2012: Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers

W  R  I  T  I  N  G       E   X  E  R  C  I   S  E  S


Also good for “Read Aloud, Think Aloud,” or dialogue/discussion.


Remind students that writing can be a kind of therapy, a safe place to put feelings and thoughts, a safe place to think about things.  Tell them they may write about things that they don’t want anyone else to read, and that is okay. 


1)  Do you think WE ARE AMERICA: A TRIBUTE FROM THE HEART presents a balanced view of history?  What happens if history books focus on only one version of history? 


2)  Why is it important to be honest about the past? Write about an example from your own life—when being honest about the past helped you.   


3)  Write about a hero/heroine in your own life.


4)  What does hope mean to you?  What do you hope for? 

5)  What would you like to be famous for?  What are the people in WE ARE AMERICA: A TRIBUTE FROM THE HEART remembered for?  


6)  What are people famous for these days?  Is there a difference between famous people in the present, and the famous people in WE ARE AMERICA? 


7)  Who is America (to you)? 


8)  In the Author’s Note, Chris Myers writes: “What can I make of my life?  How will I define myself?  What is America, and what will I make of it? “


How would you answer his questions for yourself?


9)  Chris Myers also writes:  “…In some ways the beauty of this country is its open-endedness, the question mark of it.  Where other places in the world end in periods, neat packets of sealed identities, we end in possibilities.”   


What does this mean?  How does this relate to you and your life? 


**Tie to a simple lesson on periods and question marks and how they work. 


10)  In WE ARE AMERICA, Walter Dean Myers writes: “Freedom like water on the tongues of thirsting men.  Freedom as sweet as young love.” 


What does this mean? 

**Tie to a lesson on similes (“like” or “as”) and how they work to enrich writing.  Get students to add one or two similes to their writing.


11)  Write about what freedom means to you.  (Saying what you want?  Voting?  Taking a walk by yourself?  Being able to raise your children as you want to?  Going dancing?) 


12)  Write about a time when you felt free.


13)  Write about a time when you didn’t feel free.


14)  Is your idea or experience of America different from your kids’?  How?  Tell a story from your life that shows this difference. 


15)  Talk about the Olympics.  Why do they move people?  Which sports do you like to watch best?  Why?  Write about a sports memory from your past.  Playing a sport, watching sports on T.V. or in person with your family.


16)  Write about the work you do. Describe an average day of work for you, step-by-step. 


17)  Write a story about your most memorable day of work (memorable for positive or negative reasons). 


18)  Do you think work is different for women than men?  If yes, how?  If no, why not? 


19)  Write about something you do (or have done) that goes against the stereotype of your gender.  Such as, if you’re a man who cooks or sews, or a woman who works construction or can fix her own plumbing. 


20)  Using a map, research and talk about the regions of America.  Northeast, Midwest, South, West.  Desert, mountain, coast, forest. 


21)  Write about your decision to come to America, and how you and/or your family made it happen.  What was your journey like?   


22)  Write about making a difficult decision. 


23)  Write about the thread that links your grandparents, to your parents, to yourself.


24)  Think about an event or incident that occurred during your life. It could be an historic sports event involving your home team, a crime that happened in your town or city, weather event, or something else that had a significant effect on the people nearby, such as the building of a major bridge or highway. Write about this event, and how it touched your own life. Use the personal to elucidate the historic and vice versa.


25)  Write about a small part of the country or the world with which you are intimately familiar. Focus first on the landscape, wildlife, and architecture: What flora and fauna are native to the area? What do the houses and centers of town look like? Then introduce the people: What do they look like? What do they do for a living? Use as much detail as possible to bring the place to life.


26)  Write about the moment in your life when everything changed—a moment of opportunity, serendipity, calamity, or chaos.


27)  Take a walk that you know well—through your neighborhood, around the block where you work, or your route to the train or bus. Study this familiar landscape carefully, and try to find a detail that you hadn’t noticed before—a piece of graffiti, a certain row of trees, a cracked pattern in the sidewalk. Write about this new observation, small as it may be.


28)  Write about a time when you embarked upon something new and challenging, maybe something frightening, or maybe even a little dangerous.


29)  Talk about John Smith and the refugee images from WE ARE AMERICA (page 10 – 11).  Compare/contrast.  What story does the picture tell?  What story do the two pictures together tell?  What do the pictures have in common?  What’s different? 


Do the same with the Birmingham, Alabama/water hoses, and Boston Tea Party images.  Why are these images paired together?  What’s at the heart of both images? 


Do the same with the images of the scars on the man’s back, the Battle of Wounded Knee, Big Foot (Sioux chief), and Japanese internment camps. (WE ARE AMERICA – page 22 – 23).  What’s at the heart of these different images?  Why are they together? 


30)  Walter Dean Myers writes:


“We are America

The land of the free

Wealthy beyond belief

And not wealthy

The land of equal opportunity

And not equal

The land of justice

And injustice”    


What does this mean?  Write about a time when you felt justice was done in your own life.  A light anecdote or something serious.  Do the same for injustice. 


**Pair with a lesson on “in” (incomplete, incapable, inadequate, inedible, injustice).  Could go well with a lesson on “re” (rebuild, reclaim, reuse, resell, review, rethink).

31)  Study the murals in WE ARE AMERICA and also look at the Art Notes at the back of the book. See if you can find the following images: Amelia Earhart, the John Hancock Building, Chinese railroad workers, Detroit, the Mississippi River, Mark Twain, Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Japanese internment camp, Wounded Knee, the Civil War, Big Foot, a Lakota Scout, Thomas Jefferson, Jimi Hendrix, Maria Tallchief and Cesar Chavez. Discuss these people and places.


 32)  Look at the people on pages 30 – 35.  Pick a person, find out more about them, write about them.  Try to write a poem about the person you choose—one that captures their spirit and contributions to America.  Get inspired!


Gloria Steinem; Albert Einstein; Yuri Kochiyama; Fiorello La Guardia; Hedy Lamarr; Richard Feynmann; Max Baer; Cesar Chavez; Thomas Alva Edison; I.M. Pei; Jean-Michel Basquiat; Anna May Wong; Jimi Hendrix; Greg Louganis; Danny Thomas; Malcom X; Dolores Huerta; Abraham Lincoln; Gertrude Stein; Jack Johnson; William Carlos Williams; Thomas Jefferson; James Baldwin; Katherine Dunham; Danile Inouye; Martha Graham; Annie Sullivan; Helen Keller; Maria Tallchief; Frederick Douglas; George Gershwin; Buster Keaton; Zora Neale Hurston; Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Kalpana Chawla; Franklin Delano Roosevelt


33)  Read the Author’s Notes at the front of the book.  The author says he rediscovered “the passion in which our country was created, a passion that would be universally inspirational and would be the model for governments all over the world.” How did he rediscover that passion? What did he read? Have you ever read any of these documents? Discuss.

34)  There are numerous quotations featured in this book. Have you heard any of them?  One quote that is not widely known is by Tecumseh, a Shawnee Chief. It reads, ” This land belongs to the first who sits downs on his blanket.” What do you think this statement could mean? Be sure to read the full quotations and the identifications and history around each that is included at the back of this book. Which quotation is your favorite? Why?

35)  Write about a big day in history and what you and/or your family were doing on that day.  Give examples: Any war or famine or flood or hurricane, 9/11, when man walked on the moon, miners being found and freed, Tiananmen Square, day of Indian independence, when Grenada won its first Olympic gold medal, etc.  Describe the historical event and then describe your own personal history on that day.  How were you affected?  How did you feel?  Who were you with?  Where were you?  Does all of it mean something different to you now? 

36)  Write about something that America has in common with where you come from.  What are some things that are different?

37)  What do you think makes a person a good citizen?  In the country you come from?  In the country you live in now?  Is there a difference?

38)  What do you think makes a country good?

39)  Walter Dean Myers has said,
When you go into the history of the country and who stood up for the country, who fought for the country, who worked for the country, it’s never [people who want to achieve power or have power]. It’s always small people who saw a sense of duty and did it.” 

Discuss this statement.  Write about your own personal sense of duty. 

40)  Write about a time in your life when the “the little guy or gal” won.


M O R E    T I T L E S    B Y   T H E    M Y E R S E S


Looking Like Me; Harlem; Jazz; Blues Journey; Monster; Autobiography of My Dead Brother; Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament

Also check out Walter Dean Myers’ book, Harlem Summer, for more advanced readers interested in history.


A  D D  I  T I O N A L    R  E S  O  U  R C  E  S


Related Links:

Walter Dean Myers’ wonderful website

Who is America?  A beautiful site and companion to the book, We Are America.  Created by Christopher Myers.  Focuses on children.

Walter and Chris interviewed by StoryCorps

Scholastic video interview with Chris and Walter

C-SPAN video interview with Chris and Walter

Walter Dean Myers narrates a section of We Are America (along with video of Chris’ images)

Walter and Chris discuss the creation of We Are America

Reading Rockets video interview with Christopher Myers
Short, easy to digest interview with Walter Dean Myers (good for literacy students)

Huffington Post interview with Walter Dean Myers on literacy

New York Times article on Walter Dean Myers as our current national ambassador for young people’s literature

TIME (for kids) interview Walter and Chris about We Are America


P L A C E S     T O     V I S I T


The Museum of Chinese in America

National Museum of the American Indian (free)

El Museo del Barrio

Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture

Museum at Eldridge Street

Ellis Island


C O N T E N T    R E L A T E D     M E D I A

PBS series “Finding Your Roots” with Skip Gates 
HBO series “John Adams” 
PBS series “Triangle Fire” (on the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and labor conditions)
PBS series “Children of the Camps” (Japanese internment)
PBS series “We Shall Remain” (Native American history)

American Roots Music (oral histories with musicians):

Voices of World War II (short clips on working women’s lives):

Civil Rights Era movies:
“Do The Right Thing,” “Get on the Bus,” “Malcom X,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Hairspray,” “Mississippi Burning,” and “King.”

“Standing on my Sisters Shoulders,” “Freedom Riders,” “Eyes on the Prize.”

Parts of “Eyes on the Prize” here:

Youtube.  Short Civil Rights Movement pieces:


Library of Congress, Civil Rights era photographs:

Links to two articles on Christopher Columbus’ changing historical identity:


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