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Shake Rag

Shake Rag


Author:  Amy Littlesugar
Illustrator:  Floyd Cooper
ISBN: 0698118960
Summary: A story about a period in the childhood of Elvis Presley when his family was dirt poor and he was introduced to the soulful music of the Sanctified Church that traveled to his town.

Unit prepared by Wende



Resource List –


Shake Rag, From the Life of Elvis Presley by Amy Littlesugar (ISBN 039923005X)

The Big Book of How Things Work by Peter Lafferty (ISBN 083170859X) (pages 70-71)

The Story of Inventions by Michael J. McHugh (pages 315-320)

Love Me Tender by Elvis Presley (ISBN 0060277971)

Recordings of Gospel, Blues, Grand Ole Opry, and Elvis Presley

Printables Prepared for this unit–

            Elvis Presley Timeline

            Elvis Presley Timeline Piece

            Food Group Word Search

            Elvis Border Paper

            “Green Grass” Song Booklet

            Musical Instrument Match

            Photo of Presley family 1941

Lapbook Printables
            Instrument Flap Book
            Segregation Minit Book & Kinds of Stories Minit Book

            Mississippi Tab Book
            Where is Mississippi Shutterfold


Social Studies –


            Elvis Presley – Elvis Aron Presley was born on January 8, 1935, and grew up during the great depression, in a very poor section of Tupelo, Mississippi, which was called Shake Rag. The Presley family (see photo) was dirt poor, sometimes not having enough to eat, wearing “hand-me-down” clothes, and being called “white trash” by the wealthier side of town. They attended a Pentecostal church, where music was a large part of the services.  In 1946, when Elvis was eleven years old, his mother bought him a used guitar at Tupelo Hardware, and as we read in Shake Rag, his life was all about dreams and music.  In 1948 his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where shy Elvis spent a lot of time by himself, playing his guitar by the river. His very first job was as an usher at a theater, and he used his earnings to help his family pay bills and buy snazzy clothing. Elvis graduated from high school in 1953, took a job as a truck driver, and planned on going to school to become an electrician. He would travel by a recording studio on his deliveries, and one day decided to go in and make a record for a birthday present for his mother, who he adored very much. The owner of the studio, Sam Phillips, was impressed enough to call him back, and Elvis cut his first vinyl for Sun Records in 1954. By 1956 he was an international rock and roll sensation, earning the name “King of Rock n’ Roll”. His popularity soared as he expanded his audience by making TV appearances, movies, tours, and concerts. In spite of his newfound fame and fortune, Elvis never forget his roots, and is said to have been very generous with his money and belongings. He is quoted as saying “Money is meant to be spread around, the more happiness it helps create, the more it’s worth.” Elvis died in 1977 at his Memphis home “Graceland”, which is still open for tours. Have child fill out Elvis Presley Timeline using this information. Obtain a few videos and recordings of Elvis. If you use a timeline or book of history, insert attached timeline piece, or make your own.

Elvis Notebooking Page


Segregation – The issue of segregation and racism can be a sensitive topic to touch on, so only give your child enough information that he is comfortable with. When Elvis grew up in Mississippi in the late 1930’s and the 1940’s, the state was segregated. Segregation is when people of different races were kept separate, with separate schools, hotels, bars, hospitals, toilets, parks, even telephone booths, and separate sections in libraries, theaters, and restaurants. These laws pertaining to segregation were collectively known as the Jim Crow system. The minority races were usually given lower quality facilities, and forced to live in lower quality housing developments such as Shake Rag. While the minorities were not allowed to live in “white neighborhoods”, whites were allowed to live in “black neighborhoods”, although they were considered “white trash” for doing so. There are many topics to explore, as interest warrants, including the Jim Crow System, Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, etc. A unit designed for early elementary students, focusing on segregation, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges, can be found here.


Mississippi – Up until he was thirteen years old, Elvis grew up in Mississippi, a state in the southern United States. Have your child find Mississippi on a map of the United States. Have your child name the states that border Mississippi on the west (Louisiana and Arkansas), on the north (Tennessee), and on the east (Alabama), as well as the body of water to the south (Gulf of Mexico). Looking at a map of Mississippi, have your child locate the capital, Jackson, as well as Tupelo, where Elvis grew up, and Greenville, where the annual Delta Blues Festival is held.  Looking at the map of Mississippi, can your child figure out what determines the state border on the west? It is the Mississippi River. The name Mississippi means father of waters, and was given to the state by the Native Americans because of the mighty river that forms most of the state’s western border.  Have your child research the state capital, flag, and symbols, using any of the following links.

Mississippi State Bird/Flower Coloring Page

Mississippi Map, Flag, and Symbols Coloring Pages


Free Mississippi Travel Guide


Coloring page of Mississippi Stamp


State Quarter Worksheet


Science –


            Nutrition – Elvis’ belly rumbled in class because all he had to eat the night before was some cornbread and water. Ask your child if he thinks cornbread and water are a balanced meal, and if not, what makes a balanced meal. Discuss the food pyramid and the recommended servings from each of the food groups.

Number of Daily Servings

Food Group

Foods Included

6 to 11 Servings

Grain Group

1 slice of bread

˝ cup cooked rice or pasta

˝ cup cereal

3 to 5 Servings

Vegetable Group

˝ cup chopped raw or cooked

1 cup of leafy greens

2 to 3 Servings

Fruit Group

1 piece of fruit

ľ cup of juice

˝ cup canned fruit

˝ cup dried fruit

2 to 3 Servings

Dairy Group

1 cup milk or yogurt

1 ˝ to 2 ounces cheese

2 to 3 Servings

Meat Group

2 ˝ to 3 ounces cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish

*1 egg

*˝ cup cooked beans

*2 tablespoons peanut butter

* count as 1/3 serving

Use Sparingly

Fats, Oils, Sweets

Candy, chips, etc.


            Our bodies need a balanced diet so that all our organs and systems can work efficiently. For one complete day, have your child record all the food that he consumes. Then have him compare his daily food intake to what is recommended. Are there any areas that need to be improved? Complete prepared food group word search if desired.                      


            Sweat – A man’s face was shiny with sweat as he played the guitar. Sweat is a body’s natural response to its internal temperature rising. Skin has a very important job, that of protecting our insides from bacteria, dirt, the sun’s rays, and making sure we are kept at a comfortable temperature. The two ways our skin does this is through radiation and evaporation. When our internal temperature rises, a signal is sent from the brain for blood to increase circulation to the skin. This causes the body’s internal heat to be carried by the blood to the skin surface, where it is lost by radiation. As this is happening, our sweat glands, which are little sacs deep in the dermis, start doing their job, releasing perspiration through the pores. This liquid evaporates from our skin, cooling us off. As our internal body temperature drops, our brain then signals to circulate less blood to the skin, and the sweating stops. When the air is humid, meaning it is holding more moisture, the sweat on our skin does not evaporate as quickly, causing us to be sticky and warm. Do this experiment to see how the rate of evaporation has a direct effect on your temperature:

            Dip one cotton ball in rubbing alcohol, and another cotton ball in water. Dab one cotton ball on each of your wrists. Which one feels cooler?  Because alcohol evaporates faster than water, the wrist dabbed with alcohol feels cooler. In the same way, the faster our sweat evaporates from our skin, the cooler we feel.


            Radios – Elvis sat by the radio singing along to the music. Before televisions became popular, families would sit around the radio together and listen to shows and music. It was through the radio that he was influenced by the sounds of the Grand Ole Opry, gospel music, and blues. Does your child know the history of the radio, or how it works? Radio waves were first detected and measured in 1888 by Heinrich Hertz. In 1896 Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi invented the first radio. He invented a way to produce and send electric waves with an instrument called a transmitter, which could then be collected with an instrument called a receiver. Marconi then modified and improved on these transmitters and receivers, and he invented a way that human speech could be captured and sent through the airwaves. The radio was first used in ships, and then by 1925 extended into mass use around the world. Radio kits can be purchased for around $10 and are a great introduction to the study of radio waves. Read more about the invention of the radio and how they work in these go along books -     

The Big Book of How Things Work by Peter Lafferty (ISBN 083170859X) (pages 70-71)

The Story of Inventions by Michael J. McHugh (pages 315-320)


Math –


            Word Problems


Shake Rag starts out “The summer the boy was eleven”. If Elvis was born in January 1935, what year did the beginning of this story take place? (1946)


Elvis’ mother paid $7.75 for the used guitar. In 1945 the sales tax in Mississippi was 2%.

How much tax would be added to the $7.75 guitar? ($7.75 x .02 = .16)

What would the total cost be? ($7.75 + .16 = $7.91)

If Mrs. Presley paid with a $10 bill, how much change would she receive? ($10.00 – 7.91 = $2.09)


In 1969, Elvis’ fee for working in Las Vegas was $1,000,000 for four months.

How much did he make a month? ($1,000,000 ÷ 4 = $250,000)

How much would he make in a year? ($1,000,000 x 3 = $3,000,000) or ($250,000 x 12 = $3,000,000)


Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie, was born on February 1, 1968. How old is she today?


Elvis’ father drove a 1939 Plymouth. How old is the car today?



Language Arts –


            Biography – A biography is a story of a person’s life that is written by another person. While much of the story is usually true, the author sometimes fictionalizes parts of it to add excitement to the story. Your child may be familiar with the FIAR biographies Cowboy Charlie by Jeanette Winter, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, or The Glorious Flight by Alice and Martin Provensen, all stories about real people. Shake Rag is a biography about the childhood of Elvis Presley. The following lesson will show you how to write a biographical report.


Biographical Report – A Biographical Report is a story about a real person containing most, if not all, the following information: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? On separate index cards have your child write out (or dictate to you) information to answer these questions. Who are you writing about? When was he born? Where did the person live? What was his life like growing up? What is the person famous for? How did he become famous? If you could meet this person what question would you ask him/her? Is the person still alive today, and if not, when and how did he die? Also keep a list of the books referred to on a separate index card.  Do as many index cards a day as to not overwhelm your child with writing.  After all the facts are researched and jotted down on the index cards, have child put the index cards in an order that sounds most logical and appealing to the ear. Your child will then use these index cards to copy the information and make a rough draft of the report. Correct any spelling or punctuation errors, and your child can then write or type his final copy. Then have him use the lesson on bibliographies to write out a bibliography for his report.


            Bibliography – A bibliography is a list of books, articles, or recordings that were used by an author to gather information in the writing of a non-fiction book. The bibliography is found at the end of the book. Have your child look for the bibliography at the end of Shake Rag. Bibliographies follow a standard form. Each entry is listed alphabetically by the author’s last name, and should be double spaced throughout. Each entry is set up like this:


If information was taken from a book -

Author (last name first) Title (Underlined or in italics) Publishing Data (City: Publisher, Copyright)


If information was taken from a magazine –

Author. (Last name first) Title of Article. (In quotes) Magazine Name, Date of Issue, Pages.


If information was taken from a video –

Producer. Title (Underlined or in Italics).


If information was taken from a radio or television program –

Name of Episode. (In Quotes) Name of Show (Underlined). Network, Date Aired


Have child look through bibliography in Shake Rag and identify each kind of entry. If you choose to have your child do a report on Elvis, be sure to have him include a bibliography of sources used.


            Personification – Personification is a literary device in which the author elevates an animal, object, or idea to the level of a human such that it takes on the characteristics of a human personality. In many of the HSS and/or FIAR stories you may have read, you may have come across animals or machines that were personified (such as Stuart Little or Katy and the Big Snow) In Shake Rag a man was playing the guitar in church and “making those strings sob and cry”. Do guitars have the emotional ability to sob and cry? Of course not, but the author was personifying the guitar, giving it human characteristics, bring the reader to imagine a guitar that was crying and sobbing. If your child doesn’t bring up this literary term on his own, just make mention of it.

            Creative Writing – Elvis was a dreamer. He dreamed of being like the sparkling cowboys of the Grand Ole Opry. He dreamed of being a great Blues musician. He dreamed of making a difference in the world. While most thought that a boy of Elvis’ meager means had no right to dream that big, it didn’t stop him one bit from living out that dream. On January 16, 1971, at the age of 25, Elvis gave this speech at a ceremony for the acceptance of the 1970 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation Award:

“When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times.”

Ask your child what he dreams of becoming when he grows up. Have him write or dictate a paragraph or two about it. Be sure to date the paper and keep it in a safe place to pull out again if/when your child reaches those dreams, reminding him of “back when”.

Flashback – Flashback is a literary term to describe an instance when the author returns to an earlier time in the story for the purpose of making something in the present clearer. When Elvis played his guitar for the other children during recess, one of the children said “I think you’re gonna be famous one day!” Does your child remember when Elvis had a dream about Mr. Crudup, the great blues man, saying a similar thing? Have your child reflect on the fact that at this time in Elvis’ childhood he had no idea just how famous he was going to be. Imagine Elvis years later, becoming one of the most famous musicians ever, flashing back to a time when he heard people tell him he will be famous. Were they right?


Grammar – Have your child edit the grammar mistakes in this paragraph, from Education World.


 Uncorrected Text


Are you a Elvis Presley fan. Elvis were one of the most popular singers of all time. His hit song include "Blue Suede Shoes," "Are You Lone Some Tonight" and "Hound Dog." When Elvis died on August 16, 1977, fans round the world went in to mourning. Each August, thousands of fans flock to Presley's home -- called Graceland -- in Memphis Tennessee, to remember the singer and mark the anniversary of his death.


Answer Key


Are you an Elvis Presley fan? Elvis was one of the most popular singers of all time. His hit songs include "Blue Suede Shoes," "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and "Hound Dog." When Elvis died on August 16, 1977, fans around the world went into mourning. Each August, thousands of fans flock to Presley's home -- called Graceland -- in Memphis, Tennessee, to remember the singer and mark the anniversary of his death.


NOTE - Education World grants users permission to reproduce this work sheet for educational purposes only.


Poetry – Many singers are often also songwriters, and therefore, good poets. Poems that are set to music are called lyrics.  Lyrics are intended to express the emotions of the author. There are various lyrics mentioned throughout Shake Rag.


Great blues man Arthur Crudup’s lyrics are quoted from the first stanza of “That’s All Right Mama”.


The preacher sung “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” written by Thomas Dorsey. Read and listen to the complete song here. This was one of the songs that Elvis did later sing, and if you can acquire one of his gospel recordings, you can hear his moving rendition.


And Elvis sang and played his guitar to a group of children the song about “leaves on a tree and the green grass growing all around”. Your children may be familiar with the lyrics sung by a certain purple dinosaur. While the author of this song is unknown, here is a mini book to print out of a fun version you can sing together with your child, echo style.

*Printing and assembly instructions* – Print out all the pages. The first page printed will be folded in half, with the printing on the front. This will be your cover. Fold all other pages in half with printing to the outside. Assemble them in order, place them into the cover, and staple the edge, being sure to catch all the pages. Have child draw an illustration for each page, and use it for a songbook to learn this fun song.


Elvis Presley often sang the work of others, but he too did occasionally write poems that he put to music. One such poem was “Love Me Tender”, which is in beautiful picture book form to share with your children. Be sure to check your library for availability of Love Me Tender by Elvis Presley (ISBN 0060277971), which also comes with a compact disk of the music.


Have your child write lyrics for a song, put it to music (a shaker, or pot and spoon will do just fine if your family is musically challenged like mine), and sing it to the family.


Copywork – Use these quotes from Elvis Presley for copywork or dictation assignments:

"I ain't no saint, but I've tried never to do anything that would hurt my family or offend God. I figure all any kid needs is hope and the feeling he or she belongs. If I could do or say anything that would give some kid that feeling, I would believe I had contributed something to the world."

 “Don’t criticize what you don’t understand, son. You never walked in that man’s shoes.”

 "Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine."

Music  -


            Musical Instruments – Numerous musical instruments are mentioned throughout Shake Rag. Discuss each one with your child, and have him complete the prepared matching activity


Guitar – A musical instrument with a long neck and six or more strings. It is played by strumming or plucking the strings. Some kinds of guitars use electricity to make their sound louder.


Piano – The piano is considered a stringed instrument because strings, usually made of steel wire, that are struck by hammers, produce the sound.


Horn – A brass musical instrument, with a narrow end that you blow into to play music.


Tambourine – A small percussion instrument like a drum that has metal disks attached loosely around the rim. 



Music Forms - Elvis’s musical influences were the Grand Ole Opry, Gospel, and Blues. Do a brief study of the history of each of these music styles.

The Grand Ole Opry is the oldest continuous radio program in the United States, having been broadcast on WSM out of Nashville, Tennessee since 1925. Originally, performers such as banjo and harmonica players would come to be aired from the fifth floor radio station in downtown Nashville. These Grand Ole Opry shows grew popular and the live audiences larger, bringing WSM to relocate to larger studios not once but five times before 1945.  People greatly enjoyed the vaudeville acts and country music.  During Elvis’s childhood he listened to WSM Radio and he dreamed of being a sparkling cowboy star on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. On October 2, 1954 his dream came true as a teenaged Elvis Presley made his first (and only) performance there. Although the audience reacted politely to his unconventional style of  rockabilly music, after the show Elvis was told by one of the organizers that he should return to Memphis to resume his truck-driving career, prompting him to swear never to return. Do you wonder how that organizer felt about making such a mistake about the future “King of Rock and Roll”? If possible listen to or watch the Grand Ole Opry to see what influenced Elvis Presley’s music style. You can view their television and concert schedule here.

Preferring the Grand Ole Opry, Elvis’s mama didn’t think Blues or Gospel was “their kind of music”. She saw it as nothing more than field hollers and street shouts. In a manner of speaking, she was right. We will discuss the background of these two other musical influences.

Both the Blues heard from the smoky juke joints, and the Gospel heard in the tent of the Sanctified Church and on the radio have African roots. Africans, much like Native Americans,  sang music for religious, agricultural and hunting reasons. They knew nothing of the European social music. They used percussion instruments such as drums, and used predominantly a “call and response” pattern, in which the leader would call out a line and the rest of the group would respond. When Africans were brought to America as slaves in the 1600’s, their religion, music, and instruments were outlawed. They were only allowed to sing “Christian” or “American” songs, which brought them to develop new music forms.

Churches were the only place that slaves could be without white supervision. There, the slaves sang “Spirituals” which were of African vocal and rhythmic influence with Christian subjects. These songs extended out into the workplace, as the slaves used work songs and “field hollers” to ease the drudgery of hard labor in the fields of the South, and later, while laying railroad track. Many historians say that these “Spirituals” and “field hollers” were codified songs of protest, understood only by the slaves themselves.

When slavery ended in 1860, the blacks found musical instruments left behind by the Civil War soldiers, and learned to play them. And with their newfound freedom, many started leaving the south to look for work elsewhere, taking their two new music styles with them.

The church was still central to the black community after emancipation, and became a sanctuary where black culture and music could thrive. Black preachers started traveling, singing in revival tents like the “Sanctified Church” and missions for the homeless, often accompanying themselves with piano, guitar, and an occasional choir. The invention of records, and the common use of the radio by the 1920’s, spread this music called “Spiritual”, “Anthem”, “Jubilee”, and less commonly Gospel, into white and black homes throughout the country. During the mid forties, “Spirituals” became more popular and commercialized as a preacher named Thomas A. Dorsey (see Poetry lesson) became the first black man to own a music publishing company, encourage “Spirituals” to be called Gospel or “Good News” music, and to promote black  Gospel singers outside the church. Look at the photo of Mr. Dorsey at  Cyber Hymnal and compare it to the picture of the preacher in Shake Rag. Do you think it might be Mr. Dorsey that Elvis saw in his childhood? Obtain recordings of Gospel music for your children to experience.

So the “Spirituals” of the slaves became what is know today as Gospel. And what became of the “field hollers” or work shouts? After emancipation this secular (non-religious) music form, called Blues, was expanded by traveling musicians often playing a guitar or harmonica who would perform at juke joints such as the ones in Shake Rag. This Blues music form is what evolved into Rhythm and Blues, Rock n’ Roll, Soul, and eventually Rap. Many Blues artists are mentioned in Shake Rag, including Arthur Crudup, Willie Johnson, and Charley Patton. See if you can obtain recordings of any of these artists for your children to hear first hand what influenced Elvis Presley. *Note – some of the music is not appropriate for children. Reviewing pieces first is recommended.

Arts and Crafts–


Guitars - Make pretend guitars. Use wrapping paper tubes, a pattern of a guitar cut out of cardboard, and elastic for the guitar strings. Have child decorate them with markers or crayons, and cover tube with construction paper. 


            Crowns – Elvis Presley grew up to be known as the “King of Rock and Roll”. Have your child make crowns out of cardstock, decorating them with glitter, jewels, and musical notes. Have child do their best Elvis impersonation, being sure to add “Uh huh” and “Thank ya. Thank ya very much”.


Miscellaneous - 

            Phys Ed – Elvis was nicknamed “Elvis the Pelvis” because of the way he gyrated and swiveled his hips. In 1956, he was quoted as saying, “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ‘em all together, I guess.” Have your children burn off some energy by playing “Elvis the Pelvis”, getting those feet, fingers, and hips moving. 

            Cooking - Help your child to make Elvis’ favorite “Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich”. Spread peanut butter on one side of a piece of white or wheat bread, top with thinly sliced bananas and another piece of bread. Spread outside of both pieces of bread thinly with butter, and fry on hot griddle until golden, flipping halfway through.  


            More Cooking - Have your children help you cook up some Mississippi Cornbread just like Elvis may have eaten:

Mississippi Cornbread

1 cup buttermilk (or 7 ounces of milk + 1 ounce vinegar or lemon juice, mixed and left to sit for about 30    minutes until curdled. If you're in a hurry, mix the milk and vinegar or lemon juice and microwave it for 20-30 seconds on high power.)
1 large egg
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder (if you're at high altitude, use 1 teaspoon baking powder, else the cornbread will rise too high, then fall)
1-1/2 tablespoons of bacon drippings or vegetable oil
3/4 cup whole kernel corn
1/2-3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar (optional
1-4 finely chopped jalapeno or chili peppers, no seeds (optional)
2 cloves finely minced garlic (optional)

Pour drippings or oil into a 9-inch square baking pan. Heat pan in a 450 degree oven until oil is smoking hot. While pan is heating, mix dry ingredients and any of the optional ingredients in medium-sized bowl. Beat egg into buttermilk. Add liquids to dry mixture, just until blended. Do not over mix! Carefully remove the smoking pan from oven and pour cornbread batter into pan. If the oil is properly hot, then the batter will sizzle as it hits the oil. (This sizzle is what makes a nice, crunchy bottom crust.) Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown. Cut into wedges. Serve with butter or margarine.

Note 1: The batter will begin to rise as soon as the liquid and dry ingredients are mixed, so mix them right before you remove the hot pan from the oven.
Note 2: If you use a 10" round cast-iron skillet instead of the 9" baking pan, you should double the recipe without doubling the oil. If you don't double the recipe for the 10" skillet, your cornbread will be very thin.

Recipe source

Miscellaneous Links-

Download Free E-Book biography of Elvis

Audio Files of Elvis interviews

Elvis Coloring Page

Elvis Paper Doll (he is in underwear) to dress online, and then print out