“Maggie’s American Dream” by James P. Comer (228 pages) is a compelling nonfiction book about the author and his mother, Maggie. Because “Maggie’s American Dream” is easy to read, it could be used with students from Grade 7 through college. This high-interest book about the Black American family is sure to engage students while offering a window into 20th century American history.
The first half of the book focuses on the life of James’ mother Maggie; the second half, on James’ life. Maggie’s life began in poverty in the deep Sough in the early twentieth century. After moving north to Indiana, just outside of Chicago, Maggie’s determination and sound decisions enabled her to shepherd her family to success in just one generation.
The book grew from extensive interviews that James conducted with his mother. This book is an ideal catalyst for helping students improve interviewing, research, and writing skills.
This research assignment asks students to pick a topic from the book (such as the value of education; housing discrimination; domestic work), research the topic, and write a paper. The assignment sheet includes a list of 17 possible topics, with page references from the book. Students may also choose their own topic, based on the book.
The interview assignment asks students to conduct an interview with someone born prior to 1960. The interview assignment is designed to inform the research for the paper assignment. However, with minimal modifications, it could be used as a separate assignment.
I used this assignment in a pre-college summer bridge program for underprepared college students. It is also appropriate for high school students, and it could be easily adapted for use with middle school students.