other important civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.
Krisher mentions the photographs in Life magazine several times in the novel. By perusing back issues of that magazine in library collections, students can gain a general sense of the 60s as well as discover more about the civil rights movement. It would be particularly interesting for them to learn more about the events Krisher refers to on page 157.
Language Arts (Reading) -- When Maggie wants to give Zeke a gift, she decides to teach him to read, and Zeke is eager to learn to read and write. Use Zeke's situation as a starting point for a discussion about adult literacy. Have students consider the effect knowing how to read and write has on Zeke's life. Interested students can explore ways illiterate adults in their community can learn to read and write.
Spite Fences does not follow a chronological sequence because important events are dealt with only as Maggie gains the courage to examine her memories of painful things she has witnessed or experienced. Students may want to make a time line to help them clarify when major events actually occurred. Drawing or painting pictures for an album of Maggie's real and potential photos could serve the same purpose and would appeal to students who are artistically inclined.
Geography -- Maggie draws a visual map of Kinship, Georgia, which enables readers to understand the racial and economic distinctions associated with various parts of town. Based on Maggie's description from pages 6-10, have students draw a map of Kinship. Then suggest students prepare a written description of a section of their town or school which is so clear and accurate that others could draw a map based on their words.
Art -- Students attuned to color may want to create abstract or realistic artwork using black, white, and red--the prominent colors in Spite Fences.
Have students explore the idea that words can be fences or bridges, by examining the effect created by the words spoken and written in the passages above.
Teaching Ideas prepared by Elizabeth A. Poe, Associate Professor of English, Radford University, Radford, VA.
George Hardy's notes to Maggie (pages 29 and 79) show the positive power words hold for her. As he talks with her (page 162), George Hardy points out ugly words that affect people negatively. In his consciousness-raising speech (pages 188), George Hardy speaks about studying the right words. At the passive resistance training session, Reverend Potter instructs participants to ignore demeaning names (page 207). Outraged people paint hateful phrases on the Pughs' fence when the photographs of Maggie and George Hardy are discovered (page 217).
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
The International Reading Association Children's Book Award--Older Readers
A Publishers Weekly "Flying Start Author"
A Parents' Choice Honor Book
A Jefferson Cup Honor Book (Virginia Library Association)
"A superbly crafted first novel....Maggie is a 13-year-old white girl whose friendships within the black community threaten an entire society's way of life....The courage and vision of the 1960s South, as well as its ugliness, are posted on Spite Fences for all to see. It is a masterful, sobering display." -- Starred, Booklist
"Hearts will go out to Maggie as she weathers various forms of physical and emotional abuse; her final triumph is a tribute to all who have suffered for justice." -- Starred, Publishers Weekly
"Through Krisher's stunning narrative and achingly real characters, Maggie's pain and redemption are brought to vivid life." -- Pointer, Kirkus Reviews
"Told with amazing skill. To read [this story] is to climb inside the narrator's skin, share her emotions, and gain the wisdom she acquires." -- School Library Journal
"Krisher's evocative prose and fine ear for dialect are icing on a riveting story that speaks as much to adults as to adolescents....A book of this caliber comes along only rarely." -- Family Life
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