Friday, June 22, 2007

Module 2: Copper Sun

Draper, Sharon. Copper Sun. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689821816.

Plot Summary
Amari lives in a small village in Africa with her family. White strangers come to her village, killing Amari's family and many others. Amari and others her age are captured and taken to a slave castle by the ocean. Amari and the other slaves are forced to endure whippings, branding, horrible living conditions, and rape. When Amari reaches the Americas she is bought as a birthday present for a plantation owner's son. She endures many more hardships, but becomes friends with a white indentured girl, Polly. Before they are able to be sold again they escape and set out on a long, treacherous journey to Fort Mose in Florida, where they will be able to find freedom.

Critical Analysis
Many cultural markers are present in Copper Sun. Physical attributes, the identification of specific cultures, language, the names of characters, foods, and music are all present and help bring Amari's story to life. When the story begins Amari has only ever seen black people and is surprised to see people who "have skin the color of goat's milk." She quickly learns that her people are treated like animals while white individuals hold power over everyone. Some whites may be nice while others are extremely cruel, but they all feel that they are better than everyone else. Amari has extreme feelings of hatred towards whites at times, but her friendship with Polly helps her realize that not all whites are bad.

Readers gain a different view of the story when the chapters focus on Polly's point of view. When Polly is first introduced she has many negative thoughts about blacks. One of her comments about them is "Dark skin, big lips, and hair the texture of a briar bush--they were just plain unpleasant to deal with." Polly is upset when Amari is placed in her care and she must live and work with the slaves. By the end of the story she has become friends with many of the slaves and has come to realize that they do not deserve the poor treatment they are given.

The physical attributes that stand out the most come from mistreatment of the slaves. Amari's shoulder has been branded and her back will always be covered with the scars from when she was whipped. When Besa, the boy Amari was to marry, is first introduced his is a tall, proud drummer with a pineapple shaped birthmark and a dimpled smile. As a slave his birthmark remains, but he has become a broken individual with a missing eye and a limp in his walk.

Amari is a member of the Ewe tribe and lives in the village of Ziavi. She is honored to have such talented parents. Her father is the village storyteller, a member of village elders, and works with the other men to weave kente cloth. Her mother is one of the best dancers and is teaching Amari to spin yarn and cook. Amari's life drastically changes when she is enslaved. The Ashanti tribe helps to capture Amari's people. When she is in the slave castle by the ocean she recognizes others as Ibo, Ga, and Mandinka. Amari realizes that individuals from many tribes in different countries have been captured.

The tribes in Africa speak different languages, but Amari and the other slaves must learn English when they are in the Americas. Everyone in the story has their own dialect. Amari tells of her confusion with English and realizes that she does not speak it perfectly. Some examples of their speech is when Amari and the other slaves say massa for master, chile for child, and suh for sir. An example that come from the slave Teenie, who is in charge of the kitchen, is, "I was borned here chile, I tolt you my mama was a African like you be, but they sold her off when I was 'bout your age." A woman from Ireland and a soldier from Spain both speak differently from everyone else in the story.

Names play an important role in either serving as a reminder of a slaves true identity or their treatment as property. Amari must take the name Myna, but when she escapes she uses her true name again. Tidbit's given name is Timothy and he begins to use it after he is free since it is the name his mother, Teenie, wanted him to use when he became a man.

The foods present in Amari's village in Africa are different from the foods she helps prepare in America. Amari describes the preparation of cassava fufu that she would complete with her mother. "They would take turns pounding the vegetable into a wooden bowl with a stick almost as tall as Amari. Most of the time they got into such a good rhythm that her mother started tapping her feet and doing little dance steps as they worked." Other foods from Africa mentioned are coconut, pineapple, garden egg stew made from eggplant and fried fish, banana, mangoes, and papayas. Some of the foods present in Teenie's kitchen are rice, beans, corn, venison, blackberries, peaches, apples, brown sugar, chicken, snow peas, and hush puppies. Amari is excited to see yams since her mother had grown them in Africa.

Music is very important to Amari's tribe. Her mother is a great dancer and Besa is a drummer. The rhythms and dances hold a special meaning. Besa tells Amari that "the drums are not just noise--they are language; they are the pattern of the rhythm of our lives." It is when the tribe is dancing that the white men begin to kill and capture everyone. The music that Amari loves is further degraded when she is on the slave ship and forced to dance. The next time Amari dances is after she crosses the river into Spanish territory with Polly and Tidbit. She has finally found freedom and has a reason to be happy and dance and sing again.

Review Excerpts
"As readers embrace Amari and Polly, they will better understand the impact of human exploitation and suffering throughout history. In addition, they will gain a deeper knowledge of slavery, indentured servitude, and 18th-century sanctuaries for runaway slaves." -School Library Journal

"Though she romanticizes African village life somewhat, she does a good job of subtly implicating the sources of stereotyping and dismantling common assumptions about the period and the people. She doesn't sugarcoat the horror, but she is not gratuitous in describing scenes of rape and torture, making this a useful text for curricular applications, and one that students will actually read and want to discuss. Extensive print and web resources are included in an informative afterword." -Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Share Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad by Joyce Hansen. It provides information on Fort Mose that researchers and scientists have discovered.

Explore the resources provided by Draper in the afterword of Copper Sun. Many Internet sites and books are listed.

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