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donnaodonnellfigurski.com - CIRCLE UNBROKEN
Circle Unbroken
Circle Unbroken
written by Margaret Theis Raven
illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 0-374-31289-3
Ages 6-9

Life goes on and on and on like a circle unbroken. Traditions pass from family to family, from generation to generation. Traditions that define what a family or a culture is, are invaluable and must be treasured and cherished. Margot Theis Raven’s new book, CIRCLE UNBROKEN demonstrates this concept as she weaves and intertwines a story of how a young boy was stolen from his village in Africa and brought to the New World . . . a world that for many showed promise, but for this young boy brought only the loss of his freedom. “But long night after long day, he (the boy) sewed baskets in the old way . . . preserving the traditions and memories of those who were plucked from their homes and villages in Africa and thrust into slavery in America. As years and years have passed, the tradition of the sweetgrass baskets is still being weaved in South Carolina and the Georgia Lowcountry . . . proof that the tradition remains alive.

E. B. Lewis’ life-like illustrations nearly draw you into the book and set you on the pages of this history-filled story. I could almost feel the ripples of the water as the old-timey grandfather straddled his canoe and told his tales of long, long ago.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters

FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group

“Circle Unbroken is a tale of Africa,” said Philippe.

“It’s a story about a girl’s old-timey grandfather,” said Jake, “and her old-timey grandmother.”

“ . . . in the African past,” said Marta.

“I like the way the author of this book based it on history,” said Anya.

“It seems like a real story,” said Sarit.

“But, her old-timey grandfather was sold,” said Greg shaking his head as if her couldn’t believe it.

“It’s wrong!” said Ethan.

“Yeah!” said Jake, “Slave men came and stole her grandpa!”

“Who could ever be mean enough to steal somebody from their home?” asked Kurtis.

“I would not like to be stolen from my family,” said Becky.

“If I were stolen from my family,” said Lucy, “I would cry and my stomach would feel weird.”

“The people in this book didn’t want to be owned,” said Ethan. “They wanted to be free.”

“People should not be bought by other people,” said Marta. “It doesn’t make ANY sense. People are not toys!”

“I don’t know one person who would want to be sold,” said Ethan.

“The African past (in the South) was pretty rough,” said Becky.

“They had to work day and night and they never got paid,” said Kurtis.

“ . . . and they had to live in these old, broken houses,” said Anya.

“I mean, that’s just wrong,” said Ethan again.

“I can see how the book was called CIRCLE UNBROKEN…” said Hannah.

“A circle is like a tradition,” said Sarit. “It goes on and on until it gets to each person.”

“Yeah, each generation taught their kids how to make the circle,” said Jake. “Then, when the grandmother was telling the story at the end, she said, ‘Now it’s time for you to learn, too.’ So I think that after that girl has kids, her kids will learn too, and so on, and so on, and so on.”

“The circle will keep on going to infinity,” said Ethan, “. . . and beyond.”

“CIRCLE UNBROKEN was soft and gentle,” said Katie-Erin.

“It is a touching book for both black and white people,” said Pritka.

“I agree. It was very touching,” said Ethan. “It’s a book that touches the heart.”


TRADITIONS!!! TRADITIONS!!! are the stories, the memories, the legends passed from generation to generation. Traditions are time-honored practices that families share with each other. There are traditions for celebrating holidays like Easter, Christmas, Hanukah and New Year’s. There are baby-naming traditions and wedding traditions. Traditions may include food or music, or dance. There are traditions to welcome spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Traditions are the glue that holds societies together. TRADITIONS!!!

TRADITIONS/CELEBRATIONS . . . The Same BUT Different Social Studies/Language Arts

Have children question their families about the types of traditions that they celebrate. Then, have each child, with the help of a family member, prepare a poster depicting some of their traditions. Set aside an afternoon for children to share their posters with their classmates. Focus on the variety of traditions.


Use the information from the children’s posters, TRADITIONS/CELEBRATIONS . . . The Same BUT Different, to help them realize that many traditions carry across different nationalities. For example, most people celebrate birthdays, but different cultures celebrate in different ways. How does Marta’s Hispanic family celebrate her birthday? Then compare how Marta’s celebration differs from the way Pritka’s Indian family celebrates her birthday or Katie-Erin’s Irish family celebrates hers? How are birthdays honored in the Philippines where Philippe is from? Try to contrast and compare as many traditions as you are able to with your class.

SOLD! Social Studies

SOLD! It’s a sweet word if your house has been on the market for a long time. It’s an exciting word if you are the last bidder on that special portrait, antique vase, or piece of depression glass that you have wanted forever. BUT, I’m sure the word SOLD instilled terror in the hearts of slaves on the auction block in the 1800s. SOLD is a word that brought tears to a mother’s or father’s eyes. It’s a word that broke hearts and tore families apart. After reading Circle Unbroken, examine the following websites The Largest Slave Auction, Understanding Slavery, and Black Peoples of America – The Slave Auction. (Site URLs below) These sites will guarantee to heighten children’s awareness of slavery and spark some very sensitive and emotional discussions.

(Although I examined these websites and found them to be very helpful, please use them at your own discretion.)

Circle Unbroken http://suzyred.com/2 005circle.html
History of Basket Weavng
The Largest Slave Auction
Understanding Slavery http://school.discovery.com/schooladventures/slavery/witness.html
Black Peoples of America – The Slave Auction


Alec’s Primer by Mildred P. Watts, illustrated by Larry Johnson
The Secret to Freedom by by Marcia Vaughn, illustrated by Larry Johnson
Almost to Freedom by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Colon Bootman
Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter
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All contents copyright (c) 2002. Donna O'Donnell Figurski.
No content may be copied or reproduced in any way without the express permission of the creator.
Clip Art courtesy of GraphicGarden.com

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