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FIFTY Study Page: Virginia "Twigs and Trees"

FIFTY Study Page: Virginia "Twigs and Trees"

In “Twigs and Trees,” Lizzie Walker learns from her grandmother the value of creating big change (trees) by starting small and simple (twigs). Her grandmother, Maggie Lena Walker, knows this from her own experience as the first woman ever to charter an independent bank in America. She learned this lesson from her own mother, a former slave who raised her children washing clothes for the wealthy families of Richmond. Lizzie is impressed and inspired by the lesson and can imagine a way in which she can benefit her community by starting with something small.

Note: Though this is historical fiction and the characters have been developed to accommodate a story, their attributes and development may be useful as reference points and inspirations.


Virginia History - Biography of Maggie Lena Walker - History of African American Civil Rights, post Civil War - Biographies of early African American leaders

Virginia Geography - Map of Virginia and Richmond, its capital.

“Twigs and Trees” Study Topics - A look into the Independent Order of Saint Luke - The role of banks in African American civil rights - Examples where a small change had huge results



From a Child Development Perspective:

In this story, your child might learn that:

  • The intergenerational cycle of care has a natural beauty and order to it. In the beginning of our story Maggie Walker, Lizzie and Polly's grandmother, needed care, and we see how Polly tended to her well-being. It is important in our youth to find ways to give our loving care to our elders, the same care that they extended to us in our youth.

  • Sometimes we say we don't feel well in our body, when really we don't feel well in our heart. Lizzie could not face going to school because of the pain that she felt emotionally. Lizzie’s wise grandmother says to her:

  • “You know it is quite common for people to feel unwell when there is something difficult happening in their life. Say, when they don’t want to do something — or when something difficult is expected of them. Do you think that might be a part of what is happening for you?”

  • When we are with someone we trust, we know when we have to tell the truth, even if it's hard to do. Lizzie knew that her grandmother was wise enough to know that she was hiding behind her "tummy ache," and she was actually relieved to tell her what was really not feeling well — it was her feelings that weren’t feeling well.

  • It can be scary and overwhelming to explore the unknown, and not just to explore a new place, but also to explore a different culture. Lizzie was proud of her identity, even though African Americans were not treated equally in the 1920s and 1930s. She was confident as a speaker, but still the task of speaking in front of so many people in different schools and different cultures was overwhelming to her. Hard for her was knowing how to both represent her people while also being respectful of other cultures. This takes sensitivity, bravery, and intelligence, and she had to build her confidence to know that she had all three.

  • It can be very helpful to talk about your fears in detail to someone whom you trust, so that you can "right size them" and decide how to face them in a way that is safe. Lizzie's grandmother asked her to tell her what she “couldn't do,” and this helped Lizzie to sort through what she thought was the “worst thing that could happen.” In doing so, she realized that step by step, she could build her confidence to face these fears. Little by little, we tackle the small doable, tasks — the little twigs. We bundle the little twigs together, and like a strong tree, we too become bigger and stronger and better able to do the very things we never thought we could.

    “Well the idea is that you focus on the small easy ways to bend twigs first — and as the tree grows, those small twigs will become bigger and stronger and then become the shape of the tree itself.”

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