I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Bibliographic Data:

Angelou, Maya. (2009). I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. New York: Ballantine Books. Print.

Book Summary:

In the book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou records the comings and goings of her life as a child growing into adulthood.  As a young girl, Maya is raised by her grandmother in the small Southern town of Stamps, experiencing the weight of racism on a regular basis.  She describes her intense relationship with her brother Bailey as they cling to one another navigating their life under the house of Momma and Uncle Willie.  Into her grandchildren, Momma instilled a sense of respect and proper-ness that would please any Southern woman.  As concern for their safety in a racially volatile town grows, Momma decides the children should return to California to live with their Mother.  As different as night and day, Maya Angelou adapts to this new world, her maturing body and her changing relationship with her brother Bailey.

Critical Analysis:

With emotional yet aloof description, Maya chronicles the fantastical stories of her childhood.  Simple stories are woven into a beautiful quilt of words by Angelou.  Horrific stories are described with class and as little detail as possible so as to not push the reader away.  However, her honest depiction of challenging situations do not evoke pity from the reader; they simply strengthen respect for the author.  Her description of everyday life instills a colorful heartbeat into the very situations.  The characters in Angelou’s life seem like friends known for so long that details over time are intimately shared.  It is shocking to the reader to realize Angelou does not make her first friend until she is a young teenager.  Her detailed description of the people in her life lead the reader to believe that she shares an intimate relationship with dear friends in her town. While not full of suspense, this book is inspiring and delightful.

Activity Related to the Book:

One Month in a Junkyard

In small groups, students will create a plan to survive one month as a teenager living in a junkyard.  Being one of the events that accelerated maturity in Angelou’s life, students will create a journal and record their imaginary happenings over a one month period.  As happened in the book, students will have a short period of time to determine that they will live on their own  What will they bring?  How much money will they need?  What emotions are they feeling? Scenarios and prompts will be provided by the teacher and students will journal their responses on a daily basis.  The month-long journaling activity will end with a prompt that lets the student determine if they will return to a safe home or remain living independently.

Resources Related to the THEME of the book:

Resource 1: “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Angelou borrowed a line from this poem in the title of her book.  As is the nature of the figure of speech, allusion leads the reader to a different document, adding a depth of meaning to a few words.

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. (1899). “Sympathy”. The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved on 22 June 2015 from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175756.

Resource 2: USA and Mexico Combo Map

Angelou describes the events of her childhood as they happen all over the Southern and Western United States and Mexico.  This map would help students understand the physical lengths (as well as emotional lengths) Angelou traveled as a part of her growing up.

“USA and Mexico Combo Map. United States:BJ Design.

Published Review:

Gross, Robert A. (28 May 2014). Newsweek’s Original Review of Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.’ Retrieved from: http://www.newsweek.com/newsweeks-original-review-i-know-why-caged-bird-sings-252587.


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