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Day of Tears Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

These questions can help you guide your students through a class discussion on the plot, characters, and themes of Julius Lester's historical-fiction novel 'Day of Tears'.

Day of Tears

Day of Tears is a 2005 historical-fiction novel for young adults written by Julius Lester. The story focuses on the largest slave auction in US history and explores this moment and the events to follow from a wide range of perspectives. With its use of numerous narrators and unflinching treatment of this period in US history, students should have lots to discuss after reading this book. These questions can help guide that discussion. The following questions are intended for middle-school children, but can be easily adapted for high school classrooms as well.

Questions about Characters and Plot

  • In one sentence, can you describe the plot of Day of Tears? What is this novel about?
  • Who is the main protagonist in Day of Tears? How are we introduced to Emma? What was your initial impression of this character? Identify a moment from the book that you think best defines who she is.
  • What is happening in this novel? What is the central conflict? How is that conflict introduced? How does this event, and the implications of it, become relevant to various characters? How does the author pace this?
  • What did you think of the author's use of so many narrators? Why do you think the author chose to do this? How does this shape the way we approach this story? How did it impact the way you interpreted these events? What does this reveal about people's attitudes in the time period?
  • What does the slave auction mean to Emma and her family? Why did thy think they were safe? Why are they unable to prevent it? What do you think it would be like to be separated from your family like this?
  • How does Emma grow as a character after the auction? What happens to her? By the climax of the book, how has she changed?
  • How does the author organize all the perspectives in this book? How does he use geography to help shape and organize this story? What did you think about this?
  • After having completed Day of Tears, what are your final impressions? What do you think was the purpose of this book? What was the author trying to say?

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