Grade Level: Fifth
I can not say enough about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains. I have read this book three times and as a history teacher I absolutely adore it.
Chains follows two slave girls, Isabel and Ruth, who are sold to a Tory family in New York. Isabel and Ruth should be free but the nephew of their deceased owner sold them instead. Once arriving in New York, Isabel makes friends with Curzon. He tells her that she should keep her eyes and ears open in the house of Lockton. He says that she might learn something of value the Patriots would reward her for.
After several instances of abuse and the selling of her sister, Isabel makes up her mind to find out anything that will set her free. She reports several events straight to the Patriot military. (In one instance Madam Lockton finds her and has her severally punished by branding her face with an I.) Cuzon finds himself a POW and is locked up with other patriots in jail. Isabel visits him regularly to the great dismay of her mistress. Eventually, Isabel will use her wits to break Curzon out of jail. Together they run from New York.
While she does not gain her freedom legally, she does find freedom. This book is the first of a trilogy. Isabel crosses her river Jordan and there we leave her until Forge.
This book is historical fiction and therefore there are a few things in which to be aware. Ruth suffers from seizures. They call them fits and Mistress Lockton even refers to her having the devil in her. Mrs. Lockton attempts to beat Ruth at one point but Isabel takes it for her. Isabel takes a serious beating and a branding. Toward the end of the book Mrs. Lockton locks her in the potato bin.
The American Revolution sets the backdrop for this incredible story. Each chapter begins with a section from a primary source. It is great to make connections between what the Patriots were fighting for and for what Isabel is fighting. I recommend this book as a support for your American Revolution unit.
*You can check this book out at Amazon by clicking the cover below.*
Lesson Plan Ideas:
*Talk about the location of Rhode Island and New York. It’s important for students to understand that slavery extended throughout all 13 colonies.
*Look up the writings of Phyllis Wheatley. Compare the content of her writings with Isabel’s struggles. (page 228)
*In Chapter 4, Isabel tells the reader: “Ruth and me were housed belows the packet-boats deck with six sheep, a pen of hogs, three families from Scotland, and fifty casks of dried cod.” What does this tell you about the treatment and views of slaves? Why might the families from Scotland be below deck too?
*On page 43, Becky complains about having to make tea. She even says that she could be tarred and feathered for making tea. Why is this? Why is she not allowed to make tea? Who would tar and feather her?
*Read the primary source on page 79. Talk about the importance of Abigail Adam’s idea. Compare what she is asking with the primary source on page 105. What is the situation for women at this time? (This is a great lead into the women’s movement.)
*Curzon and Isabel are talking about freedom on page 160-161. Isabel has suffered from a severe beating and branding by this point. She tells Curzon: “You are blind. They don’t want us free. They just want liberty for themselves.” Do you think this is true? Can you see examples of this in the novel? When is slavery abolished?
*Write a response to Isabel’s comment on page 182: “I was changed between two nations.”
*Write a diary entry as Isabel responding to Nathan Hale’s comment: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” (Isabel’s retelling is on page 197)
*There is a great appendix section in the back where the author answers several questions about her novel.
*There is also a discussion section in the back.