When I read a historically based picture book, I am often amazed at how the author and illustrator can take a moment in history and explore it in just thirty-two short pages. The best of these stories help me feel something about a moment, understand something about the people at the center of it, and want to know something more about that point in time. This certainly could be said about Andrea Davis Pinkney’s book Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down. It could also be said about primary sources related to the Greensboro sit-ins, the topic of the picture book. Paring the two together can lead to a deeper learning about these sit-ins that took place beginning February 1960.
Reading the Picture Book through a Close Reading Lens
Depending on the age of the students and their knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, some may have never heard of the Greensboro sit-ins. Reading Pinkney’s picture book can introduce them to the event and the four young men who started it. It may also be an opportunity to use a close reading strategy to learn more about the four individuals who sat down at the Woolworth’s counter on February 1.
A simple close reading strategy asks students to go through three stages. The first is to read through a lens. Second, students use that lens to look for patterns in the reading that they have done. Finally, they use the patterns to uncover new understanding. In this example, students can use the strategy using both the picture book and accompanying primary sources.
Introduce the book by asking students, “How does the author portray the four young African American men who are shown on the cover of the book? Reading closely and looking for evidence in words and short phrases might help us answer this question.” When reading the story, students might use words like hopeful, patient, inspired, or determined.
Reading a Primary Source through a Close Reading Lens
UNC Greensboro holds oral histories of all four men who began the Greensboro sit-ins. These, along with other related primary sources, can be found in the accompanying primary source set to this post. Note that some of the oral histories contain language that may not be suitable to all students. Using the same strategy of reading through a lens, students can look for other ways that these young men can be described.
Given the length of the oral histories, consider the time that your students have. You may want to identify the portions of the oral history that directly speak to the 1960 sit-ins. Decide on your students’ experience with oral histories and using a close reading strategy. Now ask students, “How do the men, in their oral history interviews, portray themselves at the time of the sit-ins?” You could explore just one oral history or have groups of students analyze different sources and share their findings.
Bringing the Findings Together to Look for Patterns
After giving the oral histories a close read, take the findings from them and from the book. Ask students to put the words and phrases into multiple groups. Then ask students to label or describe the groups they have created. Words and phrases can be used between groups and some may not be used as part of a group at all.
One group may be active words and others passive. Another group may contain words that show strength while others show fear. There will not be a right or wrong way to organize what the students find as long as they can justify it.
Returning to the Picture Book to Create New Knowledge
Looking at the groups, identify the words that came from the first close reading of the picture book. Then identify groups that contain none of those words. Ask students, “Looking at this, what big ideas about these young men were left out of this story? Why do you think it was left out? How would the story have been different if those ideas were included?”
This is not to say that Pinkney’s book is lacking. Instead, it is one perspective that is shared about an event and the people involved in it. Pairing that perspective with additional complimentary perspectives shows students that authors often choose to convey specific character traits as part of her or his storytelling based on their knowledge of the people in the story.
By looking at the choices an author has to make when writing a book in thirty-two pages, students have an opportunity to express their understanding of the event learned through their analysis of primary sources.
Author: Tom Bober
Tom Bober is a school librarian at RM Captain Elementary, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the upcoming book Elementary Educator’s Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He writes the Picture Books and Primary Sources posts for AASL’s KQ blog and has written articles for several publications. Tom also presents at conferences, runs workshops, and gives webinars to promote the use primary sources in student learning. He began his career as an elementary classroom teacher, was also an educational technologist, and has spent the last nine years as a school librarian.