Dealing with Growth and Change


Book Title: Racing the Sun

Author: Paul Pitts

Publisher and Date: Avon Books, 1988

Curriculum Developer: Kristin E. Gibson


Summary: This children's novel is about a young Navajo boy who learns about his heritage when his grandfather comes to live with their family. He's grown up with a father who's left behind the native traditions to fit into modern society, so this boy finds his grandfather's ways very strange. After spending some time with his new roommate, young Brandon realizes his grandfather isn't so weird, and that he shouldn't be ashamed of him. He also realizes the health problems this old man faces and that he really wants to be back at his home on the reservation. Brandon ends up pulling his family together by uniting them back on their native reservation and giving his father a chance to make amends with his grandfather before he passes away.

Social Studies Relevance: Relationships with people and the earth are relevant themes throughout this book. Also, changes that families experience as they go through phases of life. A study of culture and family background could also be brought into this unit.

Grade Level Focus: 4th/5th grades

Relationship to Social Studies State Core:

*Evaluate with other class members right and wrong actions, according to universal standards, as being morally acceptable or unacceptable.

*List and compare different cultural traditions and values of people in Utah and around the world.

*Create individually, or in a group, one or more of the following: newspapers, posters, poetry, bumper stickers, interviews, surveys, bulletin boards, stories, letter writing, diaries, dialogues, or songs.

*Discuss the cultural contributions made to Utah's history by the following groups of people:

-Native Americans

-Ethnic Groups


Title of Lesson # 1: Decisions, Decisions


*Given the first two chapters of Racing the Sun, students will be able to identify benefits and consequences on a decision tree dealing with the issue of Brandon's grandfather coming to live with them.

*Students will be able to make predictions about the effects of the final decision in their response journals.

Materials Needed:

Picture of a tree with space to write in it


Racing the Sun books for each student

Response Journals


1. Explain to the students a situation you had involving decision making today. (This morning I just starred at the clothes in my closet and couldn't decide what to wear! I knew it would be cold outside, so I picked out a sweater, but I really wanted to wear my new t-shirt...) Ask them to think of some decisions they made today. Explain that we make little choices all the time, but sometimes we have bigger challenges to face.

2. Discuss the problem that has arisen in the first two chapters of this book. Ask the students how they would feel if a grandparent were to move in to their room unexpectedly.

3. Display the empty decision tree. Write the decision, "Brandon's grandpa moves in" at the top left hand side of the tree. Ask the students to consider good and bad consequences for this decision. Have them list their ideas on the tree under the appropriate categories. Next, write the decision, "Brandon's Grandpa stays on the reservation," and discuss the good and bad consequences of this situation. Have the students list these ideas on the right hand side of the tree.



Brandon's Grandpa Moves In...

Brandon's Grandpa Stays On The Reservation...

Good Consequences

Brandon will get to know him

Good Consequences

Brandon can leave his posters up

Bad Consequences

Brandon has to share his room

Bad Consequences

Brandon won't learn Navajo

4. Read page 17 in Racing the Sun together. Ask the students to locate a phrase that lets the reader know what decision has been made. Ask for volunteers to suggest and support their opinions. Point out the arguments Brandon brought up for and against the "family" decision. Then direct them to a phrase you think expresses the decision has been made. An example is in the second to last paragraph on page 17 that states, "My father and I looked at each other. We knew the game was as good as over." Discuss why these sentences tell the reader Brandon's mom has won the battle.

5. Pass each student a response journal. This can be a small notebook or pre-made booklet of pages divided into separate chapters with space to write under each area. Students will write specific responses such as opinions, lists, personal experiences, answers to questions, etc. as assigned by the teacher throughout the unit. Ask the students to predict what effects this new decision will have on Brandon's family and their modern lifestyle. Have the students write down their predictions in their response journals.


Students will write consequences relevant to the decisions being discussed on the tree to demonstrate understanding of the concept. Review the journal entries written and see if their predictions match one of the areas of concern mentioned on the decision tree.

Title of Lesson #2: Traditions


*Students will participate in a guided discussion on traditions by adding their knowledge and perceptions.

*Students will describe one Navajo tradition in their response journals.

Materials Needed: Racing the Sun

Recipe and ingredients for Indian Fry Bread (See Appendix)

Electric skillet

Response journal



1. To facilitate this guided discussion, begin by arranging students in a circle so each child feels included.

2. Explain the rules to the students. Each child will be given three chips (more or less depending on the size of the group), and each time s/he participates in the discussion, s/he will give up one chip, thus giving opportunities to hear from many students. Students will be encouraged to express their opinions, support their ideas with examples from the book, and build on the ideas suggested by their classmates.

3. Begin the discussion by connecting this experience with the previous lesson on decision making. Explain that since Brandon's family has decided to have his grandpa come live with them, they will have to make adjustments in their lifestyle to accommodate him and make him feel more comfortable. Although Brandon's parents both grew up participating in Navajo traditions, they have since abandoned those activities and conformed to another, more fast-paced lifestyle. Continue on with some specific questions for discussion which may include: What is a tradition? What traditions does your family have? Are these customs similar or different from your friends? What traditions does Brandon's family have? Are his grandpa's traditions and practices unique or different? What changes will Brandon have to make to accommodate his new roommate?

4. After each student has contributed and many ideas have been discussed, focus their attention on some specific examples of Navajo traditions and ways of life suggested in the book. These may include: chanting (p.41), hogans (p.40), the medicine man (p.34), close extended family (p. 27), sharing (p.27) etc.

5. Have each student reflect on this experience in their response journals by responding to the statement, "Describe one aspect of the Navajo culture that you find interesting." Encourage them to find out more about it and share their findings with the group the following day.

6. As a closing activity, explain the tradition of Navajo Fried Bread. (See recipe in appendix.) Using your electric skillet and pre-made dough, make some samples for the students to try.


The input of the students will demonstrate knowledge of Navajo traditions and the ability to participate in a group guided discussion. Learning will also be assessed by the description written of one tradition in their response journals.

Title of Lesson #3: Changing Emotions


Reader's Theatre Script (See Appendix)

Racing the Sun

Response Journal

Picture of a grandparent


*Students will be able to relate to Brandon's experience in chapter 7 by rehearsing the reader's theatre script and expressing their personal feelings toward a grandparent in their journals.

*Students will be able to compare these feelings to Brandon's feelings before and after the incident.


1. Show the students a picture of a grandparent. Explain a tradition your family carries on that your grandparent practiced. Review a few of the traditions mentioned in the previous lesson that the Navajo culture, particularly Brandon's grandfather, still practice today.

2. Still focusing on the picture, explain your feelings about your grandparent and ask the students to think about their own. Give them a few minutes to narrow it down to a few words, and then begin a values whip. Start at one side of the room and have each student share a few words. Encourage them to make it as brief as possible. Continue through each child in the classroom, and finish by summarizing some of the different emotions expressed by students.

3. Present the reader's theatre script. (See Appendix) Explain that this is an excerpt from a situation in chapter 7. Tell them that a reader's theatre is a form of drama using only words and not actions. Emphasize the importance of using expression in dialogue, taking the role of the character, and speaking loud enough for everyone to hear the part. Demonstrate a non-example by reading a line from the script in a monotone, soft voice. Then reread the same line using more expression and volume. Assign each student a part and give them a few minutes to look over their lines. Proceed by conducting the reader's theatre as written.

4. Briefly discuss the situation described in this scene. Ask the students why they think Brandon was embarrassed of his grandpa, and if any of them would have acted the same way. Make them aware that as the chapter goes on, Brandon feels badly about how he treated his grandpa, and that his emotions are changing. Ask the students to remember the feelings they stated about a grandparent previously in the values whip. Now have them write those feelings down in their response journals and compare them to Brandon's feelings before and after the incident in the mall.

Evaluation: Review the comparisons made in the response journals to see if they've made any connections. Look for relevance to the story and understanding of changing emotions through their descriptions.

Title of Lesson #4: Changing Places


*Students will be able to identify charcteristics of an American Indian reservation by completing a multicultural observation sheet.

*Students will make a list of items they'd need to take on a journey to a reservation.


Multicultural observation sheets (See appendix)

Pictures of an Navajo reservation (Try visiting one and taking actual photographs to bring in, or look for more generic photos on the World Wide Web, in an encyclopedia, or a newspaper)

Response journals


1. Begin by passing out the pictures to the students, but don't explain what they are. Hand two pictures to each group of about 4 or 5 students along with a multicultural observation sheet for each one to fill out. This setting allows for students to be involved in an inquiry using pictures.

2. Ask students to look closely at the pictures and try to figure out as many things about the mystery place that they can just by observation. Have them look for details such as clothing, climate, landforms, etc. They should each list as many observations as they can under the listed categories on their sheet.

3. When they've completed the sheet, discuss the observations as a class. What characteristics do they have alike? Which pictures contain different information about this place? Make sure they point out specifics in the picture that lead them to that information. Ask the students to guess what place is in these pictures. Then tell the class the pictures are of an actual Navajo reservation.

4. Have the students describe the characteristics of the reservation Brandon visits with his grandpa. What are the similarities with the things they observed in the pictures today? What are the differences?

5. Ask the students to think about the journey Brandon took to "kidnap" his grandpa and return to the reservation. Connect with the previous lessons by explaining a few reasons why he decided to make this journey. (His emotions toward his grandpa had changed, he realized his grandpa would be happier there since he might die soon, he didn't take time to think about the good and bad consequences of his sudden decision, etc.) If they were going to take a similar trip to a place with the charcteristics previously discussed, what kind of items would they need to take with them to survive on their own for a few days. Have them write a list of these things in their response journals.


Items listed on the multicultural observation sheet will demostrate the characteristics students have noticed of the reservation. The list of items in their journals should be compared with the observation sheets to see if appropriate supplies are included for the area.





Recipe for Navajo Fry Bread (adapted from a traditional Navajo recipe)


4 cups white flour

2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp baking powder


cooking oil


Mix dry ingredients. Slowly add water to make a medium soft dough. Take a handful of dough and roll it (with hands or a rolling pin) into a circle the size of a plate. Stick your thumb through the center to create a small hole. Heat oil in a skillet and carefully place flattened dough in it to cook. Once lightly browned, turn over with a fork to brown the opposite side. Remove from oil when done and place on paper towels to cool. Serve with butter, honey, or cheese.



Reader's Theatre Script


Paul Pitts (Adapted by Kristin Gibson)







NARRATOR: Some kids from school were hanging around the plaza in the middle of the mall. Brandon joined them while Ham went to get a Coke.

GREG: Hey, catch the time traveler from the frontier days.

NARRATOR: As Brandon looked over, his heart started pounding in his stomach.

MARCEY: (Jokingly) One of your relatives has escaped from the barbed wire, Cochise.

NARRATOR: Brandon's grandfather was wandering slowly down the mall, lost in the big city life. His hair was in a loose bun and his shirt and jeans were covered with dirt.

BRANDON: (Thinking to himself) Don't let him see me, please don't let him see me! Oh, no! He's coming straight for us! (To his friends) Let's go check out the game room.

MARCEY: In a minute. We better wait for Ham.

BRANDON: He'll know where we went. Come on.

NARRATOR: Ham came back with the drinks and Brandon tried to keep his attention away from his Grandfather's direction.

BRANDON: We're going to the game room.

NARRATOR: Brandon pushed Ham in that direction.

HAM: Hey, wait a minute, dope! Relax a minute and drink your Coke. They won't allow food in there.

MARCEY: What's your hurry?

NARRATOR: Brandon started for the game room. As he turned to see if his friends were following, his eyes met his grandfather's so he quickly focused on the floor. Just then, Ham looked back too.

HAM: Hey, Brandon, there's your Grandfather.

NARRATOR: The other kids looked over and recognized the "frontier-days" time traveler, then they looked at Brandon.

HAM: Hey, Tom! Hey, Shinali!

NARRATOR: Brandon's grandpa didn't acknowledge Ham's greeting. He even ignored the Navajo word for grandpa he'd taught Ham. He just looked at Brandon.

MARCEY: (Surprised) That's your grandfather? Brandon, I'm really sorry, I was just...

BRANDON: Come on, you guys. We're just wasting time. Let's go.

NARRATOR: They headed for the game room and hung out there for a while. After losing a few games, Brandon gave up and told the kids he had to get home.

HAM: Let's go.

BRANDON: That's OK; you can stay.

HAM: I'm ready to leave.

BRANDON: If it's all right with you, Ham, I'd rather go by myself. I need to be alone for a little while.

HAM: Trouble with your grandfather? Is that why he ignored us?

BRANDON: Not really trouble with him...trouble with me.

NARRATOR: As Brandon walked off, he felt kind of sick. Then he started feeling mad. Mad at his Grandpa for coming to the mall. Mad at his friends for being stupid and making cracks about him. Mad at himself for feeling ashamed of him when he really was starting to love him.



Multicultural Observation Sheet