AppLit Study Guides

Exploring Social Issues Through
Appalachian Children's Literature

Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia! 

Bright Freedom’s Song * The Mystery of Roanoke * Clara and the Hoodoo Man  * M. C. Higgins, the Great * 
Soft Rain * Music from a Place Called Half Moon * Fledglings * The Star Fisher

Susan Virginia Mead, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Ferrum College
(540) 365-4611

Presented at the Fall 2000 Conference of the Appalachian Teachers' Network and the
Southwest Virginia Association for Multicultural Education 
Radford University * September 9, 2000

This study guide explores a number of young adult historical novels set in Appalachia which can be used to teach concepts related to race, ethnicity, and social inequality. Included are several sample lessons, related Internet links, and ideas about how to build upon, adapt, or create new designs to teach these concepts in classroom settings at elementary, middle, and high school levels.  

Bibliography  *  Appalachian Settings of Novels  *  Related Virginia SOLs * Sociological Terminology  *  Identifying Key Concepts in the Novels  *  Suggested Projects *
Related Internet Web Addresses


Cornelissen, Cornelia.  Soft Rain.  New York:  Bantam, 1998.

Hamilton, Virginia:  M. C. Higgins, the Great.  New York:  Aladdin Paperbacks, 1974. 

Houston, Gloria.  Bright Freedom’s Song:  A Story of the Underground Railroad.  New York:  Harcourt Brace, 1998. 

Markle, Sandra.  The Fledglings.  Honesdale, Pa:  Boyd Mills Press, 1992.

Oughton, Jerrie.  Music from a Place Called Half Moon.  New York:  Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, 1995. 

Partridge, Elizabeth.  Clara and the Hoodoo Man.  New York:  Puffin Books, 1996. 

Sulkin, Karen Adams.  The Mystery of Roanoke.  Roanoke, VA:  The Roanoke Times, 1998. 

Yep, Laurence.  The Star Fisher.  New York:  Puffin Books, 1991.

For other novels, see AppLit bibliography Sociological Threads Within the Quilt of Appalachian Children’s Literature:  A Survey of Historical Fiction.

Appalachian Settings of these Novels 
(as closely as can be determined—factual and fictional):

Soft Rain:  Cherokee, North Carolina

M. C. Higgins, the Great: the hill country in eastern Ohio

Bright Freedom’s Song: Buncombe County area in North Carolina

The Fledglings:  Cherokee, North Carolina

Music from a Place Called Half Moon:  Half Moon (south of Asheville) North Carolina

Clara and the Hoodoo Man: Red Owl Mountain, Tennessee

The Mystery of Roanoke:  Roanoke, Virginia

The Star Fisher:  Clarksburg, West Virginia

Related Virginia Standards of Learning for History and Social Studies

(for explanation or clarification of specific application of any SOL, contact

K.1, K.3, K.7 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4
2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.6 3.3, 3.6, 3.11, 3.12, 3.13
4.1, 4.2, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.7 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.6, 5.7, 5.9, 5.10
C/T5.3, C/T5.4 6.1, 6.7, 6.10, 6.11
7.1; 7.4; 7.10 C/T8.2, C/T8.4
9.5, 9.9, 9.11 10.1, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5, 10.6, 10.9, 10.14, 10.15
11.1, 11.2, 11.5, 11.6, 11.8, 11.15, 11.16, 11.17, 11.18 12.3, 12.4, 12.5, 12.6, 12.9, 12.10, 12.12, 12.13, 12.15, 12.16, 12.17   

Sociological Terminology
Conceptualizations and phrasing derived from years of reading, thinking, and teaching…
Open, as always, for discussion and suggestions!

  • Assimilation - adaptation strategy by which a minority group adopts the cultural characteristics of the dominant group, thereby blending its distinct cultural characteristics with those of the majority—or losing those distinctions altogether  
  • Cultural Relativity - the belief that no way of life, even your own, is better than any other way of doing things; in fact, going as far as trying to “put yourself in the shoes” of someone from a different culture in order to see things from their point of view
  • Cultural Pluralism - adaptation strategy which allows the full range of ethnicities within society to co-exist on equal terms in an atmosphere which appreciates and celebrates diversity
  • Culture - beliefs, values, symbols (including language), material objects, behavior that characterize and are shared by members of a society; a subculture is a smaller group within a society which has some distinct cultural characteristics from the mainstream society but is still a part of that larger society 
  • Discrimination - mistreatment that keeps members of a particular group from acquiring certain social rewards (money, jobs, prestige, education, freedom, etc.) that are available to the more powerful
  • Enslavement - a form of discrimination that deprives the oppressed persons of individual, social, and economic freedom by subjecting them to ownership by others more powerful in society; may be based on membership in a particular social category and passed down through generations
  • Ethnic Group - social category based on shared distinctive cultural traits
  • Ethnocentrism - the belief that your culture is better than other cultures and that you have the right to judge these other cultures by your own
  • Gender - social category based on the cultural characteristics and expectations associated with a person’s sex (i.e., sex refers to the physical distinctions between male and female, while gender refers to the differences between what is appropriately considered masculine and feminine)
  • Majority Group - social category consisting of those who share physical and/or cultural characteristics which are considered mainstream, and who have the ability to dominate others in society
  • Minority Group - social category consisting of those who share physical and/or cultural characteristics which are distinct from those of the majority, and who are subjected to prejudice and discrimination
  • Multiculturalism - celebratory education about the diversity which makes up humanity
  • Population Transfer - a form of discrimination involving the forced involuntary transport of people from one geographical location to another
  • Prejudice - attitude towards one or more persons based on assumptions about the social groups to which they belong
  • Race - social category based on shared physical traits of genetic origin, such as skin color, facial structure, hair texture, or certain bone or blood characteristics; groups which share certain traits are often considered more socially distinct than biologically from other groups
  • Racial Ethnic Group - social category consisting of those who share genetic and cultural traits which distinguish them from other groups in society
  • Racism - attitude towards a group of people based on their membership in a group with socially distinct physical characteristics of genetic origins
  • Stereotype - mental image associated with a person or persons based on their membership in a particular social category, whether positive, negative, or neutral
  • Xenophobia - fear of that which is different, strange or unknown

Identifying Key Concepts in the Novels for Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia!

Bright Freedom’s Song * The Mystery of Roanoke * Clara and the Hoodoo Man  * M. C. Higgins, the Great * 
Soft Rain * Music from a Place Called Half Moon * Fledglings * The Star Fisher

Bright Freedom’s Song by Gloria Houston teaches children the means by which enslaved people who escaped were hidden on farms and smuggled to the next safe house along their journey.  This Houston novel makes clear the danger that early African Americans were willing to endure to obtain their freedom. Because she develops a strong character of the former slave Marcus, who comes from freedom in Canada to lead others on their journey, Houston refrains from elevating the white family’s role to that of primary hero.  Racism and discrimination are the critical themes; however, this novel also offers insight into two other minority groups.  First of all, young Bright Cameron is a strong role model for young female readers as she partners with her family and Marcus to provide safe passage; she does not let others’ stereotypes about her gender and her youthful status hinder her contributions to the cause.  Secondly, this novel offers the reader historical information about indentured servitude of another ethnic group, in this case the Scots in the United States, comparing and contrasting that experience with enslavement of people of African heritage within the same region.  Yet Houston is careful not to diminish the experience of enslaved African Americans by highlighting these other forms of oppression.  This novel is an extremely useful vehicle for teaching young people about a myriad of historical social ills; as a result, readers can gain greater understanding of the stereotypes that young people struggle with even today.

The Mystery of Roanoke by Karen Adams Sulkin may be even more accessible to young people because of the ghost story genre and its more subtle references to history.  Young readers can use their imaginations to follow the path of the ghost of the enslaved young man who drowned on his way to freedom.  With the help of two present day Euro-American children, the ghost is able to recreate the moment of his century-old escape attempt and complete it successfully.  As in Houston's novels, the home of the twentieth-century Euro-American family serves as the base of the story, but they primarily serve as partners to safety rather than the saviors themselves.  By focusing on the bravery and commitment of the young African American male, Sulkin draws the reader into the intensity of the enslavement  period and the Underground Railroad.  The supernatural time-travel element of this novel contrasts well with Bright Freedom’s Song’s historical realism.  Mystery of Roanoke is an excellent example of the importance of infusing historical and sociological content in novels that are accessible to a young mind yearning for an imaginative story.

Clara and the Hoodoo Man by Elizabeth Partridge and M. C. Higgins the Great by Virginia Hamilton are two young adult novels which take a more subtle approach to presenting experiences of African Americans in Appalachia.  The race of the characters in each of these stories is first made known through physical description of an important character:  the  “rich mahogany red” of the Hoodoo Man’s skin (p. 34) and M. C. Higgins' wearing of a “brown, faded T-shirt…the color and fit of a second skin….” (p. 3). The primary theme of these novels is not race; instead, Partridge’s novel tells of everyday experiences of a young girl growing up in mountain traditions of ginseng gathering, home births with midwives, and healing illnesses with herbs, while Hamilton depicts a young boy’s fears of living under the shadow of the refuse of the coal mining industry with its slag heaps, sludge, acidic run-off, and mountaintop removal.  Although racial discrimination is not central to either novel, each author provides a strong historical thread of minority group experiences through her novel.  Clara’s family celebrates the Juneteenth holiday, observed in many African American communities as the day that word of emancipation got to slaves in Georgia—months after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.  Another reference to race in Partridge’s novel is the introduction of a Euro-American doctor who provides assistance beyond the traditional healing practices of Clara’s family; however, it is the mountain tradition of the African American Hoodoo Man which heals Clara’s sister, not the Euro-American expertise.  This dispels the negative stereotype Clara’s mother has of this outcast man—it is this stereotype of the Hoodoo Man, and not racial conflict, that serves as the educational point about prejudice in this book. See also notes in AppLit's Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.   

Likewise, in M. C. Higgins, the Great, the primary prejudice is that of M. C.’s family against the witchy people at the foot of the mountain; "those people aren’t right" says M. C.’s father of the Killburn men who have 6 fingers on each hand; "wash your hands, you let one of them touch you" (p. 195).  Although it is not clearly defined in the novel, it is likely that this family is of Melungeon heritage, a renowned minority group with strong ties to Appalachia.   The novel follows M. C.’s unresolved struggle to decide whether or not to buy into his father’s stereotypes about this family.  Illuminating the prejudice and discrimination that can occur within and between minority groups in society is a very important contribution of these books.  For children reading these stories, the African American characters experience many of the same conditions and day-to-day occurrences that any inhabitant of Appalachia might face, and so can serve as the young “everyman” or “everywoman” of Appalachia. 

Another racial-ethnic group which offers richness to the Appalachian experience is the Cherokee Nation, or more accurately Tsalagi (tsahlahgkih), as it is said in their native language.  Cornelia Cornelissen’s novel Soft Rain introduces the life of the Tsalagi in their homeland in North Carolina just prior to the moment families are torn apart with the onset of the Trail of Tears.  She follows their plight until they reunite west of the Mississippi.  Cornelissen assists the reader in learning about historical figures such as Sequoyah; historical complexities of who moved when and how; the impact that schooling had on assimilation; subsistence patterns in the Tsalagi native land and on their journey west; and the daily deaths that occurred as a result of this particularly cruel manifestation of population transfer.  Cornelissen does not fall into the trap of complete vilification of all United States soldiers and Euro-American civilians, and she gives a somewhat positive slant on assimilation and cultural adaptation.  Yet, her recognition of the complexity of race relations does not diminish her message of the horrors of removal. See also notes in AppLit's Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction. 

Jerrie Oughton’s Music from a Place Called Half Moon is a moving depiction of tragedies which result from prejudice and reactions to prejudice in a small North Carolina town near Asheville. The reader walks with young Edie Jo as she overcomes the ignorance that results from lack of contact with people who are racially and ethnically different, towards a warm and deep understanding that comes with opening her life to those same people.  The book envelops a mystery that keeps the reader engaged, and the interpersonal dynamics seem familiar as the family struggles with differing opinions about contact with their Cherokee neighbors.  The theme is hard-hitting and direct, yet the context of personal and community growth brings the story home so that children empathize and learn from the ethnocentric mistakes of the characters in this novel.   

Sandra Markle’s novel The Fledglings appeals to members of a teenage audience who are struggling to establish their own identities and who have a thirst for adventure.  Yet Markle offers direct cultural education through descriptions of traditional medicines and legends, modern manifestations of life in Cherokee, NC, and use of Tsalagi words throughout the text (with the inclusion of a glossary at the end).  Although Markle clearly illustrates discrimination through such images as Euro-Americans who are xenophobic and thus disturbed by hearing a “foreign” tongue, she also gives the reader hope that cultures can co-exist as they move towards pluralism, when devoted partners find success in their racially mixed marriage and when  the Tsalagi adopt Euro-American orphans and raise them as their own. See also notes in AppLit's Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction. 

The Star Fisher by Laurence Yep sends the reader into yet another direction to gather the last piece of fabric for this Appalachian quilt.  Yep bases his novel on the experience of his Chinese American grandmother who moved to West Virginia from Ohio when her father decided to open a laundry in Clarksburg.  Parts of the story are reminiscent of Amy Tan’s depiction of mother-daughter relationships:  at first they seem culturally bound, yet they evolve into clearly universal patterns.  Yep’s technique of italicizing the text when his characters speak English and using the plain type when they speak their native tongue is a another effective technique which normalizes and even celebrates the presence of the ethnic diversity in the Appalachian region—it is the English speakers who seem out of the norm with their words in italics.  The racial slurs uttered by townspeople begin in the first few pages of the novel, and continue throughout the very last pages.  Like Cornelissen in Soft Rain, Yep depicts kindly Euro-American community members, and characters of all backgrounds, who learn lessons about prejudice, discrimination and the complexities of assimilation.  The main character struggles with her identity, finally coming to the proud realization that ”We may talk and dress and act like Americans, but in our hearts we’ll always be Chinese” (p. 146).  Yep ’s book is a good example of multiculturalism because it signifies that the Appalachian quilt has many colors and styles representing a cultural pluralism that should be appreciated—more a mouth-watering stew of many deliciously unique vegetables than a melting pot of assimilated pea soup monotony. The sequel Dream Souls deals with conflicts between the Chinese parents' desire to remain Chinese and their children's fervent longing to celebrate Christmas with their Euro-American friends. See also notes on both novels in AppLit's Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

Suggested Projects Designed for Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia!

Bright Freedom’s Song * The Mystery of Roanoke * Clara and the Hoodoo Man  * M. C. Higgins, the Great * 
Soft Rain * Music from a Place Called Half Moon * Fledglings * The Star Fisher

Color the World with Racial Diversity

Read excerpts from the novels that highlight the descriptions of M. C.’s skin as brown (p. 3), the Hoodoo Man’s skin as “rich mahogany red”  (p. 34) and Brightie’s wonderment at others calling someone with brown skin “black;” and then asking “Are there other colors of men too?” (p. 16).

Encourage all students to identify themselves and others artistically, celebrating the physical diversity of their skin tones.  For this project, the Crayola Multicultural product line has many options:  washable markers (8), washable paints (8), colored pencils (8), regular size crayons (16), large size crayons (8).  For example, the paints include the following colors:  Beige, Bronze, Brown (M. C.’s T-shirt and skin), Mahogany (there you go, Marcus!), Olive, Peach, Tan, and Terra Cotta (color information from

Ask students to draw pictures of the books’ characters with the multicultural products,  and then explore how they might define their very own skin tone by experimenting with choosing/blending colors.

Next tell students to use their experience and imagination to identify other positive images that they can liken to the tone of their skin.  They can construct similes and/or write poetry about themselves and their friends: 

Ex:           My skin is as beautiful as    (my grandma’s oaken dresser)
                                                         (the pale pink of sunrise)
                                                         (the richest, most fertile soil in the garden)
                                                         (buttermilk in an heirloom china cup)
                My braids shine like corn silk and yours gleam like onyx!
                                   (Oh, my goodness….sincere apologies to the poets among us!!!)

Send older students to conduct research about the terms used to describe racial groups over time (white, Euro-American; Indian, Native American; black, African-American; Hispanic, Latino):  when and how they originated, why they have changed, and how people feel about them.  They could focus on the contributions to this debate from notable people among the Harlem Renaissance writers, Civil Rights era activists, and modern day community leaders.  Depending on the circumstances and concerns, one possibility is to send students to investigate attitudes within their own racial-ethnic groups to reduce misunderstandings or tensions that might arise. Or, if possible, student teams of racial-ethnic diversity can investigate the issues together.  Be sure to include as wide a spectrum of racial-ethnic group as time and circumstance allow:  Native American, African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, Euro-American, AND various distinctions within each of these broad categories.

Solve the Mystery of the Marvelous Melungeons!
Work with students to prepare and perform serious skits about when, how, and why the Melungeons entered Appalachia; use the myriad of Internet and other resources to investigate the different stories and theories.  Be sure to include important moments in the historical time-line (perhaps with power point or video in the background showing what else was happening in the world about those times). Perform the skits for a neighboring class, and have them decide which theory they think explains the most likely origin of this racial-ethnic group.  If the students are good critical thinkers, after they have researched and performed their skits, have them read  Sang Spell by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and reflect upon whether they believe she has captured the complexities of the group, or whether she has fallen into a trap of prejudice and stereotypes that could perpetuate xenophobia.

Feeling Left Out—Where Do I Belong?

Read excerpts of The Star Fisher with the class.  Engage students in pretending/imagining exercises through quiet thinking time or more active role play.  Paraphrase the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 for them (or get one of the older classes to do that) and set up a scene where they have to imagine being unwanted where they were going to live or already are living.   As a follow-up have them find out a little bit about the Clarksburg area in West Virginia (through the local tourist bureau website).  Have them draw a map of where the businesses might be in the novel’s town (drawing from the configuration of their own town or some imaginary one).  Then have them mark the spots where Joan might hear and feel some of the hurtful things she experienced in the novel.   

Have students talk about times that they felt as though they didn’t belong somewhere.  Did anyone help them feel better?  How?  How could we use those helping ways to help immigrants today?  Or help new kids at school? 

Older students can see parts of the film The Joy Luck Club or read excerpts from one or two of Amy Tan’s novels about Chinese American women coming of age.  Have them write an analysis of how the female characters in Tan’s novels are similar or different from those in The Star Fisher.

Loving the Land and Having to Leave 

To begin focusing students on how important “place” can be to a group of people, locate the geographical placement of various Nations and Tribes over different eras of their history—on the national or state map (see web site below for Virginia in 1600).   Visit the Monacan Village at the Explore Park or at Natural Bridge, or the living history village of a Tribe nearest you to get a better understanding of how the indigenous people lived closest to where your students live. 

Find and read—or have students find and read—examples of Native American writings that say how important place and the land are to them.  See some of the literature websites for help with this.  Have students reflect on when they loved a place and had to leave it—perhaps they could write a poem about that.   

To help students understand the enormous physical strain of population transfer, have students make a map of the travels that the Cherokee made during the Trail of Tears, following the story of Soft Rain as well as they can. 

Expand the concept of “removal” by thinking of other instances when people were forced off their land by the government:  the Shenandoah National Park and other government projects is one possibility (for younger students, you can use the picture book When the Whippoorwill Calls by Candice F. Ransom—see Realistic Picture Book Bibliography).  The second possibility is to introduce information about removal of Japanese Americans to internment camps, whereupon they lost most of what they owned. Help students understand that many of these folks were U.S. citizens (had never been to Japan and never spoke Japanese) and some had relatives fighting in Europe in one of the most decorated units of the war—get them to discuss the decision-making process here.  The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. has some excellent resources about Japanese Internment; one portfolio has copies of original documents that may fascinate all levels of students. A children’s picture book titled The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida, Joanna Yardley (illustrator) is a gentle and excellent introduction to this issue for younger children. Older students can see clips from the film Come See the Paradise (with actor Dennis Quaid, among others).  Of course, for some classes it might be very appropriate to talk about the “removal” of Jews and others in Nazi Germany as well.  Have students explore the following questions:  “What makes governments—or just everyday people—behave in such an intolerant way?”  Introduce the concept of  “xenophobia” as a possible answer—at least to spark discussion.   Of what are we afraid today and could this happen again?   

Returning to the focus on the Cherokee, have two teams of students work on a project:  one researching the Cherokee in the East, and the second researching the Cherokee in the West.  Take a field trip to Cherokee, NC, if possible, to make the differences (geographic and cultural) come alive.  Discuss the positive and negative impact of “marketing” one’s racial-ethnic heritage (trinkets, team names, high ticket crafts, etc.).  One place students may start is  Have the students think of ways that their own heritage has been marketed (commercial holidays, etc.). 

Have students research the role of the government (Presidents, Congress, Army, etc.) in the removal process—not just of the Cherokee but other Native American Nations as well.   

Who Am I?  Do You Really Know? Well If You Don’t, I Do!!! 

If you live in Virginia, bring the discussion home by reading excerpts of  Indian Island in Amherst County by Peter Houck and Mintcy D. Maxham (published in Lynchburg by Warwick House Publishing, 1993).  This is the story of members of a Nation who were forced to deny who they were by the state government (the state registrar said there was no such thing as Indian and so it could not be put on birth certificates).  That very group is now in the process of rediscovering their heritage and rebuilding their Nation.  This Nation was officially recognized by the Commonwealth in 1989. After viewing the video Reclaiming Our Heritage (see Virginia Humanities Center and the Monacan Nation web sites below), make arrangements to meet with Sharon Bryant, Phyllis Hicks, and Kenneth Branham of the Monacan nation; if possible, meet them at the old Monacan schoolhouse, now a museum, so they can talk to the students about what it was like for them and their parents to go to school there and to public school (this should happen IF and ONLY IF they feel comfortable sharing those memories!!!!!).  Help the students draw parallels to the novels about Native Americans and others denied the right to celebrate their heritage. 

Older students can investigate a few other avenues to familiarize themselves with the role of government in the plight of the Monacans and other minority groups:    

1) Have them investigate the connection of the Virginia state registrar, Dr. Plecker, to the eugenics movement and the Nazi government.  Recent events in Virginia government have addressed whether or not the state should apologize for its role in eugenics.

2) Have them discuss the irony of the fact that the indigenous people of this region of North American were not granted citizenship until 1924.  Students  can discuss the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of citizen status; they can consider and make a list of other groups that have had difficulty attaining that status; they can think about the consequences of being denied that status. 

Returning the focus to the present day, use Internet resources to find out about the former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller. Ask students to draw or make models that accurately depict Wilma Mankiller in her ceremonial regalia, in clothes she might have worn during her protest period (the years of Alcatraz and AIM), as a mother/grandmother, and in her business suits.  Ask students which “Wilma” they most greatly identify with and why?   

Take students to a nearby Pow Wow to learn about regalia and the drumming and dancing of the different Nations from different regions in the U.S.   Have younger students try to find out if the Cherokee in the East do things differently from the Cherokee in the West. For older students who have studied the role of the government in Native American history, ask them to reflect on the prominent and proud role the American Flag and War Veterans play at the Pow Wow—how do the students make sense of this?  If they feel comfortable, they can interview folks at the Pow Wow on this issue.  

Have students research the rock band called Indigenous. They are a family from the Nakota Nation in the Plains but students may be able to relate to their music and make some comparisons geographically and culturally with the Native Americans they are studying in this region.  Students can visit their web site at  There are articles they could analyze, or perhaps they could design the band’s next CD cover and liner notes based on what they have learned about this Native American band.

 What’s in a Word?  Everything!!!!

Using the web site material on Sequoyah and the modern Cherokee dictionary web site, help students celebrate the fun of speaking a different language.   

Play the “gossip” or “telephone” game with them to get them warmed up.  Whisper something fairly difficult in their ears and let them see how hard it is to go around if they aren’t listening carefully! 

Practice the difference between “Cherokee” and “Tsalagi” (pronounced tsahlahgkih).  Let the students play and giggle if they want.  Then have each student tell you the name of someone in their family—a name that is hard for others to say.  Ask them how it feels when others mess up this special person’s name?   

Now tell the students to pick an English word (animal, noun, verb, etc.) that they would like for you to translate into Tsalagi for them.  After consulting the web site material, tell them the word in Tsalagi; help them say it, let everyone say it.

Have the students draw the animal, noun, a person doing the verb.  Then ask the students to write what the word is in Cherokee, first using their usual ABC’s for the Tsalagi word, then having them try to write the name of the thing with Sequoyah’s lettering, on the same page. Hang their efforts on your special display wall. 

Older students can work on developing ongoing dialogues in Cherokee—it was only spoken, not written, before Sequoyah!  So now it is their turn.  Figure out special rewards for those who are willing to keep on working at it! 

To expand the language unit, you can help students learn about the Navajo Code Talkers, those Native Americans who created an unbreakable code in World War II; although I have no resources listed (this was a last minute thought!) there is a video (Navajo Code Talkers:  The Epic Story) and a beautiful picture book (Sara Hoagland Hunter’s The Unbreakable Code, illustrated by Julia Miner) about this use of a Native American language to save the troops in the Pacific Theatre.  If you are interested and can’t find it on your own, let me know.

Tradition! Tradition!

Language changes over time, but so do other cultural elements like healing practices.  And cultures can lose these gifts and skills if they are not practiced, just as a person can lose a language if it isn’t spoken. 

Share with the students information about how some people still use herbs and plants of all kinds for healing— like the Hoodoo man and the Native Americans in the novels did.  But they can only do it safely—if they or their health practitioner know how—just like any medicine!  And even more surprising, some people don’t go to the hospitals to have babies—on purpose!!!  As of yet, I am unaware of a child centered web site that would be ideal for children to look up to learn more about these traditions all on their own.  However, one is in the works (see below); that website will take sensitivities about sexuality and child safety into consideration and will be a very gentle place for children to go to get information about babies, families, plants and how they help us.  

Until that site is up, you the teacher will have to screen the information! After you have read over the web sites or other resources of your own dealing with traditional herbal uses, have students look for or bring in some of the most common plants you want to talk about.  Help them press the plants onto nice notepaper using heavy books and waxed paper.  Or you can make handmade paper with bits and pieces of these plants in it.  Once the card or paper is made, share with the students what his or her notecard/paper plants help heal. Students can write some of that information on the card, cover the plant side with clear contact paper, and send it to someone. Or, the student can frame the piece of paper after they have created a delicate border around the edge with words (which should show when framed)  referring to the plants in the paper and their healing properties.  Serious science students can get more detailed about taxonomies and classifications of the various plants in a special notebook; and if appropriate and supervised, they can make some simple tinctures with glycerin and/or a topical cream of some agreed upon no risk plant, if the teacher has the expertise or knows an herbalist to invite to class.   

Depending on the age of the children, teaching about midwifery may be a little more tricky.  Have the children go home and ask their parents where they were born—what hospital or birthing center, home, etc. AND who was there.  These are stories about their first day of life so it’s all about them—they should love it!  Ask the students to come back to class with at least a small story about when they were born.  Maybe they can bring in pictures of themselves as newborns to put on the board and the children can try to guess whose pictures are whose!  With the class, read the passages in Clara and the Hoodoo Man that refer to the woman helping other women to birth babies. And share whatever you feel is appropriate for the age level about what midwives do…they stay with the mom and give her support, and comfort, and encouragement!  Have the children think of one of the most challenging physical things they have ever tried to do…Birthing babies is even harder sometimes!  Sometimes not!  But the midwives know all about it!  Older students can watch the video Giving Birth, Challenges and Choices (created by Suzanne Arms and Susan Berthiaume) or Home Sweet Homebirth by Yvonne Cryns if it is appropriate to the school setting; or as a substitute they can see Born in the USA, which has been aired on some PBS stations. 

In terms of academic work, older students can study the research and legal information on the site and its links, and then prepare a formal class debate on the safety and legality of out-of-hospital births with direct-entry midwifes versus in-hospital births with obstetricians; as in any debate, it is absolutely essential that all points introduced into the debate should be based on fact found in a reliable source for both issues.  Or if they prefer, students who are ready to think critically through highly controversial debates can invite a Certified Professional Midwife and an Obstetrician in to discuss with the class the midwifery model and obstetric medicine model; other birth practitioners such as family practitioners, Nurse Midwives and Doulas could also be invited).  If students are studying this topic during a state legislative session in a state where all midwives are not legal, encourage students to review the current laws, and follow any bills through the committees in the House of Delegates and Senate (or other legislative body).  Arrange for them to go the capital if possible to hear debate on these bills; make an appointment with the lobbyist to see how he or she works.  IF and ONLY IF the students have an opinion and are comfortable sharing it, suggest that the students write their representatives to voice an opinion about the matter—or they could even go so far as to write a position paper for the representative to consider using!  

All Aboard!

Enslavement is one of the most extreme manifestations of prejudice and discrimination. Unfortunately, our country lived WITH it longer than it has lived without it.  It is an important part of our social history.   

Perhaps celebrating those who gave so much and worked so hard to bring an end to that era is the best way to point out what humanity can do in its best and worst case scenarios—and it is not clear that the law will always be on the “most moral” side.  This is a point that older students could research—moments of transformation for the legal system when it realizes that the legal code no longer serves the best, most equitable interests of a multicultural society.  The struggle still continued after the last train halted on the Underground Railroad.  Its Conductor and its Spokesman were mighty leaders of their day and continue their influence today (as can be seen in the web site for the Harriet Tubman Organization, which provides safe haven for abused spouses just as the historical Tubman did for her own people). Older students can research the work that such community organizations do in this day and time, writing essays or newspaper articles to draw parallels with Tubman’s own work—all with information from the Internet.  Younger students can read again about how the Tsalagi took in the orphaned white children; they then can consider all the ways we need to take care of our children and elderly and all our families today.  Perhaps they could paint small hand mirrors to give to Habitat for Humanity families or nursing home residents or themselves with slogans or quotes like “I Have A Dream” or “I AM Somebody.”  To learn more about those heroic people who helped others in need, there are bibliographies for all ages and even lesson plans already available online for studying Tubman, Douglass, and so many others who struggled to bring freedom to African Americans.  In addition, students can follow the Underground Railroad tour map and draw their own map, learning the geography and political boundaries and issues along the way.   

To learn about symbols, students can take fabric markers and cloth, and decorate “quilt” squares with symbols of freedom.  Some squares can be glued on their own “quilt” banner to take home; some on banners to be given away; and at least one to be included on the class’s own collective big quilt.  This class quilt can be hung up on some days but not on others, signifying that someone traveling to freedom never knew when passage might be unsafe and that they might have to struggle just a little bit harder.  In the case of the classroom, if someone in school gets hurt because of another person’s meanness, the beautiful quilt would come down; at an act of special kindness, the banner could be proudly hung.  Perhaps with a visual reminder tied to a powerful story, the students will remember both the classroom purpose and the historical symbol. 

As they wait and work, the children can learn freedom songs from the Civil Rights Movement and other movements (from tapes by Guy and Candy Carawan, Hazel Dickens, Charlie King and others) and read Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez and Martin Luther King and so many others…building up to the day that the whole class celebrates Juneteenth (a little early or a little late, depending on the school calendar) in just the way that other communities around the world will do it on the appointed day (see web site for details).  After that day, the class quilt will go up to stay until the end of the year while the class celebrates diversity each week with a different author or hero of African American or Latino or Asian American or Native American or Euro-American descent who is honored for contributions in science or literature or art or math or history or music or social science or sports… or anywhere!  

Just so the struggle isn’t forgotten, students of all ages can watch movies such as The Long Walk Home about the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s affect on two families and a community, or the Land Before Time movies where a longneck and a sharp tooth dinosaur have to learn to co-exist, or Gandhi as he takes on the world with a hunger strike for peaceand wins that oneonly to lose his life later.  All these films are about struggling to make a new world and to respect and live with one another.  Each of these movies could be taken to a deeper level of research, both by having students study the historical moment and having students predict the future from what they have learned—what conflicts were occurring at that time?  What caused those in conflict to act the way they did?  If it were to happen again, and if the students were there, what would they do?  To tie in literature, students could read the tiny little novel The Mystery of Roanoke and discuss how this is exactly the message the novel offers:  If an injustice does happen and you are there, you best be ready! 


Related Internet Web Addresses 
for Celebrating Diversity in Appalachia!

Bright Freedom’s Song * The Mystery of Roanoke * Clara and the Hoodoo Man  * M. C. Higgins, the Great * 
Soft Rain * Music from a Place Called Half Moon * Fledglings * The Star Fisher

This site about Appalachian midwives was UNDER CONSTRUCTION! This description will be updated when it is back on line:  If the user clicks on each of the different photographs on the site, those are linked to other sites that contain information about midwives and midwifery issues, past and present, in the region.  An addition planned for this site is a child friendly link that speaks to children safely and appropriately about traditional healing practices that are still with us, including herbal healing and the midwifery model of care.  The home page to which this developing site is linked is the Virtual Center of the Appalachian College Association, which has many links pertaining to a wide variety of information about the region.

Web site for a home-based herbal product business located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Floyd, Virginia, on the eastern edge of Appalachia.  Includes very basic information about traditional uses for various herbal tinctures and plant essences.  The site gives appropriate caveats for the use of herbs, but it would be wise to oversee student use and understanding of this site in the context that the information is intended for the enhancement of general knowledge and not personal use without the assistance of a health practitioner.

Magazine article reviewing the research by Brent Kennedy and others; includes account of the author's visit to First Union, an initial gathering of those of Melungeon Heritage.  Followed by a list of resources, questions and items of interest.

Listing of twelve web sites including several sites affiliated with the Ani-Stohini/Unami Nation located in the Virginia and North Carolina portions of Appalachia.  Other listings include sites for information on Native American crafts, home schooling resources for Native Americans, historical villages, special events, and the official site for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in western North Carolina.

Home page of Clarksburg, West Virginia (setting of The Star Fisher).  Includes information about shopping, recreation, attractions, dining, and related links.  The special events section gives some insight into the cultural make-up of the area.

Educational materials, reports, and other resources on civil rights, useful for teachers in all disciplines who are committed to introducing students to multicultural studies and social issues such as racism, prejudice and diversity. Includes links listed un Civil Rights for Kids.

A list of nearly one hundred juvenile fiction picture books for third and fourth graders.  Books are listed chronologically by historical subject matter from 1492 to the 1990s, including five titles about the Underground Railroad and others pertaining to the period of African American enslavement.

            Each of these web pages gives another unique slice of the Appalachia of the southeastern Ohio hill country:  coal, culture, indigenous (Native American) population, and what is happening today; in fact, some folks in the area are not straying from traditional practices of healing and cooking with herbs as is evident with the web pages for the Culpepper Herb and Spice Emporium and Mt. Nebo Herbs and Oils. This part of Ohio boasts of cultural diversity as well, with mention of an Italian pasta maker and celebrations of the Chinese New Year.

             Commercial vendor of art supplies, including Crayola multicultural paints and pencils.  The site gives details of the colors included in each of these products.

Comprehensive source about “American Indian Sports Mascots” which includes current activism alerts, a chronology of the school mascot challenges and changes, educators’ resources, examination of the psychological aspects of the issue, related links and organizations, and pertinent news articles from across the country.

A biography of books about the Cherokee Nation for juvenile readers containing twenty-seven nonfiction listings, twenty-two fiction/picture book listings, twenty-three traditional literature listings, eighteen biography listings, two poetry listings, one reference listing and links to obtain more information on a number of authors.

Seventeen pages of bibliographic references for juveniles and adults covering 13 Indian nations, traditional literature, fiction, reference, nonfiction, and biography.

Thirteen pages of bibliographic references covering more than twenty Virginia tribes and other Eastern Woodland Indians, notable Native American and Colonial leaders, historic documents, lesson plans, natural history, and other topics.

This site, a part of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, gives a very short biography of Wilma Mankiller, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.  The home site includes a learning Center, information about the organization, and links to biographies of over 150 women who have been inducted therein.

The Harriet Tubman Center is a family violence resource center in Minnesota which was founded on the principles of providing safe passage for women and children towards freedom from violence.  This page is an information page about Harriet Tubman, with an essay written in easy-to-understand language, followed by  an extensive bibliography with resources for all ages. 

         Home page for this rock group that consists of family members from the Nakota Nation who have joined together to follow in the footsteps of their musician father. They have released two CD’s and tour the country. The website gives information about the members, the items they market, and their schedule.

The site offers an easy to read history of the celebration of emancipation that took place two and a half years after the official proclamation. The site also contains information about worldwide observances and organizations dedicated to this celebration. Furthermore, it gives detailed information about locations within the various states that plan Juneteenth observances.           

This website, compiled by a fan of Chinese American female author Amy Tan, includes links to encyclopedia biographies, interviews, essays about her, a list of her books and reviews.

            This page, found on the web site of the African American History of Western New York, offers an extensive annotated timeline of the events of Harriet Tubman’s life.  The page also includes a bibliography and information about the historic Harriet Tubman Home.

            Website sponsored by a person of Melungeon heritage who gives the various possibilities of ancestors and delineates the physical characteristics that are Melungeon traits.  She also lists of names that are commonly associated with Melungeon families.

            Official web address for the Monacan Indian Nation, with information about news, history, special events, photographs, and links.  Although this site was last updated in February, 1999, much of the material is very useful for an introduction to this Nation, one of the eight indigenous groups to be officially recognized in Virginia, and inhabitants of sacred Bear Mountain near the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This is the Appalachian Mountain Families web site, the owners of  which claim connection to Native American, Melungeon, and “free persons of color” ancestors, among others.  Their page includes genealogical information, records, memories, photos and more specific information on their Melungeon roots.

This site contains information about a tour that leads people on a six-day trek visiting locations used by the Underground Railroad. The broader site includes an educational guide with stories of the tour told through students' eyes; the page specified above includes an article about the tour which appeared in Newsweek and a seven-page list of  “Selected African American Historical Resources on the Web.”

            Contains the text of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  This can serve as a starting point for students who attempt to gain a greater understanding of U.S. immigration policy and attitudes towards the Chinese in the past, and consider the impact of those on the intervening years as well as the present.  This site has links to the host page which contains many resources pertaining to China.

         This site provides information for teachers of preschool and elementary students to help them learn about multicultural materials that they can use in their classrooms.  These resources include books, videos, puzzles, music, dolls, gifts, and other educational materials.  The arts and crafts section of the website offers the Crayola multicultural materials plus fabrics, felt figures, and yarn.  They even have rubber stamps available in Chinese Character, West African and Celtic Symbols and the Hebrew Alphabet.

           History of Native Americans in North Georgia from 2000 B.C. until 1838, with particular emphasis on Cherokee leaders, such as Sequoyah and John Ross, and the tragic removal/population transfer policy with the Trail of Tears.

Listing of the Standards of Learning for the Commonwealth of Virginia in history and social sciences for all grades, kindergarten through grade twelve. Many of these standards address economic, racial, cultural, ethnic, immigration, and multicultural issues related to this project; others are related to the means by which students will gain gain and demonstrate their knowledge (e.g., communication through the Internet, etc.).

            The Powerful People site lists several historical and contemporary Native American figures who have greatly influenced their own sovereign Nations—and others with whom they came into contact. Two of these people were Sequoyah, who invented the Cherokee syllabary, and Wilma Mankiller, former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.   The other leaders on this list are Chief Joseph, Fools Crow, Cochise, Sitting Bull, Seattle, Geronimo, and Ben Nighthorse Campbell.                         

A Cherokee lexicon featuring pronunciation guides, animal names, greetings, nouns, adjectives, verbs, days/months/time words, numbers, proper names, and bibliographic references for more information.

Author Karen Sulkin and publisher The Roanoke Times offered the book accompanied by study guide questions and answers.  This page gives a description of the book and related stories by Sulkin, linked to information about other lesson plans to be used in conjunction with the newspaper at all grade levels, in varied subject matters, and with attention to the Virginia Standards of Learning.

            Two locations on the same web site sponsored by Radford University Geography Department.  The activity page is specifically related to the Native American presence in Virginia in 1600, showing a map and a lesson plan with questions pertaining to tribes located all over the state, including the Appalachian region.  The broader resource page includes general information about geography as a discipline, National Geographic references, Virginia Standards of Learning, activity manuals for An Atlas of Virginia depicting the state during past centuries, and list of other online resources.

Magazine article about one of the most famous direct-entry midwives of modern times, Ina May Gaskins, author of Spiritual Midwifery.  Also includes links to other sources on midwifery.  One caution:  there are sidebars for other articles in this magazine that may not be appropriate for younger eyes—teachers should not miss the article but should use the site wisely.

         This site from Utah State University includes lesson plans for many famous people of different historical eras. Lesson plans contain details about the person’s life, references, lesson objectives, time allotment for lesson, resources needed, question guides, procedures/activities, and assessment. Three people were chosen specifically for inclusion in this Internet resource list:  Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass for the Underground Railroad, and Wilma Mankiller for the Cherokee Nation.

            This site contains a short lesson plan which includes background on former Cherokee Chief Mankiller’s life and career, several quotes from her, trivia, questions, activities, and a resource list. This site is provided by the Instructional Materials Center of the School of Education at University of Missouri-Kansas City.

             Home page for Virginia Birthing Freedom, an advocacy group which consists of families who choose to use the Midwifery Model of Care during  pregnancy and birth—and those who support families' rights to do so. This site has links to national and regional midwifery information sites, data which show the superior safety record of  traditional midwifery practices, and legislative information which is crucial to families’ efforts to legalize direct-entry midwives in Virginia.

A very brief overview of the history of the Monacan Indian Nation and information about a 30 -minute documentary film supported by the Virginia Folklife Program and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, and funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Jesse Ball duPont Fund.  This documentary is especially notable because it is produced and directed by Sharon Bryant, a leader in the Monacan Indian Nation and resident of Amherst County, Virginia.  This video can be ordered from the official Monacan Indian Nation web site found at

Overview of the eight tribes officially recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia, one of which, the Monacan nation, now inhabits the mountains and foothills of the Blue Ridge region. This overview offers brief descriptions of each tribe, as well as the geographic locations, chiefs, and date of state recognition for each.

As a part of their “Voices From the Gaps: Women Writers of Color” series, University of Minnesota offers information on a variety of female authors, categorized by name, geographic location, racial/ethnic background, and significant dates. The last two links are on Virginia Hamilton and onChinese-American author Amy Tan, for whom the site gives a biography, criticism, bibliography, works about the author, and related links.  This site lists more than 50 African-American women writers and approximately 30 Native American women writers, in addition to a large number of female authors from a myriad of other racial-ethnic backgrounds.

Website of the Melungeon Heritage Association, a non-profit organization, the goals of which include providing a centralized hub for communication of events and research pertaining to people of Melungeon background.  The information presently on the site is somewhat dated (9/2000), but may serve as a starting point for some of the basic information about this minority group.

Date Created:  9/09/2000.    Last Update: 2/3/09 9:41 PM