Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Freedom Maze

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman is a wonderful story about a young girl named Sophie living in the 1960s. Sophie loves to read and hates to dress up. When her mother sends her to live with her Aunt Enid and grandmother in Louisiana for the summer, Sophie finds herself exploring the bayou, devouring books, and exploring the old maze in the garden. It is in the old maze that Sophie comes across a spirit that teases and taunts her. Sophie reflects on the spirit: "She knew the animal she'd chased into the maze wasn't just a cat or a rabbit or a muskrat. The more she thought about it, the less she believed that the voice she'd heard belonged to a real child. Which meant she must have been talking to real ghost" (p33). The spirit continues to visit Sophie, and upon coming to her after a fight with her mother, Sophie tells the spirit that she wishes she wasn't herself. She tells the spirit, "'I want to be like Ann and Roger and Eliza. I want to travel through time and have grand adventures and brothers and sisters and have everybody love me" (p53). With that, Sophie is off. She opens the door to her room and is flung back in time to 1860, when her grandmother's house was part of a plantation.

Although Sophie starts out as a bit of a tom-boy, not afraid of getting her dresses dirty or her hair wet, going back in time quickly makes her miss the comforts of her clean grandmother's home. Even more so than the cleanliness, Sophie soon realizes that she misses fitting in. She is mistaken for a slave immediately upon arriving back in time, and is threatened with a beating when she's caught holding a hair brush that belongs to her new master's daughter. Sophie quickly realizes that this adventure is not going to be the one she planned on-- she is an active participant, and she is unwelcome.

Sherman's work around creating a Historical Fiction text that covers two different time periods-- both 1860 and 1960-- and shows the changes made over these 100 years, is simply incredible. She flawlessly illustrates the true struggles of the slaves during this time period and the manipulative behaviors of their masters, along with the continuing racism in 1960 despite the abolishment of slavery. The reader feels as though the author herself was able to go back in time-- she captures the littlest details that would be easy to overlook without extensive research, which it is very clear she conducted.

Sherman also does a wonderful job touching on the themes of family: both blood-related and those we adopt as we go through life. Each character is strongly portrayed and developed, making them genuine and believable. She also writes about the themes of social justice and liberty-- showing the different mindsets in these time periods through characters' dialogues and interactions.

I would use this book tied with Revolution, Brown Girl Dreaming, and Freedom on the Menu. All of these books lend themselves to conversations and learnings around civil rights and civil liberties. As a teacher, I would use The Freedom Maze before these other books, as it does a great job introducing the history of slavery and the importance of the Civil Rights Movement following this time period. The author does an excellent job of showing how although slavery was abolished, racism still exists in 1960 and the fight for true freedom still needs to continue. This would be useful for students to understand the importance of the Civil Rights Movement and the idea that changing the world is more than just making laws, but rather mindsets, too.

The Freedom Maze could be used as a read aloud or as a book study. I would use it with grades 4-10. It has controversial elements, such as violence toward the slaves, but I would not shy away from reading these portions of the text to students as they serve as an important history lesson. I also enjoy this book because although it has the fantasy element of time travel, it primarily deals with very real aspects, making it a mix of many genres.

The very engaging and well-written Freedom Maze would lend itself to wonderful student discussion surrounding events in history, standing up for what is right, and self-discovery.

This is a link to Delia Sherman's website where she offers more information about her process in writing the book, a downloadable first chapter, and links for teachers. It is extremely useful: Sherman's website

The Freedom Maze

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