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Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Honest to Goodness Truth

The Honest-to-Goodness Truth
written by Patricia C. McKissack
illustrated by Giselle Potter

Universal Themes:
Compassion Honesty Tact

Before Reading Questions
  • Who has ever heard the expression, "Honesty is the best policy?" What does that mean?
  • Can anyone think of a time when it might be acceptable to not tell the whole truth?
  • Why does the book's title appear in that cloud over the girl's head? What does that mean?
  • Looking at the back cover, what might be the setting of this story?

When young Libby is caught in a lie, she feels better admitting the truth, even though she's punished double. It is the first time she has lied to Mama, and as far as she is concerned, it would be the last. "From now on, only the truth," she decides.

But in her commendable attempts to tell "only the truth," she is tactless and cold; as the girls at church admire Ruthie Mae's dress, for example, Libby points out that there's a hole in Ruthie Mae's sock. Before the end of the day she's told the truth about many of her friends: she tattles to the teacher that Willie didn't do his homework, reminds the class how Daisy had forgotten her lines at the Christmas play, and lets everyone know that Thomas doesn't have lunch money and must borrow from Miz Jackson.

Poor Libby can’t understand why her friends are all upset with her. Then Mama explains
“Sometimes the truth is told at the wrong time or in the wrong way, and for the
wrong reasons. And that can be hurtful. But the honest-to-goodness truth is
never wrong.”
As Libby feeds and waters her horse, she struggles with the meaning of Mama’s words. Just then Virginia Washington sashays out of the fields and remarks, “That horse is older than black pepper… I doubt you could get a dollar for that old flea-ridden swayback.”

Stung by Virginia’s words, Libby finally realizes the wisdom of Mama’s words. The remainder of the book sees Libby making it up to her friends through both words and actions.

After Reading Questions
  • Do you think Libby was trying to hurt her friends' feelings when she told the truth?
  • If what Libby said was true, then why did it create a problem?
  • When might it be wrong to keep a secret?
  • What happened to Lilly to make her realize that the truth needs to be told in the right way?
Extension Ideas: Language Arts
  • Ask students to write a poem about honesty. As a starter, tell students that they can include Mama's words as lines in their poem. Other students may prefer to write a story about a time that they told the truth and hurt someone's feelings, or when someone told them the truth and hurt their feelings.
  • Have students create a poem-like prose piece called. "Instead of ___, Say ___." For example: Instead of, "That green dress makes you look like a cabbage," say "I like the blue dress better; it brings out your eyes." This activity not only encourages students to think tactfully, it also provides excellent practice writing proper quotation marks, a skill which will transfer to narrative writing.
  • Patricia McKissack uses similes and metaphors beautifully. When Libby lies, for example, she is "surprised how easy the lie slid out of her mouth, like it was greased with warm butter." Have students point out other literary devices in the picture book for discussion. Then, present students with some "boring sentences" in need of "dressing up" with similes.
Extension Ideas: Social Studies
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Douglas E. Younger
  • The illustrator's style is very similar to that of William H. Johnson. Show some examples of the artist's work (many are available on Google image search) and ask students to draw conclusions about the lifestyles of Black Americans in the south. How are Johnson's and Potter's styles similar?
  • To follow up on the above activity, have students use one of William H. Johnson's pictures (such as Going to Church) as a writing prompt, or ask students to paint in that same style.
  • The symmetry and simplicity of Giselle Potter's faces are also reminiscent of African masks. Download some pictures of African masks and have children compare them to the artist's illustrations. Is the resemblance coincidental? What purpose did masks serve in various African cultures?


Anonymous said...

A very exciting book.

Anonymous said...

This book is perfect for teaching about character changes and development. I plan on using it to teach an Extended Response (Illinois Test Prep). "What kind of character is Libby?" Students can practice making connections and identify with the character.