First of all, Fairfax County would also be covering the historical context in U.S. History, so the eleventh-grade English program would elide with the History curriculum and provide a nice basket of context in which we could carry this work. Baker does an excellent job of presenting the Africans prior to enslavement and the horrifying events of their capture; it is a much better recounting than a text could do.
I would try to do this assignment during February, Black History Month.
My work with this piece would involve, of course, having students “read” the graphic novel and excerpts from Stryon’s book. In order to bring in students who would not have done the work, I would be especially careful to visually outline the opening discussion and give all students an outline to complete as we proceeded.
I would open the class with an interactive discussion about the context to be sure students were certain we were talking about the slave trade in nineteenth century America and anchor that to politics prior to the Civil War. I would include a brief piece about the African participation in the initial capture of their own and neighboring people (a piece omitted in the SOL’s). We would proceed to life situations for the immigrant slaves who had no status, language equivalents, skills, or protections in order to survive in the world in which they would find themselves. I would prepare questions to bring out students’ responses to how they would feel if this happened to them and their family and friends.
When the basic work of understanding the text visually and aurally was completed, we would get to the best part: the kinesthetic connection. Students would choose parts and rotate among themselves who would be the narrator. All narrators would have a Lunch and Learn session with me to be sure their interpretation had a grasp of the desolation the novel demands, and to be sure there is continuity in the narrative structure.
The students would come to school in period costumes and wear them all day. We would probably be able to take one entire combined period of History and English to practice, and one to perform the play for ourselves. If they students were excited about this assignment and the administration gave permission, we could present the play in a number of formats: lunchtime for the student body, evening for parents.