English, K. (2002). Francie. New York: Sunburst.
Set in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Francie lives with her mother and brother in the segregated Alabama while her father works and sends money from Chicago. Francie helps her mother work various jobs and attends school while she dreams of being able to move north and have access to “possibilites”. She faces bullying and many small injustices under segregation. When a teenager she is teaching to read is accused of attempting to murder a white man, Francie faces the choice of whether or not to help him with the risk that will make life become more difficult for her family and all of the other blacks living in her town.
While this well-written book is not a formal mystery, Francie’s love for Nancy Drew novels and her clever ways of getting back at those who torment her add a sense of tension that helps the book feel like a historical mystery.
Also worth noting, Francie does complicate issues of race beyond whites=evil, blacks=victims. There are a few white characters who are presented in a positive light and some black characters who Francie is less than fond of for understandable reasons.
Activities to do with the book:
There are multiple references to other works of literature, including Nancy Drew mysteries, War and Peace and the poems of Langston Hughes that a teacher could base lessons around. A teacher could also emphasize the power of literacy, since many of the supporting characters wish they could read as Francie does.
A teacher could also use this book as a basis for lessons on American history, including information on transportation, economic conditions, criminal justice and segregation.
When discussing segregation, this is a good book to show the subtle forms of racism and discrimination that occurred on a daily basis. A daring teacher could also consider whether some of these small injustices still continue in present-day American society as well.
Another way of connecting this text to recent events is to consider how assumptions over Jesse’s guilt or innocence were divided along racial identity. A teacher could draw parallels to judgments people made about OJ Simpson when he was on trial for murder.
“I did something to that cat, I admit it. But that cat did something to me first” (p. 3).
"I was innocent, but the world had decided to make me guilty. Why did I feel so guilty?" (p. 61).
“God had blessed me with knowing I could fight my way out of my circumstances, if need be” (p. 63).