About the Book
By 1865, slaves were free, the Civil War was over, and confusion reigned throughout the South. Gideon, a black Union soldier, finds his little brother Pascal back on the plantation. With another ex-slave, eight-year-old Nelly, the brothers seek the government's 40-acre farms (and maybe a mule) promised to ex-slaves and poor white Southern families. Southern whites, bent on revenge for the war defeat, take these farms and other rights away from newly freed slaves. Gideon, Pascal, and Nelly loose their beloved farm but never lose the dignity they have gained through their freedom.
Before You Read
You might want to point out instances where dialect is used in this book and explain that the dialect mimics informal, spoken English rather than formal, written English. You might also want to review the historical context of this story, which takes place during Reconstruction; it is explained in detail in the "Author's Note" on pages 128131.
Teaching Tips and Activities to Use with This Book
A Map of Time
Make available an outline of a map of the United States on which students can write. Have them:
Letter to a President
- Identify the states of the Confederacy and the Union using information from the book, along with other available resources.
- Color states of the Union and the Confederacy in two different colors and then create a map key.
- Create a time line on the map or on a separate sheet of paper to record the events of Reconstruction that affect the lives of Gideon and Pascal. For each date, have them write a sentence description.
Have students imagine that they lived through the Civil War years. Have them
- Write a letter to Abraham Lincoln, identifying who they are and explaining their side in the Civil War conflict.
- Express their views about the Emancipation Proclamation, the legal document that freed all slaves.
- Include examples, including details from the novel, that support their views.
Have students imagine their reactions if they had lived as slaves and suddenly became free farmers, or if they were free farmers and their land was unfairly taken away. Suggest they:
The Next Chapter
- Meet with a group of other people in the same position and have a town meeting, where they all express their thoughts and feelings.
- Each write a short speech to present to government officials or people in their area in order to gain support for their views.
Students can consider what might happen to Gideon, Gladness, Pascal, and Nelly as they travel to the coastal Sea Islands in search of land they can farm. Have them:
Report a Treasure Box Discovery
- Write Chapter 21 of this story, which tells what happens next.
- Focus on a major event either during the journey or once they reach their destination.
- Decide if the chapter will be told from the point of view of one of the characters or a story narrator like the one who tells the story of Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule.
- Show how the characters respond to the event through what they say, what they do, and what the narrator describes about how some or all of them feel.
Have students imagine that they are newspaper reporters. Have them write an article based on someone discovering the buried treasure box with the farm title and gold coins. Have them:
- Decide and identify when the box was found (it could be soon after or many years after its burial by Gideon, Pascal, and Nelly).
- Describe the contents of the box and explain what they think the items represent or how they got there.
- Tell what the new owners of the box will do with their discovery.
- Include information that all newspaper articles contain (details that tell who, what, why, where, and when about the event).