Why I would teach on the book The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox

Why I would teach on the book The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox

I believe that students should read a wide range of genres in their English classes. One of the genres I think is most beneficial is historical fiction. Students are able to connect their learning experience in history class to characters that they read about in their historical novels. History text books alone can be boring because of the many facts and figures. There aren’t enough details to engage students into the events and get them to think about the significance of what happened. When authors writing novels are able to use facts and make it relate to people’s own experience, then students could gain a better understanding of events in certain points of history and that is what Paula Fox did in her novel The Slave Dancer.

Paula Fox wrote The Slave Dancer, which is about a boy name Jessie who is kidnapped by sailors to play his fife in a slave ship. The story brought into awareness the horrors of the slave trade and slavery. Paula Fox spent many hours in the New York City public libraries to gather information for her novel. She wanted to have accurate information about slave ships to describe it in her novel. Fox also learned about the different laws that were presented in the time that the novel took place, which was in 1840. According to a New York Times article published in the 1974, Fox stated that The Slave Dancer, “In many ways … was the most difficult book I’ve ever written”. Fox said this because she wanted to have precise information, she also said, “When dealing with a certain period in history… the spontaneity of your writing is restrained by the nagging doubt, ‘Is this true? Is this the way it must have been?” So in order to answer her own personal questions she had to dig into books and find the facts. She read about different historical accounts and incorporated them into her novel.

Fox’s novel is a great literature to use in an English classroom because students would get to learn about the slave trade and slavery through fictional characters. The characters emotions and actions would bring the events to life, and students would see how it affected people. An English teacher could collaborate with a history teacher to create a curriculum where students are able to think about events from a historical lens, and from English. As I did in my mini- lesson, I would find real historical documents like the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano to have students compare both experiences and get an in depth understanding of the horrors slavery during that time period. JA

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