I’m the middle child in a series of three sisters, and while I don’t know what it’s like to be a twin, I can certainly relate to the sibling relationships that Katherine Paterson and Sundee T. Frazier have depicted in their middle grade books. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out who you are when you feel like you’ve been defined by your siblings for so long. Paterson won the Newberry Award in 1981 with Jacob Have I Loved, and Frazier’s 2010 novel, The Other Half of My Heart, offers diversity to the familiar tale of two sisters. Below is background information, contextual information, reading strategies, discussion questions, activities, and resources to be used for a unit on these two novels. I hope students and teachers alike can find fruitful conversation (and maybe even themselves) in these novels.
Recommended Age Range: 9-12, 5th to 8th grade
About the Books
Jacob Have I Loved
“Esau have I hated . . .” Sara Louise Bradshaw is sick and tired of her beautiful twin Caroline. Ever since they were born, Caroline has been the pretty one, the talented one, the better sister. Even now, Caroline seems to take everything: Louise’s friends, their parents’ love, her dreams for the future. For once in her life, Louise wants to be the special one. But in order to do that, she must first figure out who she is . . . and find a way to make a place for herself outside her sister’s shadow. Description Courtesy of Goodreads
The Other Half of My Heart
When Minerva and Keira King were born, they made headlines: Keira is black like Mama, but Minni is white like Daddy. Together the family might look like part of a chessboard row, but they are first and foremost the close-knit Kings. Then Grandmother Johnson calls, to invite the twins down South to compete for the title of Miss Black Pearl Preteen of America. Minni dreads the spotlight, but Keira assures her that together they’ll get through their stay with Grandmother Johnson. But when grandmother’s bias against Keira reveals itself, Keira pulls away from her twin. Minni has always believed that no matter how different she and Keira are, they share a deep bond of the heart. Now she’ll find out the truth. Description Courtesy of Goodreads
About the Authors
Katherine Paterson is the author of more than 30 books, including 16 novels for children and young people. She has twice won the Newbery Medal, for Bridge to Terabithia in 1978 and Jacob Have I Loved in 1981. The Master Puppeteer won the National Book Award in 1977 and The Great Gilly Hopkins won the National Book Award in 1979 and was also a Newbery Honor Book. For the body of her work she received the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1998, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2006, and in 2000 was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress. She is a vice-president of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance and is a member of the board of trustees for Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is also a honorary lifetime member of the International Board of Books for Young People and an Alida Cutts lifetime member of the US section, USBBY. She is the 2010-2011 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The Patersons have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Katherine currently resides in Vermont with her faithful dog, Pixie. Bio Courtesy of Paterson’s Website
Sundee T. Frazier
Sundee Frazier is the author of Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, winner of the 2008 ALA Coretta Scott King / John Steptoe New Talent Award, and The Other Half of My Heart. Frazier graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Broadcast Journalism in 1991 and earned her MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College in 2004. She currently lives near Seattle with her husband and two daughters. Bio Courtesy of Scholastic
Jacob Have I Loved
Jacob Have I Loved contains multiple biblical allusions, but the most prevalent is the story of Jacob and Esau. The verse that Sara Louise’s grandmother quotes is Romans 9:13, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Jacob and Esau were brothers and their story is told in the book of Genesis. Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was the elder brother and Jacob the younger, because of this Esau had both the birthright and his father’s blessing; however, Jacob tricked Esau and his father both out of both of these things.
Source: Bible Gateway. “Romans 9:13.” NIV, www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans%2B9%3A13&version=NIV.
World War Two
The events that led to World War Two began in 1931 when Japan invaded Manchuria. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan aligned themselves in 1936, creating the Axis Powers. The three countries began to expand their reach, officially starting the war when Japan invaded China in 1937, Germany incorporated Austria in 1938, and Italy invaded Albania in 1939. In September of 1939, Great Britain and The Soviet Union entered the war. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, The U.S. officially entered World War Two in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters; however, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had engaged a peacetime draft in September of 1940. Fighting continued over the next five years, including numerous landmarks such as storming the beaches of Normandy, the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, and Hitler’s suicide, and the liberation of Holocaust victims. Jacob Have I Loved takes place during World War Two. Sara Louise and Caroline hear about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio and their friend Call serves in the war.
Source: “World War Two: Timeline.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007306
Massachusetts Crabbing Industry
Sara Louise and her father likely fished for blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay area of Massachusetts. Until 1950, Chesapeake Bay accounted for 75% of the total amount of blue crabs harvested in the United States, although that number has since declined to below 50%. Crabs have been harvested in the Chesapeake Bay since colonial times. The crab pot was introduced in the 1930s, and by the 1940s had wide spread use. Both commercial fisheries and smaller operations, like that of Sara Louise’s family, have made up the industry, though it is increasingly dominated by large operations.
Source: Stagg, Cluney & Whilden, Marguerite. “ The History of Chesapeake Bay’s Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus): Fisheries and Management.” Investigaciones Marinas. 1997. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268342609_The_history_of_Chesapeake_Bay’s_blue_crab_Callinectes_sapidus_Fisheries_and_management
At the end of Jacob Have I Loved Sara Louise is a midwife. Midwifery has been practiced in the United States for hundreds of years and formal training began in 1765, though it was not widely available nor did many midwives take advantage of it. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, delivery of babies shifted from primarily midwives and homes to being performed by doctors in hospitals. However, midwifery persisted especially in rural areas, such as Appalachia, where Sara Louise practiced, because of lack of access to hospitals.
Source: Tom, Sally Austen. “The evolution of nurse-midwifery: 1900–1960.” Journal of Nurse-Midwifery. vol 27, issue 4. 4-13. 1982. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0091218282901641
The Other Half of My Heart
Minni and Kiera are fraternal twins, which means that they developed from two different eggs. Fraternal twins account for about every 1 in 100 births. Because fraternal twins don’t come from the same egg, they have slightly different genetic information and don’t look identical. While it may seem strange that Minni and Kiera have different skin colors, it doesn’t affect the identities that they are able to claim, though it does at times make their lives more complex. It’s scientifically sound that Minni and Kiera can be twins and have the different features that they do.
Source: Hammond, Robin. “These Twins, One Black and One White, Will Make You Rethink Race.” National Geographic, 12 Mar. 2018, www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/race-twins-black-white-biggs/.
Loving V. Virginia
Minni and Kiera’s parents are able to get married and raise their daughters because of Loving V. Virginia. In 1958 Mildred Jeter, a black woman, married Richard Loving, a white man, in the District of Columbia. When they returned to Virginia, they were charged with violating the state’s ban against inter-racial marriage. The case, Loving V. Virginia made it to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1967, where justices decided, “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.” This landmark case made inter-racial marriage constitutional.
“Loving v. Virginia.” Oyez. 2018. www.oyez.org/cases/1966/395
Minni and Kiera compete in the Miss Black Pearl preteen pageant, a scholarship pageant for African American girls. In 1967, J. Morris Anderson, a Philadelphia businessman, started the Miss Black America pageant because he had two daughters who wanted to grow up to be Miss America, but the pageant was dominated by white women. Anderson partnered with the NAACP as well as those who had run local pageants for the black community, similar to Miss Black Pearl, to found this national competition. I 1968, Saundra Williams was crowned the first Miss Black America. Oprah Winfrey competed in the Miss Black American pageant in 1971, the same year the Miss America pageant saw its first African American competitor. The Miss Black America pageant continues to be held today, and set the stage for African American women to compete in pageants around the country.
Source: Kelly, Kate. “Miss Black America: The Pageant Changed History.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 6 Apr. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-kelly/miss-black-america-pagean_b_9620176.html
- Reading aloud is a good strategy for interacting with texts with younger readers. Each student can have a copy of the text and take turns reading aloud, or the person in charge can read aloud to students and just have them listen. When reading aloud, students can interrupt to ask questions. This allows children to move at a more controlled pace.
- If you want to discuss these books with older children, have them read them on their own rather than in a structured class setting. Adapt discussion questions to be age appropriate and encourage them to consider the relationship between the sisters in a more in-depth manner. Encourage youth to write down their thoughts and questions as they read.
- Both Katherine Paterson and Sundee T. Frazier have written other books. Help students find other books by the authors or direct them to books that may be similar.
What are some reading strategies you like to use? Please share them!
- Sara Louise and Minni both have nicknames. Sara Louise is “Wheeze” and Minni is “Skinny.” Both girls were given their nicknames by their younger sisters. What does having a nickname mean? Do you have a nickname? How do the girls feel about their nicknames?
- Minni and Sara Louise both feel like they aren’t as talented as their sisters. What are Sara Louise and Minni good at? What are Caroline and Kiera good at? Why do you think the sisters are so competitive?
- Sara Louise and Caroline were never as close as Minni and Kiera. What are the similarities and differences between the sets of sisters? Why do you think that their relationships are different?
- Sara Louise turns to Captain Wallace for advice, and Minni turns to Miss Oliphant. What kind of advice do they get? Is this good advice? Why do you think Paterson and Frazier give their characters someone to go to for advice that is outside of their family?
- Both of these stories feature grandmothers who aren’t always easy to get along with and grew up in much different times than their granddaughters. What are their goals for their granddaughters? Why do you think the grandmothers act the way they do?
- Outside factors such as race and gender roles effect both sets of siblings. What problems do Kiera and Minni face? Which factors and Sara Louise and Caroline affected by? Are there any similarities between these problems?
- Sara Louise is only able to truly feel like she has come to terms with her relationship with Caroline after she leaves home. Similarly Kiera and Minni leave home for the summer and their relationship changes. What is the effect of leaving home on these sets of siblings? How does where they are from affect each set of sisters?
Do you have any discussion questions after reading one or both of these books? Send them my way!
- If youth have siblings, encourage them to write about their own experiences with their brothers or sisters. Do they have anything in common with the twins discussed in either of these books? This could make a good journaling prompt. If someone is an only child, encourage them to consider whether or not they would like siblings of their own (or, to identify what has substituted for siblings in their lives).
- Have youth interview their siblings (or sibling equivalents), asking them about their likes and dislikes and what they think about having siblings. Encourage youth to view being siblings from both sides of the experience, not just one.
- Sara Louise starts out crabbing with her father, but eventually becomes a Midwife. Jacob Have I Loved shows how she achieves this path. Kiera and Minni also have conversations about what they want to be in the future. Have youth brainstorm about what they’d like to do when they grow up and why.
- Home is very important to both sets of sisters. Youth can draw a picture of their own home and think about what it means to them. Home can be their room, their house, their neighborhood, or their town. Encourage them to think broadly about their definition of home.
Have you taught or interacted with these books? If you have and want to share some ideas and tips, send them my way!
- The April 2018 issue of National Geographic is about race, and its cover story is about a set of fraternal twins just like Minni and Kiera
- Diverse Kids’ Books reviewed The Other Half of My Heart
- Katherine Paterson’s Website
- Jezebel article about reading and rereading Jacob Have I Loved
- A series of video interviews with Katherine Paterson from 2011 when she served as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature
- An NPR interview with Katherine Paterson
- IMDB page for the 1989 Jacob Have I Loved TV movie
- Sundee T. Frazier’s website
- Kirkus Review’s commentary on The Other Half of My Heart
- Kirkus Review’s commentary on Jacob Have I Loved
- Interview with Frazier about The Other Half of My Heart
- Another interview with Frazier
- Black Children’s Books and Authors spotlight on Frazier
- The 2018 book Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by Earl Swift is about the citizens of Tangier Island, a disappearing community in the Chesapeake Bay that has startling similarities to Rass. If you want a deeper look at the environment experienced by the characters in Patterson’s novel. I’d recommend reading Chesapeake Requiem. You can find it on Amazon. I also reviewed the book for the Kansas State Collegian.
If you know of any resources relating to either of these novels, I’d love if you would share them with me.