Dave Eggers’ new book, Her Right Foot, ends with a message of freedom, acceptance, and welcoming. It begins with a history lesson. Many interesting pieces of history about the Statue of Liberty, likely at least one that you did not know, are revealed. Looking at primary sources can help students explore those pieces of history.
I am planning on revising work I do with second-grade students around the topic of American symbols. This book and related primary sources can support each other in student understanding about this American symbol.
Exploring How the Statue of Liberty Was Built
Her Right Foot gives a perfect introduction to begin looking at how the Statue of Liberty was constructed. I’ll begin by reading the first half of the story just prior to the mention of Liberty’s right foot. Following that piece of the story, I’ll introduce several primary sources related to the construction of the statue. One that may intrigue students is a photo of workmen constructing the statue in Bartholdi’s Paris workshop.
As I display the primary sources, I will be sure to also display their title. Sometimes do not share titles with students because they reveal too much about the item. Information in some of these titles may help students connect the primary source to information shared in Eggers’s book. For example, the title “Re-Constructing the Statue on Bedloe’s Island” may remind students that the statue was constructed once in France before being brought to the United States.
To encourage students to examine the primary sources closely, I often frame their observations with a question. In this case, I will ask students, “What do these images tell us about how the Statue of Liberty was created?” Poster paper next to the images will give students a place to document their thinking as they do a gallery walk in small groups through the library.
In the photo of the workshop, students may point out the tools in workers hands. In the drawing of workers constructing the statue on Bedloe’s Island, they may point out the metal frame the statue is built upon or the men who hung from ropes to construct the statue.
After the gallery walk, we will come together and begin to synthesize what they observed across many primary sources. My hope is that through observing the primary sources through the framing question and connecting those observations to the story, students come to an understanding that this was a big task that involved many people and hard work.
Exploring Why the Statue of Liberty Was Built
After our conversation, we will revisit Dave Eggers’s story, reading the second half. Before I start reading, I want to frame their listening with a question. “We have taken a close look at how the Statue of Liberty was constructed. There were many people dedicated to the process and a lot of hard work was done. As we continue with this story, I don’t want you to think about how the Statue of Liberty was created. I want you to think about why the statue was created.”
After reading, students will share about why the Statue of Liberty was created. When we think about American symbols, they symbolize something about America. My hope is some of that comes through in the students’ sharing.
I may end with an image of the Statue of Liberty’s right foot in a 1884 drawing by John Durkin. It makes me wonder if even in 1884, before the Statue of Liberty had come to the United States, people were thinking about what it would symbolize.
The primary sources shared here, along with others, can be found in the curated list created specifically to connect to this book.
Also, I will be presenting a session at the AASL National Conference next month. I hope to see you there!
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.