In Tears of a Tiger , death is made all too real for a group of high school students at Hazlewood High School. The novel opens after a big basketball game, where the team is celebrating a big win. Several of the players go out to celebrate by drinking. However, driving while drunk leads to a horrible accident where Robbie, the star of the team, is killed. Andy, his best friend was driving, and the novel follows Andy’s fight with depression and guilt after the accident. The entire novel is told through homework assignments, letters, and first-hand accounts from the group of friends suffering through the tragedy. This unique style allows the reader to learn the perspectives and viewpoints of all those involved. While the other students seems to move on and learn to “deal with” the loss of Robbie, Andy spirals further and further into deep depression. However, he hides his hurt, leading his family, friends, teachers, and even his psychologist to believe he is also learning to “deal with” the situation. In reality though, Andy feels increasingly alone, leading to his own suicide at the end of the novel. After his suicide, a grief counselor instructs his friends to write Andy letters, telling him how they feel about the situation and what he has done. His friends reveal in those letters that Andy’s suicide was selfish, cowardly, and wrong. Though the friends’ letters show that suicide is not the right choice, this is an extremely controversial book. I feel it is too “real” to teach in a high school classroom, though others have used it effectively and purposefully in their classroom instruction.
Copper Sun is a change of pace from Draper’s other novels. This novel takes on a more historical context, but it is definitely not a novel that is read purely for historical benefit. Draper relays the emotions of a teenager named Amari, who is suddenly sold as a slave. Amari, who has a wonderful life in Africa, is shocked and devastated when “pale faced” men show up in her village. Though her tribe welcomes them, the men begin to kill children and adults. Amari sees her younger brother and both of her parents be shot and killed. Amari herself is then taken and carried overseas on a slave ship in horrible conditions. Draper’s description of the journey leaves the reader with a sense of pain and fear for the passengers, as her descriptions are all too real. On the journey to America, Amari sees several die around her, and the reader is forced to deal with the deaths of several characters who the reader has created a sort of bond with in the beginning of the novel. Upon arriving in America, Amari is sold to a white man, who bought her as a birthday present for his son. On his plantation, she befriends an indentured servant girl named Polly. Their time there is horrible, but one night, they are able to escape. They travel for nearly two months before reaching their destination, Fort Mose. Fort Mose was a place in Florida, ruled by the Spanish, and seen as a “safe house” for running slaves. They are welcomed there, given a home, and given jobs. Inez, the woman who welcomes them to Fort Mose, realizes that Amari is pregnant when she reaches the village. Amari at first is outraged when she realizes that she is indeed with child, but then vows that her child will never be a slave, and she will teach him or her respect for themselves, and her native language. The novel ends with Amari looking up at the copper sun, the same sun that shone over her home village in Africa. This novel, though highly emotional and complex, would be a good novel to read in a history class. It would give a “real” feeling to historical happenings that children often only see as words on a textbook page.
Fire From the Rock is set in Little Rock, Arkansas during the Civil Rights Movement. Sylvia Patterson, your typical junior high student, finds out throughout the novel that she really isn’t so “typical” after all. Her father, the pastor at a local African-American church, and her mother instill in Sylvia, her older brother, Gary, and her younger sister, D.J., faith and respect for themselves in a world that doesn’t always display the same ideals. Throughout the novel we see the various trials and hardships that Sylvia and other black members of the community endure, simply because of their race. However, despite the push back from the local community, the federal government is forcing integration at the local high school. A list of black students is formed to integrate the high school. While Gary wants to be on the list, Sylvia actually is, and is unsure of her place there. The entire novel is told through journal entries from Sylvia and actual clips of happenings and conversations from characters in the novel. Through this style, Draper once again allows the reader to experience and feel more of the perspectives and viewpoints important in the story. The novel ends with nine African American students attending the traditionally white high school, despite strong protests and efforts from the community to stop the integration. However, Sylvia is not one of the nine students, she withdraws her name from the list, saying she desires to remain in the “colored school” to gain the respect and love for her culture that is taught there. This novel is again one that could be taught in a history class, as major historical happenings are mentioned and explored throughout the various events in the novel. However, this book would lend itself well to a separate reading, also.
So what is Sharon Draper’s focus and style? First off, Draper’s style is unique. In Fire From the Rock , Tears of a Tiger , and Copper Sun , Draper uses unique and unusual narrative formats to tell the story. In Fire from the Rock , the story is told by switching between relaying live events and the journal entries of Sylvia Patterson. In Copper Sun , a portion of the novel is told both from Amari and Polly’s perspective. And in Tears of a Tiger , the entire novel is told through the letters, live interactions, and homework assignments from a group of high school kids. These unique styles of writing give the reader an understanding of the novels that would not be possible through a normal “story-telling” version of the books. And her focus, well, her focus is definitely on the “hard” topics, on the controversial topics that others wouldn’t dare address. Fire From the Rock , Tears of a Tiger , and Copper Sun , all deal with difficult racial issues. They do so in a way that brings pride to the African American race and forces those with racial prejudices to question their motives. Tears of a Tiger goes even further to deal with tough teenage issues like underage drinking, drinking and driving, and suicide. Though much care and effort should be used when teaching Draper’s novels, many great lessons can be learned from them as well. And above all else, Draper’s novels are all very “real.”
Story Quilt – Students will create a story quilt block for a particular chapter in the novel. They will find one quote that highlights a main idea from the chapter, and create an illustration that displays the main events of the chapter. They will also address how one of the major novel themes is developed in the chapter. Finally, they will convey how they connected with an event or character in their chapter. All of the individual blocks will then be combined to create the class’s quilt.
There are several complex and complicated characters in Fire From the Rock . Choose the one character that you can best relate to and evaluate how he or she is characterized in the novel. Create a portrait of your character during an important scene for them in the novel. Also, find three quotes from the novel about your character, and include them on your portrait. Label the quotes as either direct or indirect quotes. Consider the following elements in your portrait:
- Your character’s facial expressions (happy, sad, etc.)
- Your character’s dress (well dressed, stylish, etc.)
- What your character is holding (what is important to them?)
- Your character’s health conditions and cleanliness (Clean, tired, sick, etc.)