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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

by Mildred Taylor

The Book Club Novel Guide outlines a complete theme-based unit with Book Club lesson plans focusing on Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

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Book Club for Middle School discusses Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry within a themed multi-book unit along with three other stories I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Below you will find a synopsis, further reading materials, discussion topics, and reviews that you might find useful during your teaching of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

A Synopsis

To nine-year-old Cassie Logan and her three brothers, the biggest problem at the beginning of the school year is a daily encounter with a bus carrying white students, which always forces them off the road. However, that conflict represents the larger conflict within their community. In the South in 1933, white people are firmly in control, and Cassie’s African American community must tread warily. Although the Logans are fortunate to own their own land, it isn’t long before their security is threatened.

Night riders, out looking for victims, burn three African American men and tar and feather another man. The Wallaces are behind the terrorizing, so Cassie’s parents organize a boycott of their store. The Logans’ action infuriates Mr. Granger, a big plantation owner who wants the Logans’ land and who backs the Wallace store. He pressures the bank to call in the Logans’ mortgage and does nothing to stop the night riders’ reign of terror.

As the year goes on, the children, too, face some serious issues. Cassie has a run-in with Lillian Jean Simms, a white girl her own age. As a result, Cassie is forced to call Lillian Jean “Miss.” Stacey’s friend T.J. becomes involved with Lillian Jean’s older brothers, who are using him to amuse themselves. When T.J. and the Simms boys break into a store and the Simmses assault the owners, T.J. is blamed. To stop the lynching of T.J., Mr. Logan creates a diversion by setting fire to his land. His plan works, and T.J. is whisked off to jail while everyone fights the fire. Cassie can only cry herself to sleep as she realizes the enormity of her father’s sacrifice and the injustice of T.J.’s fate.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.

About the Author and the Book

  • The University of Mississippi — Ole Miss, as the University of Mississippi is commonly called, put together a biography about Mildred D.Taylor who was born in the state. Besides information about the author, it provides a list of her books.
  • Penguin — The publisher provides another biography of Mildred D.Taylor.
  • Mississippi Writers & Musicians — Besides a biography of Mildred D.Taylor the site offers reviews of some of her books.
  • Common Sense — This review gives the book 4 out of 5 stars. See also user reviews and details about the book.

Explore the Setting of the Novel

  • Vicksburg National Military Park — Visitors to this site learn about Vicksburg's role as a fortress defending the Mississippi River during the Civil War. The site provides an online tour of the park, gives information about historic landscapes, and lists details about commanders, gunboats, and other Civil War topics.
  • Mississippi — The Infoplease website has compiled quick facts about Mississippi including the origin of the states name.
  • Mississippi Maps — Access to many maps of Mississippi, ranging from views of the entire state to city maps and maps of the national parks, is offered here.

Find Out More About the Historical Context of the Novel

  • African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship — This Library of Congress exhibit conducts the visitor on a splendid tour through time, beginning with slavery and ending in the civil rights era. Facts are balanced with reproductions of historical documents, photographs, and drawings, bringing significant events and important people in African American history to life.
  • Africans in America — On this site, an overview of each time period from 1450 to 1865 is given, followed by more in-depth discussions of various aspects of the era by scholars and historians.
  • Civil Rights Movement — The History site provides an overview of the Civil Rights movement. The site offers links to main events during the time, timelines, videos, and pictures.
  • Seperate is not Equal — The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History's Brown v. Board of Education exhibition talks about segregation, the education system, and what it meant for African Americans.
  • PBS: Jim Crow Laws — At this site, learn about the Jim Crow laws, segregation, and personal accounts by individuals who experienced those times.
  • Reminiscences of the Great Depression — These excerpts of firsthand accounts of life in the Great Depression make the hardships and spirit of the people who lived through this crisis very real.
  • The Great Depression — This site reviews the causes and effects of the Great Depression in a factual but approachable style. Modern American Poetry provides an excellent photo essay from this time period.

Learn More About the Lives of the Characters

  • Sharecropping — This site covers the topics of sharecropping as well as lynching, voting restrictions, and Jim Crow laws.
  • Cotton Gin — From the National Archives and Records Administration comes a complete lesson on the cotton gin, which includes background on cotton, a description of Eli Whitney's invention and patent, a drawing of the gin, and an exploration of the impact of the cotton gin on the South and the institution of slavery. This information is followed by activities that focus attention on and develop important ideas.

Examine the Symbolism in the Novel

  • Confederate Flag — Although this essay, written for a class project, contains some outdated references to situations that have been resolved, it presents some insights into the ongoing controversy over the Confederate flag.

Big Theme Questions

What have you learned or gained from your family? What lessons would you like to pass on to future generations?

Where do you find the strength and courage to get through difficult times?

What would you be willing to sacrifice for the sake of your beliefs or to help someone else?

In what ways does the time in which you live influence who you are?

How does a person hold onto self-respect, even when the world seems against him or her?

Outline of Lesson Plan | Discussion Topics | Writing Prompts

The following section can be used to get discussions started in your classroom. It is based on the Lesson Plan within the Book Club Novel Guide for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. The Lesson Plan includes blackline masters for the students that support the writing prompts. The writing prompts provided are meant as suggestions only. As students become more comfortable with the Book Club format, they will certainly have ideas and questions that go beyond the prompts. Consider giving students “free choice” as a log option. Book Club Reading Logs help students respond to literature and organize ideas as they participate in Book Club.

Chapter 1
Literary Elements: Setting; Conflict
Comprehension: Making Inferences

  • How does Cassie feel about returning to school? Do you share her feelings about the first day of school?
  • What do you learn about the setting of the story from these first pages? Fill in your setting chart with the specific details.
  • Draw a picture of the Jefferson Davis County School, using the details provided by the author.
  • What significant conflicts are established in this part of the story? What do you predict might happen as a result of these conflicts?
  • Draw a picture of Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School from the details provided in the text. How does your picture of Cassie’s school differ from your drawing of Jefferson Davis County School? What inferences can you make based on this contrast?
  • What do you learn about Cassie’s character in this chapter?

Chapter 2 | Language Conventions: Connotation; Dialect

  • Pick out passages of dialogue from this chapter, and explain how the use of dialect brings the characters to life or reveals their true feelings effectively.
  • Why do you think Papa has come home? What is the real reason that Mr. Morrison is going to stay with the Logans when Papa goes back to the railroad?
  • Does the description of the Logan home fit with your impression of the Logan family? Explain.
  • What is the reaction of Mr. and Mrs. Avery and Mr. and Mrs. Lanier when Papa says that his family doesn’t shop at the Wallace store? Why do you think they have this reaction?

Chapter 3
Response to Literature: Problem Solving
Literary Elements: Point of View; Mood

  • Would you have solved the problem of the bus in the same way that Stacey and the others did? Why or why not? What is revealed about their relationships with one another?
  • Why do you think Jeremy Simms never rides the bus?
  • How is the Logans’ daily confrontation with the bus symbolic of a larger conflict?
  • Describe what Cassie sees when she sneaks out of her room. How does she feel when she heads back to bed?
  • Add details to your setting chart from this and previous segments of the book.

Chapter 4
Comprehension: Compare and Contrast
Literary Elements: Realistic Style

  • Why are T.J. and Stacey friends? Would you stay friends with T.J.?
  • Add details to your character map of Cassie.
  • Compare and contrast one of the following pairs: Stacey’s attitude toward Mr. Morrison before and after the incident at the store; T.J. and Stacey; Cassie before and after the night men’s arrival; school in the 1930s and in the present.
  • How does your understanding of what the land means to the Logans deepen after reading this chapter? Does your family have something that means the same to them?
  • Write about your reaction to an event or to something you learn in this part of the book.
  • Summarize the dilemma of the sharecroppers as explained by Mr. Turner.

Chapter 5 | Comprehension: Personal Titles

  • What does the gun in the store represent to T.J.? Have you ever wanted something that you couldn’t have?
  • What do you learn about setting from Cassie’s run-ins with Mr. Barnett and Mr. Simms? Why doesn’t Big Ma take Cassie’s side?
  • Write a diary entry that Cassie might have written after her day in Strawberry.
  • Add details to your character chart of Cassie.

Chapter 6 | Comprehension: Making Connections

  • Identify and explain examples of foreshadowing from this and previous chapters.
  • Why do you think T.J. reacts the way he does to Stacey’s new coat?
  • How does Cassie feel toward Big Ma after the episode in Strawberry? Why? Would you have felt this way? Explain.
  • What main idea is Mama trying to convey to Cassie when she speaks to her after the incident in Strawberry?

Chapter 7
Response to Literature: Life Lessons
Comprehension: Examining Characters’ Motives

  • Draw a symbol to represent the character of each member of the Logan family.
  • What is Uncle Hammer trying to teach Stacey? Why?
  • What does Cassie mean when she says the adults “lent us their memories”? Why do they tell of the bad times as well as the good?
  • What lessons have you learned from your family? Explain.
  • Why do you think Jeremy visits the Logans on Christmas Day? Does Stacey’s reaction surprise you? Why or why not?
  • Do you agree with Papa’s advice to Stacey about his friendship with Jeremy? Explain.
  • Compare and contrast the attitudes of Mr. Jamison and Mr. Granger.

Chapter 8 | Comprehension: Integrity and Self-Respect

  • Add details to your character map of Cassie from this and previous chapters.
  • Would you have chosen Cassie’s way of getting back at Lillian Jean? Why or why not? How is she following her father’s advice?
  • Does Mama have integrity? Explain.
  • Why does T.J. tell the Wallaces about Mrs. Logan? Do you feel sorry for T.J.? What could he have done to make things right with Stacey?

Chapter 9 | Comprehension: Story Structure

  • Explain why Mr. Avery and Mr. Lanier must stop shopping in Vicksburg.
  • Why are R.W. and Melvin Simms hanging around with T.J.? What does T.J. get out of it?
  • What are some instances of irony in this chapter?
  • Draw a Logan family tree, including what you know about Cassie’s grandparents and greatgrandparents. How does Cassie’s family resemble the fig tree?

Chapter 10 | Response to Literature: Feelings About Characters

  • Describe the relationship between Stacey and Jeremy. How is their friendship different from T.J.’s relationship with Jeremy’s brothers?
  • Explain what T.J. means when he says, “It—it didn’t even make no difference.” Do you share Cassie’s sympathy for him as he stands alone outside the church?

Chapter 11 | Literary Elements: Theme Connections

  • Describe the mood of the scene at the Averys. What emotions did you have while reading this scene? How does the author make you feel these emotions?
  • Analyze the words of the song that begins Chapter 11. What is the theme of the song? How does it relate to the story?
  • What does thunder represent in this story?

Chapter 12 | Response to Literature: Author’s Purpose

  • Why do you think the author ends the story in this way?
  • What are your feelings about what happens in this chapter?
  • Describe the effect of the fire and T.J.’s fate on Cassie.
  • What themes are reinforced or brought out by this last chapter?