Rita Williams-Garcia includes family secrets, sibling dynamics, and the rural South in her novel Gone Crazy in Alabama (HarperCollins, 2015, ages 8-12). I talked with Rita recently about this third and final book in her historical series about three sisters—Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern Gaither—growing up in the late 1960s.
Below are a few writing prompts for the classroom or for individual writers ages 8 and up.
Family Tales: The book revolves around the sisters’ discovery of secrets that have affected their family for several generations.
Classroom Discussion: Ask students to find an old family photo, keepsake, or heirloom at home or at an older relative’s house. Have kids brainstorm and prepare questions in class and then interview several family members about that object and ask them to jot down the different answers. Did they think of more questions based on the answers they received? What family member seemed to know the most? Why? What did students learn about the object and/or the family member doing this? What was a big surprise?
Classroom Writing: Ask students to write down a description and brief history of this object and to give a sense of how they feel about it. They also might share their writing/interview responses with a few family members (siblings, a parent, a different, older relative) and then talk about their relatives’ reactions in class.
SOCIAL JUSTICE/ANIMAL RIGHTS: The novel deals with the sexism and racism of the times in thought-provoking, nuanced ways. It is also one of the few novels with a young character who actively protests what she sees as the inhumane treatment of animals.
Classroom Discussion: How does Fern make her views known and how does she stage her protests? How do others react? Ask your students to list, as a group, some injustices they see in this country and in the wider world. Does each kid have a cause that he or she feels strongly about? Like Fern, how might students help to create change in a peaceful manner?
Classroom Writing: Have them choose a cause and develop a campaign/do some things (either individually or in small groups) to deepen school or public awareness and possibly lead to positive change.