While reading aloud the book Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson to my class on Friday, we got to a section that made brief mention of a poet named Phillis Wheatley. None of my students had heard of her but some were interested in knowing more, so I made plans to have them learn about her today.
I checked out our school library to look for a biography about Phillis Wheatley and discovered one written by an author whose work I absolutely love, Kathryn Lasky. I am most familiar with her Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, which was first introduced to me by my wife. Knowing this, I was certain that Ms. Lasky’s biography would be a great way to share more about Ms. Wheatley!
I read the first part of the book to my class at the start of our literacy block, leading up to the point where we learned about Phillis’s published book of poetry. Then I challenged all of the students to use online research tools such as InstaGrok to learn more about her and find a poem she wrote. Then, using Google Classroom, I created a document for them to share some of the poems they found. I am going to us these poems later in the year when we celebrate National Poetry Month in April.
Coincidentally, the timing of these two stories, Chains and A Voice of Her Own, both align with Black History Month. While I try to incorporate multicultural perspectives in my instruction throughout the year, I appreciate having had a natural way to focus on an incredibly important, incredibly influential African American poet while also sharing a story that presents a perspective from the American Revolutionary War period that is often passed over in historical fiction. I have told my students that Laurie Halse Anderson wrote Chains as the first book of a trilogy, but I will not be reading the sequel as a read aloud. I will, however, make it available if any students are interested in reading it. (And I can hardly wait for the third book to come out!) We will also be returning to Ms. Lasky’s biography about Phillis Wheatley as we do close reads of the text this week.