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4th to 6th grade – Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl


Book review and recommendations for close reading (excerpts, CCSS-aligned questions, etc.)

Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl (Bolden, 2005).

I found this book when I started searching other titles by one of my “go to” authors Tonya Bolden. The book is put together in a way I’d like to explore with 4th-6th grade students. The author’s purpose is to tell the story of Maritcha’s childhood in New York City as a free-black during the mid-1800’s AND to describe the people, places, events that Maritcha “may have” experienced based on other historical artifacts, writings of that period. For example, Bolden knows that Maritcha’s grandmother met Frederick Douglass once – so she describes who he was and his role in the anti-slavery movement. You see where I am going? Maritcha’s childhood is a frame of sorts for learning about that period of time.

Bolden’s main primary source is an autobiography Maritcha wrote the year before she died and then additional sources were dug up and researched further by Bolden. The text is rich with well-chosen primary sources – photographs, illustrations, publications and so forth. Bolden is careful to use “qualifiers” when writing about what Maritcha may have experienced like (put words in bold)-

As for play, make-believe games with dolls, a spinning top, ring toss, and making a clackety-clack dance with a Limber Jack may have ranked high among Maritcha’s delights. (p. 8)

When Bolden knows for sure that something happened – based on her research – she does not use the qualifier language, but instead states it as a matter of fact.

As periods of history are being pushed further down in the grades, I think that books like Maritcha –with a focus on the Civil War and anti-slavery movement and the life of a free black during this period – would be developmentally appropriate and rigorous as a read aloud. Place the book on the document camera so students can view the primary sources as you read aloud. Or book talk it and place it in a text set for independent reading during a particular unit of study.

AND WRITING – a discussion of Bolden’s organization and use of primary sources and so forth could serve as a launch for students researching and writing their own historical narratives – fiction or nonfiction, making arguments about the life of a free black, writing informational pieces on particular aspects of this period. Oh, the possibilities!

Lots and lots of potential.

There are several places you could read aloud or excerpt a paragraph for close reading and discuss the author’s main idea and textual evidence or discuss how an author develops an idea. There are three paragraphs on page 20 that begin with the following:

What enabled Maritcha to endure whatever the weather? True grit. And she had plenty of examples around her.

What follows are a description of her godfather’s grit, another remarkable community member’s grit, and her parents’ grit. One of the author’s ideas here is that these people influenced and shaped Maritcha in many ways (RI 5.3). Students might explain how the author makes the case that Maritcha had several examples of grit in her life (RI 5.8). Students might analyze how first two sentences in this excerpt contribute to the development of the main idea (RI 6.5) and so forth. Some good discussion could happen here.

There’s also a lot you could do with the historical content. I did not know about the draft riots that occurred in New York City early in the Civil War–that put Maritcha’s family in danger. Students could analyze for the author’s point of view (RI 6.6) and analyze how this key event is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated (RI 6.3). The primary sources could be a focal point with a discussion about what can be learned from the source that supports the content (RI 4.7).

Hope this helps.


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