P.S. Be Eleven

P.S. Be Eleven
Written by Williams-Garcia

Publisher’s Summary:
After spending the summer in Oakland, California, with their mother and the Black Panthers, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern arrive home with a newfound streak of independence. The sisters aren’t the only ones who have changed. Now Pa has a girlfriend. Uncle Darnell returns from Vietnam a different man. But Big Ma still expects Delphine to keep her sisters in line. That’s much harder now that Vonetta and Fern refuse to be bossed around. Besides her sisters, Delphine’s got plenty of other things to worry about–like starting sixth grade, being the tallest girl in her class, and dreading the upcoming school dance. The one person she confides in is her mother, Cecile. Through letters, Delphine pours her heart out and receives some constant advice: to be eleven while she can.

Primary Source Pairing:
Author Rita Williams-Garcia writes about the Gaither sisters in such a realistic way that by the second chapter you feel like you’re part of their family. Surely do! Williams-Garcia also paints a portrait of the culture and realities of the late 1960s in Brooklyn, New York. There are many primary source pairing opportunities with this story with its setting and in this time period of our history. Students can explore information about Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to be elected to the United States Congress. Students can learn more about the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood where the family lives in Brooklyn. Students can watch and analyze the actual Sony Bono PSA for anti-drug use that made Delphine’s class laugh out loud. Students can read more about Senator Robert F. Kennedy and his work with the Civil Rights movement. Students can investigate the difficult realities Vietnam War veterans experienced upon their return home.

For this primary source pairing, Jackson 5 is the winner. From the moment Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern see the billboard advertising the Jackson 5 at Madison Square Garden, they know they must go! They have to go. Surely do! Invite students to analyze an image of the Jackson 5 during their 1972 television special on CBS.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What do you notice first?
  • What people and objects are shown?
  • How are they arranged?
  • What is the physical setting?
  • What’s happening in the image?
  • What do you think was happening when it was created?
  • What can you learn from examining this?
  • If someone created something like this today, what would be different?
  • What would be the same?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Jackson 5 on CBS: Wikimedia Commons

Alternate Primary Source Pairings:
Shirley Chisholm: Wikipedia
Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood: Wikipedia
Sony Bono PSA for Anti-Drug Use: YouTube
Senator Robert F. Kennedy: Wikipedia
Vietnam War Veterans: Wikipedia

Related Primary Source Pairings:
Gone Crazy in Alabama

Additional Resources:
Jackson 5 Set List for Madison Square Garden Show on July 22, 1973: www.setlist.fm
“I Want You Back” Jackson 5 on their “Goin Back To Indiana” TV special in 1971: YouTube