Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Liberation of Gabriel King, by K.L. Going

Title:  The Liberation of Gabriel King
Author:  K.L. Going
Publisher:  Puffin
Year:  2005
Pages:  160
Genre:  Realistic/Historical Fiction
Themes:  Friendship, Acceptance, Overcoming Fear
Age Range:  4th-6th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads
Gabriel King was a born chicken. He’s afraid of spiders, corpses, loose cows, and just about everything related to the fifth grade. Gabe’s best friend, Frita Wilson, thinks Gabe needs some liberating from his fears. Frita knows something about being brave— she’s the only black kid in school in a town with an active Ku Klux Klan. Together Gabe and Frita are going to spend the summer of 1976 facing down the fears on Gabe’s list. But it turns out that Frita has her own list, and while she’s helping Gabe confront his fears, she’s avoiding the thing that scares her the most.

Increasingly, children's books dealing with being brave are teaching the lesson that being brave is not the absence of fear, but being afraid and doing something anyway.  This is the lesson that Gabe learns the hard way in this novel by K.L. Going.  Gabriel is like a lot of kids at the upper end of their first decade of life-he is still afraid of things that he now knows are irrational, like cows and corn fields, but he can't seem to let go of the fear that grips him every time he gets near a spider or the rope swing at the swimming hole.  Frita is the opposite, seemingly afraid of nothing.  But throughout the summer of 1976, he discovers that his beliefs about his own cowardice and Frita's bravery don't begin to describe the complexities of what it really means to be afraid.

I am slightly uncomfortable calling this book historical fiction, since I was about the age of Gabe and Frita in 1976 (I was six to their 10), and that doesn't feel long ago enough to be history!  But the book actually highlights for children a time period about which not much has been written, at least not for kids-the period after integration in the south, the struggle between the Ku Klux Klan and their supporters against what they saw as the destruction of their hegemony, and their way of life.  Frita represented everything they hated-inclusion, acceptance, equality.  Frita's family responded in different ways.  Her father the preacher and his wife tried to find common ground with their neighbors and live peacefully, Frita's older brother flirted with joining the Black Panthers and had a fascination with Malcom X, and Frita just tried to fit in at school the best she could...including pounding anyone who bothered her or Gabriel.

Everyone should have a friend like Frita.  She was loyal, and strong, and believed that Gabriel could overcome his fears and learn to fight his own battles.  Gabe didn't really understand what it was like for Frita and her family, at least not until the father of the school bully used a racial slur against Frita at the 4th of July celebration.  Gabe watches as the entire town refuses to stand up against the extreme bullying of the KKK, and then learns a valuable lesson about overcoming fear as his father, a quiet, soft-spoken man, prepares to speak on behalf of justice and equality.  When his friends are in trouble, he is able to overcome his own fears and do things he never thought possible-even making the dreaded transition to fifth grade.

Teacher Resources:
Scholastic Literature Circle Guide
Discussion Questions from K.L. Going's Website

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