Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

Bibliographic Information: Draper, S. (2006). Copper Sun. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.  ISBN: 0689821816.  302 pages.

Plot Summary: “Amari shuffled in the dirt as she was led into the yard and up onto a raised wooden table, which she realized gave the people in the yard a perfect view of the women who were to be sold.  She looked at the faces in the sea of pink-skinned people who stood around pointing at the captives and jabbering in their language as each of the slaves was described.  She looked for pity or even understanding but found nothing except cool stares.”  Fifteen-year-old Amari lives in the rural village of Ziavi, in western Africa, with her mother, father and little brother, until one day everything changes.  White slave traders from America, accompanied and assisted by members of a neighboring village, murder much of Amari’s community, including her family.  Amari survives.  The invaders then take Amari and others who were not too young and not too old with them for a long, arduous, and often deadly, voyage to Charles Town, South Carolina.  Amari lives through the journey, many of the captives did not.  Once in America, Amari is sold and brought to live on a plantation where she meets many other slaves and Polly, a white indentured servant, who is also fifteen.  Will the horrors of slavery make Amari wish she too had died?  Could Amari and Polly ever become friends?  Can Amari find any hope for the future?

Critical Evaluation: Brutally real and disturbingly detailed, Copper Sun tells a story about slavery that is more personal than what young people learn in school or read in a history book.  Though the book is a fictional account, Amari comes to life on the pages as a real person that the reader can relate to and feel for.  The multifaceted characters have depth and readers can see how complicated their lives are.  The story provides insight into the depth of racism, inequality, and inhumanity surrounding slavery.  The African characters demonstrate a variety of responses to their horrific circumstances, including astonishing strength of character and spirit, despite horrific treatment and conditions.  Draper’s writing is so descriptive that sights, smell, and sounds come to life.  Draper’s extensive research into the history of the slave trade lends a good deal of realism to the story, making it both unsettling and important.  The writing flows well and the reading level is accessible for teens, though this book contains intense subject matter, in particular the descriptions of frequent physical and sexual abuse.  Some of the many awards and honors Copper Sun has received include: 2007 Coretta Scott King Literature Award, Booklist’s Top Ten Historical Fiction Books for Youth, School Library Journal’s Best Book of the Year.

Reader’s Annotation: Fifteen-year-old Amari lives in a rural West African village with her family, until one day everything changes.  Amari watches as slave traders from America murder much of her community, including her family; she survives, but what is in store for her makes her wish she had not.

Information about the Author: Sharon Draper has written more than two dozen book,s including a mystery series for grade schoolers and novels for tweens and teens.  In addition to being a writer, Draper is a professional educator.  She has received many awards and accolades for her writing as well as her teaching, including being honored as National Teacher of the Year and winning the Coretta Scott King Literature Award five times.

“Her book Copper Sun has been selected by the US State Department and the International Reading Association as the United States novel for the international reading project called Reading Across Continents. Students in the US, Nigeria, and Ghana are reading the book and sharing ideas-a true intercontinental, cross-cultural experience.” (Draper, n.d.)

Genre: Historical Novel

Subgenres/Themes: Historical Novel: American History: Nineteenth Century: Slavery; Historical Novel: African History

Topics Covered: Slavery, Africa, African-American History, American History, Friendship, Survival, Racism, Race, Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Violence

Curriculum Ties: American History, African History, Slavery

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Imagine watching the murder of your family and many others in your village, as Amari did.
  • How would it feel to be sold?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to 17

Challenge Issues: Physical and Sexual Abuse and a great deal of violence.  Response: In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won and honors, as mentioned above in the critical evaluation.

Why is this book included? This book is well written and relevant as historical fiction about a teen in almost unimaginable circumstances.  Though this book is fiction, it gives a voice to the experience of a slave and to slavery, a sometimes pushed aside, but important to remember, piece of American history.

References:

Draper, S. M. (n.d.) Biography: Sharon M. Draper.  Retrieved from http://sharondraper.com/formal-biography.asp