Gabriel King believes he was born chicken. He’s afraid of spiders, corpses, loose cows, and just about everything related to the fifth grade. If it’s a choice between graduating or staying in the fourth grade forever, he’s going to stay put; only his best friend Frita Wilson won’t hear of it.
With wisdom and clarity, K. L. Going explores the nature of fear in what should be an idyllic summer for two friends from different backgrounds. For them, living in a small town in Georgia with an active Ku Klux Klan, the summer of 1976 is a momentous one.
It’s the summer they figure out what courage is all about.
"Gabe King, Going’s (Fat Kid Rules the World) sympathetic narrator, has a list of fears longer than he is tall (No. 29 is that he’ll never get any taller). All manner of bugs make him antsy but his biggest worries, justifiably, are two sixth-grade bullies. He’s so intent on keeping his distance he’s willing to stay in fourth grade rather than move up to fifth, where he’ll once again have to share a cafeteria and playground with bullies Duke and Frankie. Gabe’s best friend, Frita, the only black kid in his class, has other ideas: she plans to spend the summer of 1976 “liberating” Gabe from the things that scare him (she gives him a spider for a pet and makes him try the rope swing over the catfish pond). In solidarity, Frita makes her own “fear list”; chillingly, the Ku Klux Klan takes the top spot, and, poignantly, the list includes “not having Gabe with me in the fifth grade.” Full of humanity and humor, this well-paced novel offers a dollop of history with its setting in rural Georgia at the moment local boy Jimmy Carter’s presidential bid is gaining momentum. The villains’ credibility makes them scary, and both Gabe and Frita’s refreshingly functional families are exquisitely drawn, especially Terrance, Frita’s menacing older brother (No. 6 on Gabe’s list). Although Gabe gets the title role, wise, brave Frita is clearly the star. Ages 10-up."—Publishers Weekly, starred review.
"It’s the summer of 1976 in a small town in Georgia. Gabriel King has just finished fourth grade and is scared about fifth. In fact, he’s scared of many things: spiders, alligators, falling into the toilet, killer robots, corpses, swinging off the rope swing, his neighbor Mr. Evans and bullies at school. His best friend Frita is out of to liberate Gabriel from his fears. She has him make a list of them and work through them one at a time. However, Frita, who is African-American, has fears of her own and the story becomes a study of standing up to fears and bullies, from the school yard to the Klu Klux Klan. Strong voice, lively dialogue, humor and important themes make this a winner. Readers will enjoy following the sometimes-tempestuous friendship of Gabriel and Frita, and they’ll be completely absorbed in watching the friends and their community come together to stand up against the evil within."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review.
"Ms. Going seamlessly weaves together the issues of name calling, racial prejudice, and heroism in this story for all ages. It is a superb book for this week; it being National No Name Calling Week."—Richie’s Picks: Great Books for Children and Young Adults.
"After being tied up by two older bullies and forced to miss his fourth-grade graduation, Gabriel King decides there’s no way he’s moving up to fifth grade. Fifth grade would mean being in a different wing of the school reserved for older kids, including the two bullies, and he wants no part of such daily torture.
It’s the summer of 1976 in Hollowell, Georgia, and the first person to hear of Gabe’s decision is his best friend, Frita Wilson, the only black girl in his class. In The Liberation of Gabriel King, Frita comes up with a plan to help Gabe stop being chicken: the two of them will each make a list of all their fears and then spend the summer facing each fear, crossing them off one by one. They’ll save Gabe’s worst fears—the worst bully, Duke Evans, and fifth grade—for last, when Gabe is braver.Gabriel is not at all sure about this strategy, but he agrees to try, dutifully listing each of his 38 fears, such as spiders, alligators, robbers, losing his parents or calling his teacher “momma” by accident. He’s even afraid of Frita’s teenage brother,Terrance, who spends much of his time in the basement hitting punching bags. Gabe and Frita are especially believable characters, and the novel moves quickly as fear after fear is tackled, with both humorous and frightening results.
This is the second novel by K.L. Going, whose Fat Kid Rules the World won a multitude of awards. Her second novel is a wonderful follow-up, a compelling and humorous story of friendship and fear that will no doubt win more accolades. Going has created a gentle yet powerful picture of racism, along with a very real portrait of the summer of 1976, when the citizens of Georgia were excited by Jimmy Carter’s run for the presidency. As he confronts his fears, Gabe also learns a lot about friendship and prejudice.He realizes, for instance, that Terrance isn’t scary at all, and he also witnesses how cruel some people are to Frita.
The Liberation of Gabriel King is a smashing read, both fun and informative, providing plenty of fodder for discussion. My guess is that it will quickly be included on school reading lists. Will Gabe ever make it to the fifth grade? Start reading and see."—Book Page.
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Note to teachers
Kids often ask how I come up with the ideas for my books. It’s never a straightforward process. The first draft of The Liberation of Gabriel King was written by hand in a notebook and then set aside. It wasn’t until much later, after 9/11, that I took the story out again and decided to revise it.
I was working in publishing at the time, and after that traumatic event we were inundated with manuscripts dealing with 9/11. I couldn’t help wishing there were more books being submitted that dealt with the topic of fear in a more general sense. That’s when I remembered my “shelved” novel about two kids who decide to overcome all their fears in the course of one summer. The time was right to take it out again.
We all have fears – big ones, small ones, funny ones, and serious ones – and The Liberation of Gabriel King helps kids to work through their fears, while also learning some history and hopefully having a great time reading or listening to the story.
I hope the questions and activities below will help you bring Gabe and Frita to life in your classroom!
Questions for Discussion, by Chapter
Vocabulary word: liberation
Research the Bicentennial. Find and display pictures of the celebrations around the classroom. You can do the same for the 1970s.
Q: Gabe is afraid of moving into a new wing of his school. Have you ever had to make a big change at home or at school? How did you feel about it?
Vocabulary word: waylaid
Q: Have you ever had to deal with a bully? How did you deal with them? Have you ever bullied someone else? How do you think that made them feel? Why did you do it?
Vocabulary word: justified
Q: Frita uses her fists to fight back against the bullies. Do you think that was the right thing to do? Why or why not?
Q: Mr. Evans calls Frita a nigger. Have you ever heard anyone use that word? Has anyone ever called you a name that hurt?
Q: Gabe and his momma get real mad at each other. Have you ever been real mad at one of your parents? How did you work it out?
Q: Is there a difference between kids calling Gabe shrimp and shorty and Mr. Evans calling Frita a nigger? Why are names that have to do with race so hurtful?
»»Discuss the Olympics. Where and when were the last Olympics held? Where and when will the next ones be? Ask a gym teacher to do a mock-Olympics with the students.
»»Who were Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter? What information can students find on-line about them? After the information is collected hold a mock election.
Challenge students to make a fear list that can be either shared or kept secret.
Q: Why does Frita “take off running” and leave Gabe alone on the old dirt road?
Q: Look at the sentence at the top of page 42. “There are slick snakes that slither by and spider webs with giant yellow and black spiders…” What is it called when the same sound is used over and over again?
Vocabulary words: segregation, faith, integrity
»»Discuss Watergate. What information can students find on-line? Why might a President do something illegal?
»»What was television like in the 1970’s? How was it different from today?
»»In addition to Watergate, Gabe’s Pop is upset about Vietnam and the cost of gasoline. Discuss with students the historical background of these events.
Q: Why would Jimmy Carter stand up to the White Citizens Council? Have you ever stood up for something you believed in?
Look up the Argiope aurantia. Draw a picture of this spider, including as many of the facts you’ve learned about it as possible.
Vocabulary words: portent, racist
Find out who the Black Panthers were. What did they believe in? Why might Terrance want to join them instead of going to college?
Just for fun, make a class sundae featuring everyone’s least favorite foods. On separate pieces of construction paper, have everyone draw and cut out their least favorite food. Make a separate sundae dish with ice cream and pin it to a bulletin board. Have each child add their cut-out, leaving everyone with one gross sundae!
Q: Have you ever had a pet die? How did that make you feel? Is it okay to kill bugs?
Q: Why do you think Mrs. Wilson told Frita to stay away from the Evans trailer?
Vocabulary word: courage
Q: Terrance tells Frita that black people won’t be going to the fireworks in Hollowell. Earlier in the book, Gabe’s parents tell him he shouldn’t go to Frita’s church because that church is for black people. Why do you think people of different races might choose to do things separately?
Vocabulary words: perseverance, confidence, oppression
What might it mean to be a Peace Warrior? Design and draw membership badges for this club. Make a list of all the things the Peace Warriors might do. What would be the qualifications for membership?
Vocabulary word: insight
Q: Do you think Terrance is scary? Why or why not? When should you trust your instincts if you feel scared of someone and when is it okay to get to know them?
Have your own Bicentennial celebration. Measure out a sixty foot cherry pie (if you have enough room!). Bring in red, white and blue foods. Tell everyone to where clothes of red, white and blue. Retell the story of the first Fourth of July.
Q: Does the Ku Klux Klan exist today? What do you think we can do about groups like this one?
Q: Even adults have things they are afraid of. What can Gabe do to help his Pop be brave?
“Mr. Evans’s words were like the sticky strands of a spider web. Even though they seemed tiny, we knew they could spread everywhere…”
Q: How can small things cause big problems or lead to big solutions? Can you think of any examples of when this has happened?
Make a class spider web with one small thing in the middle (good or bad) such as calling a name or giving a compliment, then draw all the strands of the web showing how that thing could affect many other things. Maybe the person who gets complimented goes home and pets their cat, or buys their little sister an ice cream cone, etc.
Q: Is Frita’s fear list different from Gabe’s? How is it different?
Q: What’s the difference between not being scared and being brave?
Q: What do you think happens to Gabe and Frita after the book ends? What do you think happens to Duke and Frankie?
Q: Why didn’t Gabe and Frita tell on Duke and Frankie at the end?
Have students write a class letter to me! I’d love to hear their thoughts about the book. Students can also write individual letters. I may not have time to write individual responses, but I will definitely write something back to the entire class.