The Color of Home
by Mary Hoffman
- For Grades 1-5
- Around the World in 80 Books: A Multicultural Guide
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Discussion and Activities
For pre-reading ideas and background information on multiculturalism, see Around the World in 80 Books: A Multicultural Guide.
While every land displays color in its own unique way, Hassan's perception of America as dull and gray is as much a function of his homesickness and his traumatic war experience as it may be of geographic or physical differences in his new home. Discuss with children what it means and feels like to be homesick. Ask them to share stories of their own experiences with homesickness. Ask children what they know or have heard about wars past and present. After providing some background information on World War II, share the story of Sadako, discussing how the life of this little girl in Japan was affected by war and how her experiences compared to Hassan's.
Review primary and secondary colors by having children create their own color spectrums with paints or crayons. Ask them which is their favorite color and why. Discuss the concept of "connotation" and how certain colors may be associated with particular feelings and ideas, based on culture or experience. For example, while red may conjure happy images of Santa Claus for many children, Hassan connects this color to the flames engulfing the roof and the blood spattered on the walls when the soldiers came to his Somalian home. Have children describe what other colors meant to Hassan in Somalia as a means of learning about his boy and his country ("White is the color of a flock of sheep"); then ask them to express what those colors may mean for them ("White is the color of winter snow"). Each child may then create a Color Rebus of Home, in which color metaphors like those above are completed with images they connote.
Hassan has a story to tell, but since he does not yet speak English, he uses pictures as a way of communicating. Ask students what forms of communication, other than spoken language, they are aware of, and what cultures or groups of people they are most often associated with. These may include smoke signals by Native Americans, hieroglyphs by the Egyptians, Morse Code by the military, drumming by African tribal communities, sign language by the deaf, and Braille by the blind. One or more of these modes may serve as the basis for research and reports by individual or small groups of students. Activities may conclude on a fun note with a game of Story Charades, in which the titles of books that the class has read are communicated through nonverbal gestures.