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Intro, Summary & General Questions

When pale strangers enter fifteen-year-old Amari's village, her entire tribe welcomes them; for in her remote part of Africa, visitors are always a cause for celebration. But these strangers are not here to celebrate. They are here to capture the strongest, healthiest villagers and to murder the rest. They are slave traders. And in the time it takes a gun to fire, Amari's life as she knows it is destroyed, along with her family and village.

Beaten, branded, and dragged onto a slave ship, Amari is forced to witness horrors worse than any nightmare and endure humiliations she had never thought possible--including being sold to a plantation owner in the Carolinas who gives her to his sixteen-year-old son, Clay, as his birthday present.

Now, survival and escape are all Amari dreams about. As she struggles to hold on to her memories in the face of backbreaking plantation work and daily degradation at the hands of Clay, she finds friendship in unexpected places. Polly, an outspoken indentured white girl, proves not to be as hateful as she'd first seemed upon Amari's arrival, and the plantation owner's wife, despite her trappings of luxury and demons of her own, is kind to Amari.

But these small comforts can't relieve Amari's feelings of hopelessness and despair. With strength and dignity, Amari first learns to survive, then yearns to escape to a most unlikely destination. When the opportunity to escape presents itself, Amari and Polly decide to work together to find the thing they both want most--freedom.

Decorated with vibrant characters--Teenie, the tiny slave woman who cooks much more than food, her son Tidbit and his dog Hushpuppy who become victims of vicious cruelty, the mysterious and kindly Mrs. Derby, and many others--the complicated inter-relationships of those who live together on the plantation are explored with sometimes shocking developments.

Grand and sweeping in scope, detailed and penetrating, Copper Sun's unflinching and unforgettable look at the African slave trade and slavery in America will have the impact on young readers that Alex Haley's Roots had on the previous generation.

My Spirit Speaks
Sharon M. Draper

Copper Sun is unlike anything I've ever written. It is the book of my heart, the book of my spirit. I went to Ghana several years ago and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the land and people, as well as the history of the place that hovered just out of reach. When I visited the slave castles, where millions of Africans were housed like cattle before being shipped as cargo and sold as slaves, I felt their spirits crying out to me. When I crawled on my hands and knees through the "door of no return," which led from the darkness of the prison to the incomprehensible vastness of a beach, I knew I had to tell the story of just one of those who had passed that way.

The story of Amari is fictional, of course, but is based on the horrible reality of the slave trade. I have spent almost ten years doing research on this novel and editing it for accuracy of fact as well as sincerity of spirit. It is important to me that I represent her well. She has become a part of who I am. It is as if I am her voice speaking across the ages.

Since this is a big departure from my usual contemporary novels of teenagers, homework, and social problems, I want to make sure that young readers, who might think they don't want to read historical fiction, are drawn in from the beginning, so the novel is character-driven, with a fast-moving plot, shocking developments, and unforgettable characters. I want young readers to ask themselves, "What if that had been me? How would I have coped as a fifteen-year-old slave?

This book is dedicated to all the millions of girls like Amari who died during that process--as well as those who lived and suffered, but endured. I also dedicate this to all those who came before me--the untold multitudes of ancestors who needed a voice. I speak for them. Amari carries their spirit. She carries mine as well.

General Questions

1. Why did you choose to write a work of historical fiction?

When I was in high school, I loved reading historical fiction because it opened up a doorway to the past, and I could learn about events from long ago through the eyes of the characters who explained the historical information and made the history come alive. It also made me want to learn more about that time period, so the fiction led me to the facts.

2. What prompted you to write COPPER SUN?

I went to Ghana several years ago and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the land and people, as well as the history of the place that hovered just out of reach. When I visited the slave castles, where thousands of Africans were housed like cattle before being shipped as cargo and sold as slaves, I felt their spirits crying out to me. When I crawled on my hands and knees through the "door of no return," which led from the darkness of the prison to the incomprehensible vastness of a beach, I knew I had to tell the story of just one of those who had passed that way.

3. In COPPER SUN, you address the complex social issue of slavery. Why is this an appropriate topic to be handled through fiction?

In order to bring immediacy to the subject, I chose a character who undergoes the humiliations of slavery and who survives to pass of her history to the next generation. I think it's real important to remember the past and never forget those who came before us. It is out job to tell their stories.

4. What kind of research did you do for this book?

The story of Amari is fictional, of course, but is based on the horrible reality of the slave trade. I have spent almost ten years doing research on this novel and editing it for accuracy of fact as well as sincerity of spirit. I read dozens of books, listened to transcripts of slave narratives, spent years on the internet, and talked to friends in Ghana who made sure I was telling the story correctly. On my website I have provided a resource page where dozens of websites and books are listed that can give you more information.

5. Why did you include a character that was an indentured servant?

Most young readers probably know quite a bit about slavery, but not much about the process of indentured servitude. An indentured servant worked for a specified period of time, after which freedom could be purchased. It was a good way for a hard worker to find a place in the new world. Europeans and even some Native Americans were indentured at first. Many Africans who were first brought to this country in the 1600's were originally brought in as indentured servants. It soon became easier to enslave them, however, and their rights of indenture were lost. An indentured girl like Polly had a good chance of assimilating into the society at some point, although as a runaway, she would have been severely punished.

6. Amari’s character in COPPER SUN is an important figure for young readers to examine as she is a survivor in spite of horrendous difficulties. What do you think readers can learn from Amari's life?

Amari doesn't start out strong. She is terrified, grief stricken, and doesn't understand the language of her captors. She has no idea how strong she is until she manages to endure and survive. Others who befriend her and help her are vital to her success. She shows us that being a winner is a journey, a process, not something that comes wrapped in a package.

7. What racial, cultural, and social statements do you make through the friendship of Amari and Polly?

Even though the two girls initially mistrusted and disliked each other, they show that a friendship is something that grows and develops through shared triumphs and difficulties. The two girls grow into their friendship gradually, which is more realistic than making them instantly like each other. I think they show that race, and culture have very little to do with the human spirit and that which makes us cling to each other as friends.

8. What is the significance of Tidbit’s character in COPPER SUN?

A little boy and a dog make for a delightful combination of characters, a guarantee of adventure, and the possibility of tragedy in a world in which the next day is not promised. Tidbit had humor, pathos, and fear. He represents all those children who were born into slavery and had no opportunity to dream of a better life.

9. The themes in your novels are often heavy; why do you concentrate on these issues?

I try to deal with topics that are both meaningful and significant. I also hope that by reading my stories, young people can perhaps apply some of the messages to their own lives. Slavery is a topic that should not be ignored, but discussed and remembered. The generation that does not remember the evils of the past may be forced to repeat them. Knowledge is power and truth is all we have to keep us free.

10. What would you like your young readers to get out of reading COPPER SUN?

I want them to say, "Wow! That was great! I never knew all those details about slavery. I want to know more!" I want them to embrace this novel and pass it along to their friends and their parents and teachers. I want them to remember all those who died as well as those who survived.

11. Describe your writing process in general.

Writing for me is a very fluid process--I sit down a wait for the words to come. They usually do—in buckets and waves. It's amazing. I look upon it as a blessing because the words come so easily. I try to make strong characters that change and develop and learn from their mistakes. I think the layering comes in the story development. The plot is born from the idea, then is crafted by the characters and how they respond to what happens to them. I get up early in the morning and write all day—maybe ten or twelve hours a day. It is truly an act of immersion. It's a thrilling, exciting process.

12. Describe your writing process for COPPER SUN.

For this one, I had to move in and live in world--really become a part of the lives of the characters so they seem like real people to me. African was my home. Then a slave ship. Then South Carolina, and finally Fort Mose. I became engrossed in the lives of Teenie and Clay and Tidbit. I think that "being there” is essential for making the story ring true and honest and real.

13. How did you discover the information about Fort Mose?

When I was researching a place for the girls to escape to, I came across an obscure reference to a place that existed in Florida for a very short time. Fort Mose, a little-known, but very important part of the history of slavery in this country offered freedom and a chance to live one's dreams if only it could be reached. A museum and several artifacts from Fort Mose can be found near St. Augustine, Florida. More information is available on the resource page of my website.

14. If you were asked to coalesce COPPER SUN into one sentence, what might that be?

This novel speaks for the untold multitudes of my ancestors who needed a voice. I speak for them. Amari carries their spirit. She carries mine as well.

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Reviews & Awards

Harsh life of slave girl a riveting tale
Friday, December 30, 2005
Rollie Welch
Special to The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio)

Cleveland native Sharon Draper, award-winning author and graduate of the old John Adams High School, switches literary styles in "Copper Sun." Following her hugely successful string of modern-reality, young-adult fiction, Draper offers a historical novel featuring iron shackles, the Middle Passage and runaway slaves.

Draper isn't after a history lesson. Instead, she brings emotional life to the appalling details of forced servitude.

From the opening pages, readers become engrossed with the heartbreaking journey of Amari, a 15-year-old African girl captured and enslaved in 1738.

The horror begins quickly. Infiltrated by slave dealers, Amari's village is destroyed and survivors are chained together by iron neck bands and marched to the sea. Advised to find something of beauty in any hostile place, Amari gazes at a copper-colored sunset, realizing the same sun shone on her beloved, decimated village.

As Amari arrives at Cape Coast, an infamous slave-holding prison, Draper's extensive research becomes evident. The stench of urine, the groans of captives and the pain of skin scrapped away by irons put the reader inside these terrible cells. When the slaves finally emerge and step into brilliant sunlight, they are placed into small boats. The depleted ranks of Africans are rowed to a slave ship and enter a new hell.

The barbaric passage across the Atlantic from Africa contains some of the more intense writing found in recent young-adult literature. "Copper Sun" includes the emotionally devastating deaths of characters the readers have come to know and might be too much for readers younger than 12.

Draper, a granddaughter of a man born a slave in 1860, writes a description of the Middle Passage that is astounding. Chained, lashed and deathly ill, the men and women are reduced to breathing cargo "stacked like logs for the fire." Bodies are dumped overboard. Sailors prey on healthier girls, abducting them for nightly rape. Below the decks, the stench of feces and vomit forces the white sailors to cover their mouths with rags.

Not fully comprehending the language, Amari is unclear why she is being sold at auction in the Carolinas. Readers will be outraged by the degradation she endures as a 16th-birthday present for Clay Derby.

The story shifts tone, viewpoint and setting after the auction. Polly, a white indentured servant, is also purchased by Clay's father. Self-reliant and outspoken, 16-year-old Polly hates the slaves but realizes their only difference from her is skin color. Draper skillfully alternates narrators so that Polly and Amari provide two perspectives of the Derby plantation.

Amari, summoned to Clay's bedroom twice a week, is excused from working in the plantation's rice paddies. When another sexual treachery blows up violently, the ensuing chaos provides Polly and Amari a cover for escape.

Once again, Draper's research is put to good storytelling use. Told to run south, the girls flee toward Florida's Fort Mose (pronounced Mo-Zay), a settlement of freed slaves. This journey becomes one of optimism and hope, a contrast to the ocean voyage of despair.

Draper - voted the 1997 national teacher of the year and a frequent classroom presenter to teenagers throughout Ohio - knows her audience. The fast pace and truly horrifying scenes of "Copper Sun" will have adolescent readers quickly turning pages. Their reward is a riveting tale.

COPPER SUN by Sharon M. Draper (Atheneum; ISBN: 0689821816; January 2006)

This action-packed, multifaceted, character-rich story describes the shocking realities of the slave trade and plantation life while portraying the perseverance, resourcefulness, and triumph of the human spirit. Amari is a 15-year-old Ashanti girl who is happily anticipating her marriage to Besa. Then, slavers arrive in her village, slaughter her family, and shatter her world. Shackled, frightened, and despondent, she is led to the Cape Coast where she is branded and forced onto a 'boat of death' for the infamous Middle Passage to the Carolinas. There, Percival Derby buys her as a gift for his son's 16th birthday. Trust and friendship develop between Amari and Polly, a white indentured servant, and when their mistress gives birth to a black baby, the teens try to cover up Mrs. Derby's transgression. However, Mr. Derby's brutal fury spurs them to escape toward the rumored freedom of Fort Mose, a Spanish colony in Florida. Although the narrative focuses alternately on Amari and Polly, the story is primarily Amari's, and her pain, hope, and determination are acute. Cruel white stereotypes abound except for the plantation's mistress, whose love is colorblind; the doctor who provides the ruse for the girls' escape; and the Irish woman who gives the fugitives a horse and wagon. 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.

by Sharon M. Draper

Best known for her contemporary African American characters, Draper's latest novel is a searing work of historical fiction that imagines a fifteen-year-old African girl's journey through American slavery. The story begins in Amari's Ashanti village, but the idyllic scene explodes in bloodshed when slavers arrive and murder her family. Amari and her beloved, Besa, are shackled, and so begins the account of impossible horrors from the slave fort, the Middle Passage, and auction on American shores, where a rice plantation owner buys Amari for his 16-year-old son's sexual enjoyment. In brutal specifics, Draper shows the inhumanity: Amari is systematically raped on the slave ship and on the plantation; a slave child is used as alligator bait by white teenagers. And she adds to the complex history in alternating chapters that flip between Amari and Polly, an indentured white servant on Amari's plantation. A few plot elements, such as Amari's chance meeting with Besa are contrived. But Draper builds the explosive tension to the last chapter, and the sheer power of the story, balanced between the overwhelmingly brutal facts of slavery and Amari's ferocious survivor's spirit, will leave readers breathless, even as they consider the story's larger questions about the infinite costs of slavery and how to reconcile history. A moving, personal author's note discusses the real places and events on which the story is based.

COPPER SUN has also received a starred review in the January 1, 2006 issue of SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL and a favorable review in the January 1, 2006 issue of KIRKUS.


Poignant and harrowing, this narrative of early America alternates between the voices of enslaved Amari and indentured servant Polly, building a believable interracial friendship centered on the common goal of freedom. Amari is captured from her idyllic home in Africa, and sold into slavery in the New World. While accounts of the attack on the tribe and the Middle Passage are ephemeral, the story hits its stride upon Amari's arrival in colonial South Carolina. At the slave auction, the reader is introduced to Amari's new masters and Polly, who is a new servant in their household. Polly initially dislikes the African slaves, viewing them as strange competition for limited work, yet grows to sympathize with Amari's plight when she is repeatedly raped by the master's son, Clay. Polly's cynicism and realistic outlook on life provides a welcome contrast to the lost innocence of Amari, whose voice often disappears beneath the misery of her circumstances (save for one unforgettable passage at the end, where she encounters her betrothed from her village, and mourns the loss of what might have been.) Sobering, yet essential.

Copper Sun: A Powerful & Beautiful Story
Apr 21 '07 (Updated Apr 22 '07)

Author's Product Rating:

Gripping story. Wonderful narration and description, suspenseful plot, characterization.

Some violent scenes, but handled relatively well.

The Bottom Line:
Copper Sun is a beautifully told story of a young African girl sold into slavery, the horrors she endures, and her underlying hope. Excellent. Full Review:
"Amari glanced toward the west and watched the sun set. It glowed a bright metallic copper - the same sun that set each evening upon her homeland"

The story of a teenage girl, torn from her village and sold into slavery is powerfully told by Sharon Draper in Copper Sun. This novel, geared toward readers in grades 9 through 12, is the 2007 winner of the Coretta Scott King Award.

The Story:
When 15 year-old Amari's family is murdered and her village burned to the ground, her happy life and dreams are brought to an abrupt and horrifying end. Shackled and humiliated, she and other survivors of her village are sold into slavery and transported from her native Africa to the colony of South Carolina.

On the same day that a plantation owner buys Amari as a birthday present for his 16 year-old son, he also secures the services of a young white indentured servant named Polly. Polly, imagining a life as a servant in the main house of the master, is bitterly disappointed when she is forced to live in slave quarters while transforming Amari into a proper slave. Polly's initial feelings of superiority toward the African slaves are eventually replaced by understanding and friendship as she experiences many of their hardships and humiliations.

Amari and Polly build close relationships with the plantation cook, Teenie, and her precocious son, Tidbit. Teenie helps the girls to understand the ways of the plantation, and she also helps Amari through the humiliation of being repeatedly raped by Clay, the plantation owner's son.

Clay's stepmother is the only white person on the plantation who shows any kindness to and interest in the slaves. It soon becomes clear that she is something of a prisoner herself. Indeed, it is her tragedy, told in horrifying and shocking passages, that propels Amari and Polly to plan an escape, taking Tidbit with them.

The last third of the book deals with the ordeal of their attempts to reach Fort Mose, Florida, where they believe a community has been established for runaway slaves. Is there really such a place or is it a fleeting myth? Will they become free? Will they survive?

The Writing Style:
This book is extremely well-written. The author describes horrific events, evoking emotional responses, but never pushing the story into repugnance. The inclusion of violence is necessary to the theme of the book - for example, Amari would never have been whipped in her own village, but the "civilized" plantation owner feels it is an appropriate punishment when she drops food on his carpet. The sequences in which Amari is raped are narrated without physical detail, but with much emphasis on her feelings and reactions. There is a scene in which Tidbit is tied to a rope and flung into a river to attract alligators for the rich landowners' hunting pleasure. A scene involving the plantation owner's wife and a newborn black infant is absolutely numbing, but so well-written that the characters' reactions overshadow the actual violence.

Amari's journey from Africa to America is vividly portrayed. Draper skillfully describes the physical sensations, fears, and horrors of Amari's new existence. The details are striking. The careless handling of the Africans, the senseless deaths, the squalid conditions - all are strikingly presented. The author includes details about aspects of the experience that makes the story so real. For example, the fear of seeing and feeling the ocean for the first time; the smells and confinement of the trader ship; the strange sight of buildings and roads in America. These, of course, are blended with the other horrors of beatings, rapes, and despair.

An interesting convention used by the author is alternating the points of view. The plot is revealed in chronological order; however, several chapters are told from Amari's point of view, and then the next few are from Polly's point of view. This is skillfully done, because, even though both characters' feelings and thoughts are intimately portrayed, the emphasis on Amari as the main character is never undermined.

Draper is an excellent storyteller. The story is fast-paced. Her narration flows seamlessly. She builds suspense - it's hard to put the book down at the end of chapters.

Final Thoughts:
Despite its dark subject matter, the story holds out the hope of a better life. Amari and Polly are strong characters. Each changes and grows, and neither loses the longing for more than what they have. Draper has written a powerful story with beautiful and sympathetic characters.


  • 2007 Coretta Scott King Literature award
  • 2007 Ohioana Award for Young Adult Literature
  • Top Ten Historical Fiction Books for Youth by Booklist
  • Nominated for the 2007 NAACP Image Award for Literature
  • IRA Notable Book for a Global Society
  • Best Book of the Year by School Library Journal
  • Listed on the New York Times Bestseller List
  • Chosen by the National Underground Railroad Freedom center as a major museum exhibit
  • Chosen by the International Reading Association, the United States State Department, and Reading Across Continents as the novel to be read by students from the US and Africa. A true international, intercontintental, multi-cultural literary experience!
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Study Guides

Pre-reading Activities

  1. A student recently said, "I don't care about slavery. That happened a long time ago, and I don't want to think about it in my life today. It is no longer important." What do you think about that statement? Tell why you agree or disagree. What would you tell that student if you had the chance to have a conversation?
  2. Students in the United States enjoy lots of freedom. List some of the freedoms that you enjoy. Were these privileges always available to everyone? What might someone have had to do in order to make sure you have these freedoms? How does that make you feel about the privileges you enjoy?
  3. Think back to when you were born. From that time to today is your history, and it is important. You learned, you made mistakes, and you grew. Discuss the importance of knowing your own personal history. Why is it important to study historical information of a country or a people? Why can't the past simply be ignored?
  4. What happens if a rule or a law or a practice in a country is immoral or wrong? Who decides if it is right or wrong? What is done to change that law or rule or practice? How does one decide what to do?
  5. What makes a hero or heroine? Is it necessary to save someone's life to be heroic? Are only certain people heroic? Is it possible to plan to become a hero in the future?
Discussion Topics
  1. Copper Sun is a work of historical fiction. How does the blending of history and fiction make for a successful story? Which elements are purely fictional? Which elements are basically historical? Why does learning history through fiction make the story more memorable? How does this method of telling the story affect the reader's response?
  2. The very first page, just before chapter one, tells of a slave sale and how it must feel to be fifteen years old, stripped naked, and standing on the auction block. Describe the feelings and fears of the girl being sold. What predictions can the reader make about the girl and the rest of the story?
  3. As you first meet Amari, even though she lives in the Africa of two hundred years ago, how is she like many fifteen-year-old girls today? How is she different? What strengths do you find in her family and home life? What negatives do you observe?
  4. How is the relationship between Besa and Amari similar to teen relationships today? How is it different? Describe how Amari feels about him. What predictions can you make about their future together?
  5. Describe the relationship between Amari and her parents, between Amari and her little brother Kwasi. How does the strength of her family make a difference in her life?
  6. What do you know of the village of Ziavi from the descriptions given in the text? How would you describe the social structure, family structure, and cultural structure of the community? How did the custom of graciousness to guests become a death sentence for the town? Explain why the Ashanti helped the European killers.
  7. Besa's great skill and source of pleasure is his drum playing. The people of the village love music and singing and dancing and self-expression. Explore the importance of artistic influences on individuals as well as groups of people. How can self-expression be used as a tool for helping or healing?
  8. Amari's parents are killed, along with most of the people in her village. How do you think you would react in the same situation? What options does Amari have? What option does Tirza choose and why? What option does Kwadzo choose and why? Why does Amari continue on? Describe what you think Amari is thinking as they are forced to walk across the countryside.
  9. Describe the horrors of Cape Coast Castle, the Door of No Return, and the branding on the beach. How does Amari survive? What necessary survival techniques would you have to develop to survive those experiences?
  10. Amari makes friends with people who help her survive, who give her the strength she needs at a crucial time in her life. Describe her relationship with Afi, and explain long range and short range influence of Afi on Amari's life.
  11. Describe the Middle Passage as described in the novel. What is it about human beings that makes one person mistreat another? What is about humans that makes us survive in spite of it?
  12. Why do you think Bill decides to teach Amari English? What does this tell you about him? Why is learning the language a powerful tool for Amari?
  13. Describe Amari's feelings as she is sold. What does she NOT know about her future that the reader probably does know? What would you have done in the same situation?
  14. Discuss the character of Polly and how she comes across as we first meet her. What kind of life has she had? How does her past explain her attitudes? What advantages does Polly have in the society and in the story?
  15. Discuss the first meeting between Polly and Amari. Why is this part of the story told from Polly's point of view?
  16. How do Teenie and Tidbit and Hushpuppy add color and flavor to life on the plantation? What are their attitudes about being slaves? Give specific examples.
  17. Discuss the character of Clay and his complicated feelings for Amari. Does he have any redeeming qualities, or is he purely a negative character? What about Clay's father? Does he have any redeeming qualities, or is he purely a negative character?
  18. Explain the title of the novel. Why does the title have more than one possible interpretation? Find several examples of reference to "copper sun" within the story.
  19. Discuss the gradual developing of the relationship between Polly and Amari. How is each girl unique? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each? What does each girl offer that the other needs? What makes a friendship?
  20. How is Mrs. Derby almost like a slave herself? What predictions did you make about Mrs. Derby and Noah? What foreshadowing is given to prepare the reader for what happens?
  21. Why would Mr. Derby be socially and legally justified by what he did to Noah and the baby? Why didn't Dr. Hoskins speak up? Why is tragedy more memorable and more powerful than happiness in a novel?
  22. What was the overall effect of the gator bait scene? How do you think Tidbit felt when he was in the water? How do you think his mother felt? Amari tried to object, but endangered Tidbit by doing so. How do you think she felt?
  23. Why didn't more slaves rise up and protest or fight back? What social and cultural pieces were in place to prevent it?
  24. Discuss the argument between Amari and Polly over whether to go north or go south. Why was it extremely unusual to choose a southern route? What does this show about Amari's personality?
  25. On the journey we find out more about Polly's family and her background. How did Polly's parents and her relationship with them shape the person that Polly became?
  26. Describe the difficulties of traveling by night, all alone, with no food and no real guarantee that the place you are heading to really exists. How would you have survived the trip? What seemed to be the most difficult for the travelers?
  27. What does Amari learn about herself, her past and her future through her reunion with Besa?
  28. How do you think Amari, Polly, and Tidbit felt when they finally reached their destination? What was disappointing about the place when they finally saw it? What was reassuring?
  29. What predictions can you make about Amari in the next five years? Will the three of them still be together or will Polly have gone off on her own? How has Amari grown and changed?
  30. What did you learn about Africa, the middle passage, slavery, and African-American history that you did not know before? How has it changed your thinking, if any?
Activities and Research
  1. You are a reporter at one of the following scenes. Write the story for your newspaper.
    • The destruction of Ziavi
    • A day in Cape Coast Castle
    • A day on the slave ship
    • A day on a plantation
      • For a slave
      • For a slave owner
    • The day Teenie found out Tidbit was alive
    • Clay and the snake
  2. Minor characters are often very important in the development of a story. How do the following characters influence the journey of Amari, Polly, and Tidbit? How do they balance some of the horror that had previously happened?
    • Dr. Hoskins
    • Cato
    • Nathan
    • Fiona
    • Besa
    • The Spanish Soldier
    • Inez
    • Captain Menendez
  3. Find a map of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida and trace the route that the three travelers might have taken as they walked from Columbia, South Carolina, to St. Augustine, Florida. How long would the trip have taken if they had been able to go by boat? What if they had been able to go by car?
  4. Research the history of slavery in the United States. Look up the Triangle Trade and find out why selling human beings was one of the most profitable business ventures available.
  5. Write a letter to one of the characters in the book explaining your feelings about the events in the story. What advice would you give Amari, or Polly, or Mrs. Derby, or Teenie or Besa? What would you say to Clay?
  6. Imagine it is one year after the end of the novel. Create a conversation between the following characters:
    • Polly to Amari
    • Amari to Polly
    • Amari to Tidbit
    • Polly to Nathan
    • Amari to Inez
  7. In journal form, write the life of Mrs. Derby for several months. Include details about her inability to live her own life as she sees fit.
  8. Trace the story of one of the following characters. Imagine you are a reporter doing a story on one of their lives. Write everything you know, as well as whatever you can infer about the character in order to write your magazine article.
    • Besa
    • Clay
    • Teenie
    • Inez
    • Dr. Hoskins
  9. Write a biography of Clay Derby, focusing on his childhood. Include details about his mother, his father, his step-mother, and his thoughts while growing up. OR Write a biography of Polly, focusing on her childhood. Include details about her mother, her father, and her thoughts while growing up.
  10. All of Teenie's witticisms are authentic southern sayings. Look up the development of such sayings and how they reflect the culture of the south. Find out if the language patterns are racial or cultural in nature.
Writing Activities
    • "Polly watched, fascinated, as the girl squirmed and screeched and babbled incoherently. Polly wondered if Negroes from Africa had feelings and intelligent thoughts, or if that gibberish they spoke was more like the screaming of monkeys or the barking of dogs. . . . . The young Master Derby carried a small whip, and he used it liberally to make Noah work faster. Polly noticed the slave breathed slowly and loudly, as if he were tense, but he made no attempt to stop the young man from hitting him. She was always amazed at how much abuse slaves took without it seeming to bother them. Perhaps they didn't feel pain the way others did--she wasn't sure."
    Read the quotes above and explain how the point of view of the character who makes the observation influences the description. What is slanted about the descriptions given? Why is personal observation not always fair and unbiased? Use examples from the book to support your statements.

    • " "The first path they traveled was the long road that led from their village to the big river several miles away. It seemed as if even the trees bowed their heads as they passed. The birds, normally full of chatter, were silent as the group marched past them for the last time. . . . . The sunset that evening was unlike any Amari had ever seen. The spirit of the copper sun seemed to bleed for them as it glowed bright red against the deepening blue of the great water. It sank slowly, as if saying farewell. The shadows deepened and darkness covered the beach."
    Using the passage above as a guide, write a descriptive paper that uses sensory imagery. Use vivid verbs and powerful adjectives and adverbs as you write. Use as many of the senses as you can--sight, sound, smell, touch, taste--as well as deep, rich colors.

    • " "Before she had a chance to absorb it all, a man dragged her to what looked like a goat pen. A fire burned brightly in the center of it, even though the day was very warm, and the man was steering her toward it, Amari realized with fear. Was she going to be cooked and eaten now? Why couldn't she have died with her family? she thought wildly. Panicked, she tried to pull away from the man, but his grip only tightened."
    Write a narrative paper from the point of view of a slave who cannot speak the language of his captors and who does not understand what is going on or why. Tell their story as they try to grasp the enormity of what is happening to them.

  4. RESEARCH PAPER--Choose one of the following research topics:
    • 4a. "This be Fort Mose?" Amari asked, wanting to be absolutely sure they were in the right place. "Sure is, chile. Gracia Real de Santo Teresa de Mos." "I done dream of this place," Amari said softly, "for very long time."
      • o Fort Mose was a real place. Even though it is now underwater off the coast of Florida, it really did exist and it really did offer safe haven to runaways. Research as much as you can about the place and how it operated. Find out about the museums and historical locations that celebrate its existence.
    • 4b. "Huge doors opened and they were led inside. The bright sunlight was suddenly gone, and she had to adjust her eyes to the dismal gloom inside the structure. It smelled to her of blood and death. She could hear terrifying wails that seemed to be coming from the walls of the place."
      • Cape Coast Castle is a real place. Its remains still stand on the coast of Ghana, West Africa. Look up all you can on the castle. Find out about the cells, the number of slaves kept there, and what happened to those who passed through those gates.
    • 4c. "Polly had never been this far from the big house. She had heard of the rice fields, but she stood amazed at what she saw. Two dozen black men and women, knee-deep in thick mud, bent over the delicate-looking rice plants. There was no shade anywhere, and Polly could see thick rivulets of sweat running down their faces. They moved slowly, joylessly."
      • Rice played an important role in the lives of the people on the plantation. Research the development of the rice crop in South Carolina and how it increased the need for slavery. Explain what it was necessary to bring in a rice crop
    • Amari shuffled in the dirt as she was led into the yard and up onto a slightly raised wooden table, which she realized gave the people in the yard a perfect view of the women who were to be sold. She looked at the faces in the sea of pink-skinned people who stood around pointing to them and jabbering in their language as each of the slaves was described. She looked for pity or even understanding, but found nothing but cool stares. They looked at her as if she were a cow for sale.
    Write an expository (explanatory) paper on slave auctions and how they were carried out. Tell about the financial and economic gains that slavery brought to the buyers and sellers.

    • I think we have arrived in a backwards world--where black skins are few and not respected, and pale skins seem to rule," Amari commented quietly.
    • "Polly looked back at the slave sale. The women were wailing and acting as if something terrible was happening to them. Polly snorted and turned away. Living here in the colonies had to be better than living like a savage in the jungle. They ought to be grateful, she thought. She thought of the Negroes she'd known as a child--well-fed and happy slaves, with no worries about finding employment. No, she had no sympathy."
    Write a paper that compares the subject of slavery from the slaves' points of view to slavery from the point of view of the dominant culture.

    • "So why should I endure this? Why did you not let me just die in there?" Amari cried out.
    "Because I see a power in you." Afi lifted her shackled wrist and reached over to touch Amari. "You know, certain people are chosen to survive. I don't know why, but you are one of those who must remember the past and tell those yet unborn."
    • "Teenie touched Amari gently on her head, "You got a strong spirit, Myna."
    Amari just shrugged. She could see no reason for having such a strong spirit, nor could she see any hope in her future. She just survived each day. However, she couldn't help but think of Afi, who kept her alive during the horrors of the voyage to this place by telling her the same thing."

    Write a persuasive paper that argues ONE of the following points:
    • "All human beings are given strong spirits in order to withstand the difficulties of life."
    • "Only certain individuals are given the strength of spirit needed to endure the difficulties of life."
    • "Certain individuals are chosen to survive to tell of the past to the next generation."
    Whether you agree or disagree, your paper should address only one side of the issue. Use specifics from the novel to support your points.

  8. CHARACTER SKETCH Write a character sketch of Tidbit-what made him unique-his personality, his charm, his love of life. Use specifics from the book to illustrate your points.

    • Polly pulled a leaf from an oak tree. "Freedom is a delicate idea--like a pretty leaf in the air--it's hard to catch, and may not be what you thought when you get it," she observed quietly.
    • "Freedom not big. Freedom not pretty," Amari declared. "But freedom sure do feel good."
    Write a poem about one of the following topics, or any topic of your choosing that seems to fit the themes of the novel:
    • The Power of Hope
    • Broken Mind, Broken Spirit
    • Unbroken Mind, Unbroken Spirit
    • Unlikely Friends
    • The Beauty of Small Things
    • The Middle Passage
    • Death in the Night
    • A Moment of Silence
    • Glory Days
  10. POETRY
    • An excerpt from Countee Cullen's poem "Heritage" is printed in the front of the book. Find a copy of the entire poem and discuss it in the context of the novel.
    • Write a paper on the life and poetry of Countee Cullen.
    Vocabulary-Define the following from the context of the novel:
    • Cassava
    • Fufu
    • Kente cloth
    • Ewe tribe
    • Ashanti tribe
    • Shackles
    • Coffle
    • Middle Passage
    • Indenture
    • Colony
    • Auction
    • Chattel
    • Manacles
    • Persecution
    • Prejudice
    • Discrimination
    • Servitude
    • Trafficking

POST-READING ACTIVITIES. You discussed some of these questions before you read the book. After reading Copper Sun, how have your answers changed? Write an essay on how literature can affect thoughts and beliefs and understanding of issues.
  1. A student recently said, "I don't care about slavery. That happened a long time ago, and I don't want to think about it in my life today. It is no longer important." What do you think about that statement? Tell why you agree or disagree. What would you tell that student if you had the chance to have a conversation?
  2. Students in the United States enjoy lots of freedom. List some of the freedoms that you enjoy. Were these privileges always available to everyone? What might someone have had to do in order to make sure you have these freedoms? How does that make you feel about the privileges you enjoy?
  3. Think back to when you were born. From that time to today is your history, and it is important. You learned, you made mistakes, and you grew. Discuss the importance of knowing your own personal history. Why is it important to study historical information of a country or a people? Why can't the past simply be ignored?
  4. What happens if a rule or a law or a practice in a country is immoral or wrong? Who decides if it is right or wrong? What is done to change that law or rule or practice? How does one decide what to do?
  5. Slavery was a period of extreme degradation of one group of people by another. What do you think were the short-term and long-term effects of slavery on both groups?
  6. Discuss the destruction of slave families as people were bought and sold with no regard to their family structure. When slavery ended, what was the long-range result of this family destruction?
  7. How many people were sold as slaves inside the United States between 1700 and the end of the Civil War? (estimated) What was the long-tern result of that process?
  8. Research advertisements for the sale of slaves during the internal slave trade. Analyze their impact on slaves.
  9. Explain how was slavery was an integral force in the shaping of American history.
  10. The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery but did it end discrimination? Discuss discrimination as it exists in our world today.

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