Study Guide

Tar Beach Quotes

  • Family

    [quilt border] (1)

    The quilt squares that run along the bottom of every page remind us of families and family heirlooms.

    I could see our tiny rooftop, with Mommy and Daddy […] and Be Be, my baby brother, lying real still on the mattress […] (3-4)

    You know how sometimes at a family dinner there will be a kids' table? Well, this is like that, except it's a mattress.

    Sleeping on Tar Beach was magical. (5)

    Cassie's still at that age where hanging out with your family every night is super cool.

    [image of Mommy, Daddy, and Baby Cassie] (7)

    The artwork flashes back to when our girl Cassie was born. You know this is in Cassie's imagination because that hospital room looks huge.

    Daddy worked on that bridge, hoisting cables. Since then, I've wanted that bridge to be mine. (8)

    Cassie is a little bit possessive of the bridge that Daddy made. This makes a lot of sense when it becomes clear that he's not around anymore.

    Daddy took me to see the new union building he is working on. (11)

    Cassie and her dad seem really close—he takes her to work before Take Your Daughter To Work Day was a thing.

    But still he can't join the union because Grandpa wasn't a member. (13)

    One way that unions used to keep people of color out was to say their parents hadn't been members. It was just a gross, racist lie.

    And Mommy won't cry all winter when he goes to look for work and doesn't come home. (16)

    It sounds like Mr. and Mrs. Lightfoot have been having some problems. Fingers crossed they get back together someday.

    And Mommy can laugh and sleep late like Mrs. Honey […] (17)

    Cassie wants nothing more than to see her family happy. She's a sweet kid.

    I'll take Be Be with me. He has threatened to tell Mommy and Daddy if I leave him behind. (23)

    Don't you just hate it when you have to take your little brother flying at night?

  • Race

    I could see our tiny rooftop, with Mommy and Daddy and Mr. and Mrs. Honey, our next-door neighbors, still playing cards [...] (3)

    It's easy to miss if you're not paying attention, but all of the characters in Tar Beach are Black, which is awesome. That's pretty unusual for a children's book from the early 1990s. (It's even still unusual for children's books today.)

    Me, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, only eight years old and in the third grade, and I can fly. (10)

    Cassie doesn't let racism get her down. She knows that she can do anything.

    That means I am free to go wherever I want for the rest of my life. (10)

    Characters like Cassie's dad are understandably down about living in a super-racist society. But Cassie feels confident that nothing's going to hold her back.

    Daddy took me to see the new union building he is working on. (11)

    In the 1930s, it was still difficult for Black men to join unions. But they could certainly build union buildings.

    But he still can't join the union because Grandpa wasn't a member. (13)

    Steel workers like Cassie's dad were super-important to the history of unions in the Labor Movement. They had to fight to become members because of racist policies.

    Then it won't matter that he's not in their old union, or whether he's colored or a half-breed Indian, like they say. (14)

    This time, racism is much more obvious.

    I have told him it's very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can't get to any other way. (24)

    Cassie tells her brother that any obstacle can be overcome. It's good advice, because racism in the 1930s was pretty horrific.

  • Memory and the Past

    I will always remember when the stars fell down around me and lifted me up above the George Washington Bridge. (2)

    The very first sentence tells us that Cassie is sharing a memory. When you "remember" something, it's in the past.

    [The quilt around the borders of the pages] [1]

    Quilts aren't exactly modern or new-fangled, you know? They remind us of the past.

    [Laundry lines] (3-4)

    You're not going to find too many laundry lines on the rooftops of New York City these days. That's one way we know the story is set in the past.

    The bridge was my most prized possession. (6)

    We're still in the past here, in Cassie's memories. The bridge was her most prized possession. That suggests it isn't her most prized possession anymore.

    Daddy said that the George Washington Bridge […] opened in 1931, on the very day I was born. (7)

    Hey, here's the clue that helps us know when the story takes place. Let's do the math: Cassie would've been eight years old in 1939.

    Daddy worked on that bridge, hoisting cables. Since then, I've wanted that bridge to be mine. Now I have claimed it. (8-9)

    Now, wait a second. Something crazy happens here. Daddy worked on the bridge in the past. Now—now—Cassie has claimed it. We're shifting tenses here, people.

    Me, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, only eight years old and in the third grade, and I can fly. (10)

    Yep, that's the present tense all right. We have officially traveled back in time to 1939-ish.

    But still he can't join the union because Grandpa wasn't a member. (13)

    Unions used Mr. Lightfoot's heritage as an excuse to not admit him into the union. Gross.

    And Mommy won't cry all winter when he goes to look for work and doesn't come home. And Mommy can laugh and sleep late like Mrs. Honey. (16-17)

    In her fantasy, Cassie's mom doesn't cry. That suggests she did cry in real life…which is terribly sad.

    Tonight we're going up to Tar Beach. Mommy is roasting peanuts and frying chicken, and Daddy will bring home a watermelon. (21)

    Wait a second…Daddy's back. And Cassie's telling us about the future, telling us about going to Tar Beach later tonight.

  • Dissatisfaction

    Lying on the roof in the night, with stars and skyscraper buildings all around me, made me feel rich, like I owned all that I could see. (5)

    Cassie takes a lot of pleasure in her "possessions"—like the bridge and different buildings. But the fact that her most prized belongings are imaginary suggests that she may be lacking in material things like toys.

    But still he can't join the union because Grandpa wasn't a member. (13)

    The fact that Daddy can't join the union suggests that he tried and failed. Those jerks.

    Well, Daddy is going to own that building, 'cause I'm gonna fly over it and give it to him. (14)

    Problem solved, Daddy. Cassie's got you covered (in her imagination, at least).

    Then it won't matter that he's not in their old union, or whether he's colored or a half-breed Indian, like they say. (14)

    Oh wow, it sounds like Daddy really has been through a lot.

    [Image of Daddy in a suit and tie, with a briefcase] (15)

    Compare and contrast this image of Daddy with the one on the previous page. What differences do you see?

    He'll be rich and won't have to stand on 24-story-high girders and look down. He can look at his building going up. (15)

    Okay, call us crazy, but we're getting the feeling that Daddy really, really, really isn't happy at work.

    And Mommy won't cry all winter when he goes to look for work and doesn't come home. (16)

    Mommy isn't too happy, either, for that matter.

    [image of Mommy sleeping in late] (17)

    Cassie explores her family's problems mostly through her words. Everyone looks happy in the pictures.

    And Mommy can laugh and sleep late like Mrs. Honey, and we can have ice cream every night for dessert. (17-18)

    Daddy needs a whole building to fix his problems. Cassie? She just needs a bowl of ice cream.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    I will always remember when the stars fell down around me and lifted me up above the George Washington Bridge. (2)

    The story starts on a really dreamy note. It's almost as though Cassie is being carried off to sleep.

    Sleeping on Tar Beach was magical. Lying on the roof in the night, with stars and skyscraper buildings all around me, make me feel rich, like I owned all that I could see. (5)

    You ever gazed up at the stars and dreamed about the future? We recommend it.

    Daddy worked on that bridge, hoisting cables. Since then, I've wanted that bridge to be mine. (8)

    What eight-year-old doesn't dream of being a bridge owner? It's not just any bridge, though. It's Daddy's bridge.

    I can fly—yes, fly. […] That means I am free to go wherever I want for the rest of my life. (10)

    The beauty of being free is having a lot of choices about what to do with your life. Cassie seems super hopeful about the future.

    But he still can't join the union because Grandpa wasn't a member. (13)

    Daddy had hopes and plans, too. But it sounds like he's not too hopeful these days.

    Well, Daddy is going to own that building, 'cause I'm gonna fly over it and give it to him. (14)

    Cassie wants to swoop in and fix her family's problems. The only problem is that her plans aren't very realistic. What do you want from her? She's only eight.

    And Mommy won't cry all winter when he goes to look for work and doesn't come home. (16)

    Oh no. Mommy sounds even more hopeless than Daddy. Cassie wants to fix her problems, too.

    I told him it's very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can't get to any other way. (24)

    Be Be is full of hope and dreams for the future, just like his big sister.

  • Society and Class

    I could see our tiny rooftop, with Mommy and Daddy and Mr. and Mrs. Honey, our next-door neighbors, still playing cards as if nothing was going on […] (3)

    The Lightfoots and the Honeys don't entertain themselves by going out to fancy restaurants. They hang out at home, maybe to save money.

    Lying on the roof in the night, with stars and skyscraper buildings all around me, made me feel rich, like I owned all that I could see. (5)

    In her imagination, Cassie feels rich and powerful. In real life, she's just a kid—and she's definitely not rich.

    The bridge was my most prized possession. (6)

    The bridge doesn't really belong to Cassie. Why does she call it her most prized possession?

    All I have to do is fly over it for it to be mine forever. I can wear it like a giant diamond necklace, or just fly above it and marvel at its sparkling beauty. (9-10)

    Who needs some stinking diamond necklace when you own the whole George Washington Bridge?

    I can fly—yes, fly. Me, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, only eight years old and in the third grade, and I can fly. That means I'm free to go wherever I want for the rest of my life. (10)

    Cassie feels like she can grow up and do anything. You go, girl!

    Daddy took me to see the new union building he is working on. (11)

    Daddy helped build the union building, but he can't join the union. Not fair.

    He can walk on steel girders high up in the sky and not fall. They call him the Cat. But he still can't join the union because Grandpa wasn't a member. (12-13)

    Cassie's dad can't get ahead at work because he can't join the union. The man is keeping him down, and it's super unfair.

    And Mommy can laugh and sleep late like Mrs. Honey […] (17)

    Mrs. Honey sounds like a woman of leisure compared to Mommy, right? That might be in part because she and her husband don't have any kids.

    Mommy is roasting peanuts and frying chicken, and Daddy will bring home a watermelon. Mr. and Mrs. Honey will bring the beer and their old green card table. (21)

    Even though Cassie's family doesn't have a lot of money, they take time out for the good things in life.

    I have told him it's very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can't get to any other way. The next thing you know, you're flying among the stars. (24)

    Cassie and Be Be may not have much money now. But the future's all theirs—and who knows what they'll grow up and do.

  • Admiration

    Be Be, my baby brother, lying real still on the mattress, just like I told him to, his eyes like huge floodlights tracking me through the sky. (4)

    Do you have a big brother or sister? If so, maybe you can relate to how much Be Be looks up to Cassie.

    Lying on the roof in the night, with stars and skyscraper buildings all around me, made me feel rich, like I owned all that I could see. (5)

    Cassie seems to admire beauty in the world much more than material things.

    The bridge was my most prized possession. (6)

    Why do you think the bridge is so precious to Cassie?

    Daddy said that the George Washington Bridge is the longest and most beautiful bridge in the world and that it opened in 1931, on the very day I was born. (7)

    Here's a fun fact: when the George Washington Bridge opened, everyone admired it. The design was unique—and it really was the longest bridge in the world.

    Daddy worked on that bridge, hoisting cables. Since then, I've wanted the bridge to be mine. (8)

    Cassie loves the bridge because she's proud of her father's work. Mystery solved.

    He can walk on steel girders high up in the sky and not fall. They call him the Cat. (12)

    Cassie's pride for her father is clear when she talks about what a good worker he is.

    Then it won't matter that he's not in their old union, or whether he's colored or a half-breed Indian, like they say. (14)

    The union should admire Cassie's father for being such a good worker. Instead it sounds like they treat him like dirt.

    He'll be rich and won't have to stand on a 24-story-high girders and look down. (15)

    Cassie wants the whole world to admire her father as much as she does.

    And Mommy can laugh and sleep late like Mrs. Honey […] (17)

    There's a little hint here that Cassie admires the neighbors. She wants her mom to have a good life like Mrs. Honey.

    I'll take Be Be with me. He has threatened to tell Mommy and Daddy if I leave him behind. (23)

    Finally, Be Be's hanging with his big sister. He's living the dream.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    I will always remember when the stars fell down around me and lifted me up above the George Washington Bridge. [2]

    Through the power of imagination, Cassie can free herself from the confines of her apartment building.

    I could see our tiny rooftop, with Mommy and Daddy and Mr. and Mrs. Honey, our next-door neighbors, still playing cards as if nothing was going on […] [3]

    Cassie and her family live in a small apartment in New York City. They like to go up on the roof when they need a break from their hot apartment.

    Sleeping on Tar Beach was magical. Lying on the roof in the night, with stars and skyscraper buildings all around me, made me feel rich […] [5]

    In her imagination, Cassie has the freedom to be whoever she wants. She can own the tallest skyscrapers and the longest bridges.

    I can fly—yes, fly. Me, Cassie Lightfoot, only eight years old and in the third grade, and I can fly. That means I am free to go wherever I want for the rest of my life. [10]

    Why is it important for Cassie to believe that she can go wherever she wants?

    But still he can't join the union because Grandpa wasn't a member. [13]

    It sounds like Daddy is trapped in a bad situation at work.

    Tonight we're going up to Tar Beach. Mommy is roasting peanuts and frying chicken, and Daddy will bring home a watermelon. [21]

    Sounds a lot like a picnic, right? Cassie and her family have a little piece of urban paradise.

    I have told him it's very easy, anyone can fly. [24]

    Cassie's a good role model for her little bro, showing him the ropes with the whole power-of-flight thing.

    All you need is somewhere to go that you can't get to any other way. [24]

    Cassie takes the impossible—somewhere to go that you can't get to any other way—and makes it happen. You can tell she's going to go far in life.