Teaching History with Children’s Literature: If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America


If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America, written by Anne Kamma and illustrated by Pamela Johnson, is a comprehensive book that answers many of the questions students may have about slavery.

What was it like to be a slave in America?  Where would you sleep?  What would you eat?  Could you get married or go to school?  How hard did you have to work?  When did slavery end?  If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America answers all these questions and many more in language that is easy for students to comprehend.  It is written in second person language so that students are easily engaged in the information.  Each page provides an illustration that truly conveys the many injustices that African Americans faced during times of slavery.  This is an excellent book to use when discussing the Civil War and slavery.  It could be shared with a whole class by the teacher or students could easily explore it on their own.

“Where did American slaves live?”
“Most lived on farms called plantations.  Some plantations were small farms with only a few slaves.  Others were big, with hundreds of slaves.  Most were in between.”

“What would you wear?”
“Every winter, owners handed out new clothes to their slaves.  But often owners didn’t give them enough clothes to wear, even though it was the slaves’ hard work that made the owners rich.”

“What would your name be?”
“Your father and mother might name you Sally or Ned, after a favorite grandparent.  Or Kagne or Cuffy, after an African ancestor.  Some children were named after of the week they were born on, just as many children in Africa were.  Sometimes the owner gave children the names he wanted them to have.”

Curriculum Connections:
If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America really addresses all aspects of the lives of African American slaves.  This book correlates nicely with the Virginia History and Social Science Standards of Learning VS.7 which covers the issues that divided the nation and led to the Civil War, including the roles of whites and enslaved African Americans.

Additional Resources:
Runaway Slave Project
:  This is a project for older students.  The goal of the project is for students to pretend that they are a runaway slave, traveling on the underground railroad.  Students must use their research to describe their path, write a journal, and create a map of their journey.  This site provides a nice list of resources for students to use for research.

Slavery Is…:  This is a project that a fourth grade class did in 1998.  It is an activity that could be recreated in a classroom or simply shown to students to encourage them to think of their own definitions of slavery.

Underground Railroad activity:  This activity from National Geographic is like a ‘choose your own adventure’ online.  Students are told that they are slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad and are given different choices to click on such as approaching a safe house or hiding in the woods.

Harriet Tubman Reader’s Theater:  This is a reader’s theater for students to act out about Harriet Tubman’s life.

General Information:
Book:  If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America
Author:  Anne Kamma
Illustrator:  Pamela Johnson
Publisher:  Scholastic, Inc.
Publication Date:  2004
Pages:  80 pages
Grade Range:  3-8
ISBN:  049567068
ISBN-13:  9780439567060

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