I. Winter 1870
1. Reread the following excerpts from the book. What ideas did Sugar and the River Road folks have about Chinese people before meeting them?
Still, body swaying, hearing the whoosh-whoosh waves, seeing land pass by, the empty cane fields, I feel happy, free. Then I remember Billy’s secret about Chinamen crossing the sea.
As if he knew what I was thinking, Billy murmurs, “Won’t be long, Sugar. The Chinamen are coming.”
The sun hides behind clouds. I can’t help it. I shiver.
(Pirate Captains, pg. 36)
I wonder if Chinamen are anything like Africans. I wonder if they’ll look like Mister Beale. Or me? Does China have hyenas? Rabbits and lions?
To Mister Wills, Chinamen are important – more important than “less-than-nothing” folks. Better than me?
(Okra for the Chinamen, pg. 63)
2. Reread the following excerpt from the book. How were the River Road folks feeling? What were they worried about?
“Just ‘cause slavery’s ended doesn’t mean blacks, whites are equal,” says Mister Wills.
“And Chinamen?” asks Mister Beale. “They equal?”
Mister Wills is surprised, caught off guard. Scowling, River Road folks grumble.
“No disrespect. Will Chinamen help your profit?”
“Yes, Chinamen,” booms Mister Wills. “I need workers. Need to expand my crop. Times are hard. During the war, Union soldiers burnt crops. The stable and the mill.”
“We gonna lose our jobs?” asks Mister Waters.
“Cane work is all I know,” shouts Missus Celeste. “River Road is all I know.”
Missus Ellie weeps, “Don’t got nobody. Nothing.” Reverend comforts her.
(Punishment, pg. 83-84)
II. Planting 1871
1. Reread the following excerpt from the book. Review the definition of solidarity. How did the River Road folks and Chinese men work in solidarity?
River Road folks are digging, planting cane. Working hard.
Chinese men are digging, covering cane. Keeping to our pace.
My body feels it first – everyone working in unison.
When the Chinese start to go faster, Master Liu says something only the Chinese can understand. Like pulling reins on horses carting cane, Master Liu is holding his men back. Keeping them from working faster.
Overseer Tom is scowling; he always scowls. Mister Wills is just happy.
The Chinese men won’t make us lose our jobs. I don’t know how I know, but I know.
(Tricksters, pg. 131-132)
2. Reread the following excerpt from the book and answer these questions:
“You came across the sea? Like Africans?” asks Reverend. “How long?”
Beau’s eyes close, like he’s unhappy, remembering. “Months. Bad,” he says. “Very, very
bad. Long journey.”
“Mister Beale says Africans came to America chained, starving, and sick. Most weren’t
born here like me. Did folks die, Beau? Did they?”
Beau nods. “Some wanted to turn back. To go home. Back to China.”
“Some did die,” says Master Liu, looking straight at Mister Beale. “But we choose to
come. Not captured.”
Everybody’s sad-eyed, mournful.
(Tricksters, pg. 140)
III. Harvest 1871
1. Reread the following work song Sugar wrote and answering these questions:
Cut-cut-America. Louisiana, too.
If sugar can sail, I can, too."
(Almost Done, pg. 230)
2. Describe how the Chinese men were viewed and treated when they first arrived on the plantation and at the end of the book. What led to these changes?
3. Even though the Chinese and Black people were from different parts of the world, how did they find similarities and share parts of their cultures with each other?
4. Compare and contrast Mister Beale's African folktale about Br'er Rabbit and Hyena (pg. 50-53) with Beau's Chinese folktale about Yellow Dragon (pg. 211-214) and answer these questions:
5. How does Sugar and Beau's friendship change throughout the book? How does their friendship impact the relationships between everyone else at River Road?
6. How do the characters show solidarity for each other throughout the book? What are some real-life examples of how you can show solidarity with others?
Sugarcane: the tall plant that is grown to make sugar
Plantation: a large property with farmland that grows crops to sell, such as sugarcane, where enslaved African and Black people were forced to work
Slavery: the business of owning, buying, and selling other human beings, treating them like property instead of people, and forcing them to work for free
Chinese: people who are from China, or whose ancestors are from China
Equal: when two or more people or things have the same value and are balanced
Solidarity: when people join together to support each other and fight for the same goals