By Sharon M. Draper
ABOUT THE BOOK
Amari''s life was once perfect. Engaged to the handsomest man in
her tribe, adored by her family, and fortunate enough to live in a
beautiful village, it never occurred to her that it could all be
taken away in an instant. But that was what happened when her
village was invaded by slave traders. Her family was brutally
murdered as she was dragged away to a slave ship and sent to be
sold in the Carolinas. There she was bought by a plantation owner
and given to his son as a "birthday present."
Now survival is all Amari can dream about. As she struggles to
hold on to her memories, she also begins to learn English and make
friends with a white indentured servant named Molly. When an
opportunity to escape presents itself, Amari and Molly seize it,
fleeing south to the Spanish colony in Florida at Fort Mose. Along
the way, their strength is tested like never before as they
struggle against hunger, cold, wild animals, hurricanes, and people
eager to turn them in for reward money. The hope of a new life is
all that keeps them going, but Florida feels so far away and
sometimes Amari wonders how far hopes and dreams can really take
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sharon M. Draper, 1997 National Teacher of the Year, is an
award-winning author and educator. Her books for young adults
include Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire (winner of the
1998 Coretta Scott King Award), Darkness Before Dawn, Romiette
and Julio, Double Dutch, The Battle of Jericho (winner of the
2004 Coretta Scott King Honor Award), and Copper Sun, as
well as the popular books for younger readers in the Ziggy and the
Black Dinosaurs series. She has worked with teachers, students,
schools, conferences, and educational organizations all over the
world, spreading the word about the power of education and the
magic of reading. Visit her Web site at www.sharondraper.com.
1. Copper Sun is a work of historical fiction. How does
the blending of history and fiction make for a successful story?
Which elements are purely fictional? Which elements are basically
historical? Why does learning history through fiction make the
story more memorable? How does this method of telling the story
affect the reader''s response?
2. The very first page, just before chapter one, tells of a
slave sale and how it must feel to be fifteen years old, stripped
naked, and standing on the auction block. Describe the feelings and
fears of the girl being sold. What predictions can the reader make
about the girl and the rest of the story?
3. As you first meet Amari, even though she lives in the Africa
of two hundred years ago, how is she like many fifteen-year-old
girls today? How is she different? What strengths do you find in
her family and home life? What negatives do you observe?
4. How is the relationship between Besa and Amari similar to
teen relationships today? How is it different? Describe how Amari
feels about him. What predictions can you make about their future
5. Describe the relationship between Amari and her parents, and
between Amari and her little brother, Kwasi. How does the strength
of her family make a difference in her life?
6. What do you know of the village of Ziavi from the
descriptions given in the text? How would you describe the social
structure, family structure, and cultural structure of the
community? How did the custom of graciousness to guests become a
death sentence for the town? Explain why the Ashanti helped the
7. Besa''s great skill and source of pleasure is his drum
playing. The people of the village love music and singing and
dancing and self-expression. Explore the importance of artistic
influences on individuals as well as groups of people. How can
self-expression be used as a tool for helping or healing?
8. Amari''s parents are killed, along with most of the people in
her village. How do you think you would react in the same
situation? What options does Amari have? What option does Tirza
choose and why? What option does Kwadzo choose and why? Why does
Amari continue on? Describe what you think Amari is thinking as
they are forced to walk across the countryside.
9. Describe the horrors of Cape Coast Castle, the Door of No
Return, and the branding on the beach. How does Amari survive? What
necessary survival techniques would you have to develop to survive
10. Amari makes friends with people who help her survive, who
give her the strength she needs at a crucial time in her life.
Describe her relationship with Afi and explain the long- range and
short-range influence of Afi on Amari''s life.
11. Describe the Middle Passage as described in the novel. What
is it about human beings that makes one person mistreat another?
What is it about humans that makes us survive in spite of it?
12. Why do you think Bill decides to teach Amari English? What
does this tell you about him? Why is learning the language a
powerful tool for Amari?
13. Describe Amari''s feelings as she is sold. What does she NOT
know about her future that the reader probably does know? What
would you have done in the same situation?
14. Discuss the character of Polly and how she comes across as
we first meet her. What kind of life has she had? How does her past
explain her attitudes? What advantages does Polly have in the
society and in the story?
15. Discuss the first meeting between Polly and Amari. Why is
this part of the story told from Polly''s point of view?
16. How do Teenie and Tidbit and Hushpuppy add color and flavor
to life on the plantation? What are their attitudes about being
slaves? Give specific examples.
17. Discuss the character of Clay and his complicated feelings
for Amari. Does he have any redeeming qualities, or is he purely a
negative character? What about Clay''s father? Does he have any
redeeming qualities, or is he purely a negative character?
18. Explain the title of the novel. Why does the title have more
than one possible interpretation? Find several examples of
references to "copper sun" within the story.
19. Discuss the gradual development of the relationship between
Polly and Amari. How is each girl unique? What are the strengths
and weaknesses of each? What does each girl offer that the other
needs? What makes a friendship?
20. How is Mrs. Derby almost like a slave herself? What
predictions did you make about Mrs. Derby and Noah? What
foreshadowing is given to prepare the reader for what happens?
21. Why would Mr. Derby be socially and legally justified by
what he did to Noah and the baby? Why didn''t Dr. Hoskins speak up?
Why is tragedy more memorable and more powerful than happiness in a
22. What was the overall effect of the gator bait scene? How do
you think Tidbit felt when he was in the water? How do you think
his mother felt? Amari tried to object, but endangered Tidbit by
doing so. How do you think she felt?
23. Why didn''t more slaves rise up and protest or fight back?
What social and cultural pieces were in place to prevent it?
24. Discuss the argument between Amari and Polly over whether to
go north or south. Why was it extremely unusual to choose a
southern route? What does this show about Amari''s personality?
25. On the journey we find out more about Polly''s family and
her background. How did Polly''s parents and her relationship with
them shape the person that Polly became?
26. Describe the difficulties of traveling by night, all alone,
with no food and no real guarantee that the place you are heading
to really exists. How would you have survived the trip? What seemed
to be the most difficult for the travelers?
27. What does Amari learn about herself, her past, and her
future through her reunion with Besa?
28. How do you think Amari, Polly, and Tidbit felt when they
finally reached their destination? What was disappointing about the
place when they finally saw it? What was reassuring?
29. What predictions can you make about Amari in the next five
years? Will the three of them still be together or will Polly have
gone off on her own? How has Amari grown and changed?
30. What did you learn about Africa, the Middle Passage,
slavery, and African-American history that you did not know before?
How has it changed your thinking, if any?
ACTIVITIES & RESEARCH
1. You are a reporter at one of the following scenes. Write the
story for your newspaper.
The destruction of Ziavi
A day in Cape Coast Castle
A day on the slave ship
A day on a plantation
For a slave
For a slave owner
The day Teenie found out Tidbit was alive
Clay and the snake
2. Minor characters are often very important in the development
of a story. How do the following characters influence the journey
of Amari, Polly, and Tidbit? How do they balance some of the horror
that had previously happened?
The Spanish soldier
3. Find a map of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida and trace
the route that the three travelers might have taken as they walked
from Columbia, South Carolina, to St. Augustine, Florida. How long
would the trip have taken if they had been able to go by boat? What
if they had been able to go by car?
4. Research the history of slavery in the United States. Look up
the Triangle Trade and find out why selling human beings was one of
the most profitable business ventures available.
5. Write a letter to one of the characters in the book
explaining your feelings about the events in the story. What advice
would you give Amari, or Polly, or Mrs. Derby, or Teenie or Besa?
What would you say to Clay?
6. Imagine it is one year after the end of the novel. Create a
conversation between the following characters:
Polly to Amari
Amari to Polly
Amari to Tidbit
Polly to Nathan
Amari to Inez
7. In journal form, write the life of Mrs. Derby for several
months. Include details about her inability to live her own life as
she sees fit.
8. Trace the story of one of the following characters. Imagine
you are a reporter doing a story on one of their lives. Write
everything you know, as well as whatever you can infer about the
character in order to write your magazine article.
9. Write a biography of Clay Derby, focusing on his childhood.
Include details about his mother, his father, his stepmother, and
his thoughts while growing up or write a biography of Polly,
focusing on her childhood. Include details about her mother, her
father, and her thoughts while growing up.
10. All of Teenie''s witticisms are authentic southern sayings.
Look up the development of such sayings and how they reflect the
culture of the south. Find out if the language patterns are racial
or cultural in nature.
1. POINT OF VIEW PAPER
"Polly watched, fascinated, as the girl squirmed and
screeched and babbled incoherently. Polly wondered if Negroes from
Africa had feelings and intelligent thoughts, or if that gibberish
they spoke was more like the screaming of monkeys or the barking of
dogs...The young Master Derby carried a small whip, and he used it
liberally to make Noah work faster. Polly noticed the slave
breathed slowly and loudly, as if he were tense, but he made no
attempt to stop the young man from hitting him. She was always
amazed at how much abuse slaves took without it seeming to bother
them. Perhaps they didn''t feel pain the way others did -- she
Read the quote above and explain how the point of view of the
character who makes the observation influences the description.
What is slanted about the descriptions given? Why is personal
observation not always fair and unbiased? Use examples from the
book to support your statements.
2. DESCRIPTIVE PAPER
"The first path they traveled was the long road that
led from their village to the big river several miles away. It
seemed as if even the trees bowed their heads as they passed. The
birds, normally full of chatter, were silent as the group marched
past them for the last time...The sunset that evening was unlike
any Amari had ever seen. The spirit of the copper sun seemed to
bleed for them as it glowed bright red against the deepening blue
of the great water. It sank slowly, as if saying farewell. The
shadows deepened and darkness covered the beach."
Using the passage above as a guide, write a descriptive paper
that uses sensory imagery. Use vivid verbs and powerful adjectives
and adverbs as you write. Use as many of the senses as you
can--sight, sound, smell, touch, taste -- as well as deep, rich
3. NARRATIVE PAPER
"Before she had a chance to absorb it all, a man
dragged her to what looked like a goat pen. A fire burned brightly
in the center of it, even though the day was very warm, and the man
was steering her toward it, Amari realized with fear. Was she going
to be cooked and eaten now? Why couldn''t she have died with her
family? she thought wildly. Panicked, she tried to pull away from
the man, but his grip only tightened."
Write a narrative paper from the point of view of a slave who
cannot speak the language of his captors and who does not
understand what is going on or why. Tell their story as they try to
grasp the enormity of what is happening to them.
4. RESEARCH PAPER -- Choose one of the
following research topics:
4a. "This be Fort Mose?" Amari asked, wanting to be
absolutely sure they were in the right place.
"Sure is, chile. Gracia Real de Santo Teresa de Mosé."
"I done dream of this place," Amari said softly, "for very long
Fort Mose was a real place. Even though it is now
underwater off the coast of Florida, it really existed and it
offered safe haven to runaways. Research as much as you can about
the place and how it operated. Find out about the museums and
historical locations that celebrate its existence.
4b. "Huge doors opened and they were led inside. The
bright sunlight was suddenly gone, and she had to adjust her eyes
to the dismal gloom inside the structure. It smelled to her of
blood and death. She could hear terrifying wails that seemed to be
coming from the walls of the place."
Cape Coast Castle is a real place. Its remains still
stand on the coast of Ghana, West Africa. Look up all you can on
the castle. Find out about the cells, the number of slaves kept
there, and what happened to those who passed through those
4c. "Polly had never been this far from the big
house. She had heard of the rice fields, but she stood amazed at
what she saw. Two dozen black men and women, knee-deep in thick
mud, bent over the delicate-looking rice plants. There was no shade
anywhere, and Polly could see thick rivulets of sweat running down
their faces. They moved slowly, joylessly."
Rice played an important role in the lives of the
people on the plantation. Research the development of the rice crop
in South Carolina and how it increased the need for slavery.
Explain why it was necessary to bring in a rice crop.
5. EXPOSITORY PAPER
"Amari shuffled in the dirt as she was led into the
yard and up onto a slightly 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 to them and jabbering in their language
as each of the slaves was described. She looked for pity or even
understanding, but found nothing but cool stares. They looked at
her as if she were a cow for sale."
Write an expository (explanatory) paper on slave auctions and
how they were carried out. Tell about the financial and economic
gains that slavery brought to the buyers and sellers.
6. COMPARISON PAPER
"I think we have arrived in a backwards world --
where black skins are few and not respected, and pale skins seem to
rule," Amari commented quietly.
"Polly looked back at the slave sale. The women were wailing
and acting as if something terrible was happening to them. Polly
snorted and turned away. Living here in the colonies had to be
better than living like a savage in the jungle. They ought to be
grateful, she thought. She thought of the Negroes she''d known as a
child -- well-fed and happy slaves, with no worries about finding
employment. No, she had no sympathy."
Write a paper that compares the subject of slavery from the
slaves'' points of view to slavery from the point of view of the
7. PERSUASIVE PAPER
"''So why should I endure this? Why did you not let
me just die in there?'' Amari cried out.
''Because I see a power in you.'' Afi lifted her shackled wrist
and reached over to touch Amari. ''You know, certain people are
chosen to survive. I don''t know why, but you are one of those who
must remember the past and tell those yet unborn.''"
"Teenie touched Amari gently on her head, ''You got a strong
spirit, Myna.'' Amari just shrugged. She could see no reason for
having such a strong spirit, nor could she see any hope in her
future. She just survived each day. However, she couldn''t help but
think of Afi, who kept her alive during the horrors of the voyage
to this place by telling her the same thing."
Write a persuasive paper that argues ONE of the following
All human beings are given strong spirits in order to
withstand the difficulties of life.
Only certain individuals are given the strength of spirit
needed to endure the difficulties of life.
Certain individuals are chosen to survive to tell of the past
to the next generation.
Whether you agree or disagree, your paper should address only
one side of the issue. Use specific examples from the novel to
support your points.
8. CHARACTER SKETCH
Write a character sketch of Tidbit -- what made him unique --
his personality, his charm, his love of life. Use specific examples
from the book to illustrate your points.
"Polly pulled a leaf from an oak tree. ''Freedom is a
delicate idea -- like a pretty leaf in the air -- it''s hard to
catch, and may not be what you thought when you get it," she
"''Freedom not big. Freedom not pretty, Amari declared.''
''But freedom sure do feel good.''"
Write a poem about one of the following topics, or any topic of
your choosing that seems to fit the themes of the novel:
The Power of Hope
Broken Mind, Broken Spirit
Unbroken Mind, Unbroken Spirit
The Beauty of Small Things
The Middle Passage
Death in the Night
A Moment of Silence
Vocabulary Define the following from the
context of the novel:
For Further Discussion and Dialogue
on the Subject of Slavery and Freedom
1. A student recently said, "I don''t care about slavery. That
happened a long time ago, and I don''t want to think about it in my
life today. It is no longer important." What do you think about
that statement? Tell why you agree or disagree. What would you tell
that student if you had the chance to have a conversation?
2. Students in the United States enjoy lots of freedom. List
some of the freedoms that you enjoy. Were these privileges always
available to everyone? What might someone have had to do in order
to make sure you have these freedoms? How does that make you feel
about the privileges you enjoy?
3. Think back to when you were born. From that time to today is
your history, and it is important. You learned, you made mistakes,
and you grew. Discuss the importance of knowing your own personal
history. Why is it important to study historical information about
a country or a people? Why can''t the past simply be ignored?
4. What happens if a rule or a law or a practice in a country is
immoral or wrong? Who decides if it is right or wrong? What is done
to change that law or rule or practice? How does one decide what to
5. Slavery was a period of extreme degradation of one group of
people by another. What do you think were the short-term and
long-term effects of slavery on both groups?
6. Discuss the destruction of slave families as people were
bought and sold with no regard to their family structure. When
slavery ended, what was the long-range result of this family
7. Estimate how many people were sold as slaves inside the
United States between 1700 and the end of the Civil War. What was
the long-term result?
8. Research advertisements for the sale of slaves during the
internal slave trade. Analyze their impact on slaves.
9. Explain how slavery was an integral force in the shaping of
10. The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery, but did it end
discrimination? Discuss discrimination as it exists in our world