The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

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This "fascinating . . . superbly written" ("Boston Globe") national bestseller tells the story of James McBride and his mother--a rabbi's daughter, born in Poland and raised in the South, who fled to Harlem, married a black man, founded a church, and put 12 children through college. Targeted print features.
Curriculet Details
47 Questions
64 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in eleventh and twelfth grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining Jewish culture, styles of the 1950s and 60s and scenes to help students understand where the memoir happened. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about parallel plot. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of textual evidence, craft and structure, and diction. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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1. Dead

A tallis is a prayer shawl commonly worn under the clothing for everyday wear. You can see the strings in this picture. (This annotation contains an image)
What does the speaker mean by "I'm dead" at the beginning of the chapter? 

2. The Bicycle

Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up? 
What embarrassed James most about his mother's bike riding? 
"Father Knows Best" was a TV show in the 1950s and 1960s, which presented an idealized American family. (This annotation contains an image)

3. Kosher

Compare the experience of immigration in the novel with that portrayed in Margaret Atwood's The Immigrants, found here: 
Which of these best defines "kosher," using evidence from the text? 
What is it like to "sit shiva?" (This annotation contains a video)

4. Black Power

Please watch this video and consider how The Color of Water is structured. (This annotation contains a video)
What evidence did James have to support that he was adopted? 
The Black Panther Party was an armed organization that promoted a revolutionary agenda to bring Civil Rights to African Americans. They rejected the non-violent methods of activists like Martin Luther King, Jr and were involved in the Black Power movement. 
Malcolm X was a human rights activist, considered a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks. He indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans. His detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence. (This annotation contains an image)
What does James most fear about the Black Power movement? 
Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964 after joining the Nation of Islam. Few journalists accepted this change, to which Ali responded that "Cassius Clay is my slave name." (This annotation contains a video)
What does the Black Power movement represent to James? 

5. The Old Testament

The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. (This annotation contains an image)
The contest, held in 1916, was actually won by a young man from Suffolk, Antonio Gentile. He won $5. (This annotation contains an image)
Ruth describes the prejudice she encountered as a young Jewish girl living in Suffolk, Virginia. Giving evidence from the text, in what ways are her experiences similar to those James faced s a young boy? 

6. The New Testament

This chapter title is contrasted with the one before; The Old Testament contains Jewish teachings and law while the New Testament builds on these teachings with stories after the birth of Christ. 
Here's an example of Curly speaking. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following does Sister Jordan believe makes a great preacher? 
Please view this explanation of parallel plot and answer the question on the next page. (This annotation contains a video)
Which aspects of this section parallel the previous chapter (Chapter 5: The Old Testament)? 

7. Sam

This is a picture of the Model T, which seems to fit her description better than the Model A. (This annotation contains an image)
When the speaker compares her knowledge of the KKK to "Cracker Jacks," what is implied about the black customers' knowledge of the KKK? 
Shvartses is Yiddish for "black." 
Here's how this product looks now. (This annotation contains an image)
This is Yiddish for sin. 
According to Jewish law, at the age of thirteen a boy is no longer considered a minor and is responsible to fulfill all the Torah’s commandments. The term “bar mitzvah” literally means “son of the mitzvah,” or one who is obligated in mitzvah observance. Watch the video in the link below to learn more about bar mitzvahs. (This annotation contains a link)
Earlier in chapter 7, Ruth describes Suffolk's black residents as "dressed up so clean for church I wouldn't recognize them. I liked that. They seemed to have such a purpose come Sunday morning. Their families were together and although they were poor, they seemed happy." Which of these words best describes the experiences of the Shilsky children? 

8. Brothers and Sisters

Color of Water Quiz 1 
Buckwheat was a character on a tv show called "Our Gang" or "Little Rascals." The show is considered one of the first to have blacks and whites portrayed as equals, but also is considered to show racist stereotypes; Buckwheat is an example of this racist stereotyping. (This annotation contains an image)
In what ways are James's brother Dennis and Ruth's brother Sam similar? 
The Last Poets refers to several groups of poets and musicians, whose poetic style is considered to have laid the groundwork for hip-hop. Their roots are firmly in the late 1960s Black Nationalism movement. (This annotation contains a video)
Here's Jazz legend Lester Young in his porkpie hat. (This annotation contains an image)
In what ways are James's sister Helen and Ruth's brother Sam similar? 

9. Shul

As you read this chapter, pay attention to the ways in which Ruth distances herself from "white folk," and consider why she might align herself more with "shvartses." 
There are specific rules that must be followed in the slaughter of animals to be used for kosher meat. In addition to process, these rules require the person performing the slaughter must be a believing, pious, Jew. 
How might Ruth's childhood have been different if she'd grown up among other children who were neither this nor that? (This annotation contains a video)
Why was Frances's friendship so important to Ruth? 

10. School

We see a black and a color yarmulke in this Bar Mitzvah ceremony. (This annotation contains an image)
What purpose does this story serve in a chapter titled "School?" 
"Tragic mulatto" refers a Jim Crow era stereotype in which a person of mixed race, usually female, would try to "pass" as white but then would be found to be biracial. The 1949 film "Pinky" used a similar storyline. (This annotation contains an image)
John Coltrane was a saxophonist. (This annotation contains a video)
Using the text, what does the author intend "hole card" to mean? 
Check out the exact "squiggling of the feet" at 0:45 in the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
Ruth again told us in Chapter 10 that she's dead to her family. This chapter, though, shows us the ways she has not completely left her upbringing behind. Please asses whether Ruth's family is dead to her as well, giving evidence from Chapter 10. 

11. Boys

How do the experiences Ruth had compare with those presented in the first stanza of the poem "Race" by Elizabeth Alexander? Use specific elements from the texts to make your connections. ( 
In addition to the reasons she gives here, crabs are not "kosher," according to Jewish law. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, "These you may eat of all that are in the waters; all that have fins and scales, you may eat. But whatever does not have fins and scales, you shall not eat; it is unclean for you." 
In fact, Virginia had a law called The Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made it illegal for people classified as "white" to marry people classified as "colored." This was overturned by the Supreme Court case Loving v Virginia in 1967. 

12. Daddy

Which piece of text best identifies to whom the title of chapter 12, "Daddy," refers? 
The brothers were part of "The Great Migration" of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North after the First World War. Jacob Lawrence's painting below, "The Migration of the Negro," depicts this artistically. (This annotation contains an image)
Gene Krupa was a famous Big Band drummer. In the video below we see him on the Sammy Davis, Jr. Show performing his famous drum battles with Buddy Rich. (This annotation contains a video)
What did James think was odd about his stepfather? 
A stroke happens when blood flow to a part of the brain stops. A stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack." If blood flow is stopped for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get blood and oxygen. Brain cells can die, causing permanent damage. 

13. New York

Which definition of "poor" is most fitting here, given the text? 
This video gives us a sense of the New York City Ruth might have encountered! (This annotation contains a video)
This is Yiddish for "Grandmother." 

14. Chicken Man

Here's a performance of Ruth's favorite hymn. (This annotation contains a video)
How were Ruth's and James's rebellions similar? 
Not made of shark skin at all, sharkskin fabric is made with the use of rayon or acetate or as a blend of the two.  (This annotation contains an image)
We know how important education is for Ruth, and James calls The Corner "my true street education." Given what you know of Ruth so far, how do you predict she would react to James's "true" education? 
Long cars, indeed! Here's a 1965 Buick Electra 225 sedan. (This annotation contains an image)
Consider the ways in which James's job in Kentucky is a turning point or coming of age experience for him. 
What role did Chicken Man play in James's life? 

15. Graduation

Do you remember Frances? It's been awhile (chapter 9) since we've read about her, but she was Ruth's Christian friend from Suffolk. 
Based on the sentence structure, what is "the red-light district?" 
Which of Ruth's reasons for leaving Suffolk for good seems to be the most important one?  Please give evidence from the text to explain why this is the strongest reason for her heading to New York. 

16. Driving

This photo of a gold 1965 Pontiac Catalina gives us a good idea of the car. (This annotation contains an image)
This phrase means "long standing." 
A grocery store chain. 
In addition to leaving her knowledge of driving behind in Virginia, what else did Ruth abandon when she went to live in New York? 

17. Lost in Harlem

The Color of Water Quiz 2 
After World War I, African Americans moved to Northern cities in "The Great Migration." This video highlights the celebration of African American culture known as the Harlem Renaissance. (This annotation contains a video)
How do Ruth's experiences in and understandings of Harlem compare with those depicted in Claude McKay's 1922 Poem, Harlem Shadows? 
Small's was founded in the 1930s as a Harlem speakeasy. (This annotation contains an image)

18. Lost in Delaware

The Beverly Hillbillies was a 1960s era T.V. series about a poor family who struck oil then moved to Beverly Hills. (This annotation contains an image)
What is meant by "F. Lee Bailey mode?" 
Is this line from AA Milne's Disobedience an example of foreshadowing? 
Please view this explanation of Parallel Plot: what ways do chapter 17 "Lost in Harlem" and chapter 18 "Lost in Delaware" fit the structure of Parallel Plot? 

19. The Promise

How does Ruth's life change when she puts "the fast life" behind her? 
Given the tone of this paragraph, how is the author showing the ways Tateh destroyed his family and wife? 
A derogatory name for a non-Jew. 

20. Old Man Shilsky

What point is the author making in this paragraph? 
Consider how James tries to leave himself behind by seeking out his mother's roots. 
What seems to be the purpose of Eddie's descriptions of the Shilsky family? 
What might have brought Ruth to tears? 

21. A Bird Who Flies

What caused the family to consider Ruth dead? 
Think about the difference between Mameh's expression of grief when her mother died and Ruth's when her mother died. 
To whom is the "bird who flies" compared in this paragraph? 

22. A Jew Discovered

Why do you suppose the rabbi is so curt toward James? 
What is the purpose of this information about the breakup of the Jewish community of Suffolk? 
Do you think James was surprised to be welcomed by someone in his mother's former home? 
What is the significance of this passage? 

23. Dennis

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr represented Harlem in the House of Representatives. Harlem viewed Powell as a dedicated crusader for civil rights, and his confrontational approach to racial discrimination earned him the respect of African Americans. Powell is pictured here with Malcolm X. (This annotation contains an image)
Why was Ruth willing to abandon Judaism? 
How does this couple relate to Ruth's three requirements for a happy marriage? 
Despite the differences in racial attitudes between New York City and North Carolina, Ruth and Dennis still encountered racism toward their marriage. Which example shows that people in New York City were not tolerant of interracial marriages? 
With this information, it becomes quite clear why Ruth felt she was "going right down into blackness" after Dennis died. 
Ruth said she "never veered from the black side." According to the text, why did she stay on that "side?" 

24. New Brown

This drive through Red Hook, Brooklyn, will give you a sense of the neighborhood. (This annotation contains a video)
This is a dismissive term for white women. 
Why does Ruth attend the fortieth anniversary gala? 
One might argue that Vision and Memory is a theme of The Color of Water. Does James have vision? Explain, giving examples from the text. 

25. Finding Ruthie

Do you notice a change in tone in this chapter from the ones that came before? What impact does this change have? 
Squamous cell carcinoma is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising in the squamous cells, which compose most of the skin’s upper layers. 
Why do you think Ruth's identity is so important to James's understanding of his own? 
Germantown was a major spot during the Revolutionary War, but became part of the city of Philadelphia in 1854. In the middle of the 20th century, large shifts of African Americans came to this area, and many white families left the area. As of the 2010 census, Germantown was 77% black and 15% white. 
What purpose does this metaphor about Ruth serve? 
This is a nod to The National Rainbow Coalition, which began when then Presidential Candidate Jesse Jackson began speaking to the disadvantaged and welcomed voters from a broad spectrum of races and creeds. The idea was that this group had been left out of "Reaganomics" and the group demanded social justice, voting rights, and affirmative action for all people. 
Who is "the president, CEO, and commander in chief"? 


The Color of Water Quiz 3 
Here's an example of a huppah. (This annotation contains an image)
What evidence is given in this chapter that Ruth is no longer part of the Jewish world?