How to Manage Your Home without Losing Your Mind

I initially read this book as part of a 2017 Reading Challenge put together by Jami Balmet at a Young Wife’s Guide. As a newlywed, I am currently gobbling up any and every book on homemaking. When starting the challenge, I sat down and looked at all the titles and cross-referenced them with those on Audibles. This book was one of them. So I decided to use my free Audibles book in order to listen to this book. I AM SO GLAD I DID!!!

 

This book was wonderful! Ironically, I listened to it as I was doing the dishes and laundry. (I felt less guilty about listening if I was being productive.)

Dana K. White continually said, “ do what is best for you”. She never once said, “ do it like me!”. She spent the entire book offering practical advice all the while encouraging her readers in their deslobification journey. There were two specific ideals that stuck out to me:

  1. Just… do the dishes.
  2. Just declutter.

Long before this book, I started the habit of doing the dishes daily; sometimes multiple times a day. I can attest to what she says about the importance of just doing the dishes. It makes such a big difference when my kitchen is clean. (Sidenote: I started hand washing most of my dishes so that I can listen to a podcast or a book. This has become a great way to refill myself.)

About seven months ago, I watched Katie Bennett’s course in the Homemaking Mentor’s Academy. She discusses the amazingness of a simplified wardrobe. After listening to her course, I went through my closet. Several months later, I was bit by the bug again and I went through my closet again. (After rewatching her course.) This motivated me to start decluttering other parts of my apartment. The last few months, I have spent time really decluttering. I found Dana’s idea about decluttering to be great! She pointed out that decluttering is DIFFERENT from organizing. She felt less overwhelmed when she decluttered versus trying to organize. Because, let’s be real, how can we organize when we have so much stuff? A lot of what she said reminded me of Elsie Callendar’s lesson in 2016’s Online Homemaking Conference.

 

Dana does a great job of discussing the potential difficulty one might face decluttering. She also discusses the possible grief one might go through when decluttering. She also brings up the difficulty of telling people “No” when they ask you if you want something. She points out how difficult this is! But I thought her points were really very good. Do not take something out of guilt.

 

She also discusses the importance of having a donate-able box close by that you fill up and then donate!

If you feel like you don’t have the time to read, then this is the best book to listen to audibly. Dana is such a great writer and reader. Listening to her book was motivating and thoroughly enjoyable.
So, go get her book NOW and just… do the dishes!

Freak the Mighty

Grade Level: Fifth

“That’s how it started, really, how we got to be Freak the Mighty, slaying dragons and fools and walking high above the world.” You can’t help but become emotionally attached to the characters in Rodman Philbrick’s Freak the Mighty; It is truly a picture of Ecclesiastes 4:9. In this case, two are better than one and true friendship, no matter how short, can grow us into better people.

Kevin, an intelligent young man with a too small body, and Max, a giant of a boy with a too small brain, are next door neighbors. Each boy brings his strengths to the friendship and together they become Freak the Mighty.

Kevin pushes Max out of his comfort zone and challenges him to do more. Kevin teaches Max about adventure & friendship. They go on grand adventures vanquishing evil and saving damsels in distress. One such adventure, leads the boys to the rougher side of town where they come into contact with people who knew their parents. Kevin does not know his dad and Max’s dad is in jail for killing Max’s mom.  

There are two stories that are intertwined in this book: the adventures of the boys and the release of Max’s dad from prison. Most of the book builds up to the release of Kenny, Max’s dad. Both Max and his grandparents fear what he could one day become, but Kevin shows Max that he is more than Killer Kane’s son.

Awesomeness:

  • This book is about true friendship.
  • It is an amazing book about kids with mental and physical disabilities.
  • Kevin is OBSESSED with King Arthur.
  • Max is put into the “smart” classes because of Kevin and learns he is smarter than he thought.
  • This book shows that traumatic experiences really affect development.

Cautions:

  • Max’s dad, Kenny, sneaks into Max’s room and kidnaps him.
  • Kenny takes Max to the rougher side of town to the same couple Max and Kevin had met before. He breaks into an apartment for the night.
  • Eventually, Kenny will take Max to an abandoned building. There he nearly chokes Loretta to death. And he attacks Max.
  • Kevin’s organs are growing but his body is not. He eventually loses his battle with his health.
  • Alcohol being consumed; empty beer cans on the floor of the apartment.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

-Write your personal story down like Max did.

-Research the difficulties little people could have.

-Write a journal entry in response to Max’s comment on page 78: “I’m standing there with Freak high above me and it feels right, it makes me feel strong and smart.”

-Keep your own dictionary

-Teach a younger kid a new word!

-Create a different ending to the book

-You can access the film made by Nickelodeon on youtube

Book Fairs

I love a good book fair! This little book nerd gets so excited to see all the new, shiny books!

book-fair-2

As I was perusing our book fair, I started thinking about all the possibilities a kid could choose from. Nonfiction. Fiction. Historical fiction. Hardback. Paperback. Posters and bracelets! So much to choose from!!

 book-fair

Many kids do not know exactly what they are looking at or know how to choose a book that’s best for them. During this time of book fairs, I encourage parents to look through the brochure with their child. I think it would be a lot of fun to watch my child look through all the possible book options & pick out the ones they’d like. I think it’s really important to do some research on the titles your child has picked out. But as I discussed before in previous reviews, not all books at a junior high book fair are written for junior high students. They are a great way for PTOs to raise money for their teachers & schools. But I just want to encourage you to look into the books your child is interested in.

On a side note, I was super excited to see Ashes on the shelves this year!!

ashes-bookfair

I am also excited about the possibilities for future posts! nazi-books

Ashes

ashes

 

Grade Level: Fifth

Finally, after seven loooooong years, Laurie Halse Anderson brings us the final installment in her Seeds of America Trilogy: Ashes. This book wraps up the story of Isabel, Ruthie, and Curzon so nicely and puts a neat little bow on top.

Ashes picks up several years after Isabel and Curzon marched out of Valley Forge. At the onset of this novel, Curzon and Isabel are hiding in the woods a mere feet away from the sign that will tell them just how far they have left to travel… and a group of redcoats.

Very early in this book Isabel finds the very object she has been searching for since the middle of Chains: Ruth. After escaping undetected from the British soldiers and Virginia militia, Isabel and Curzon arrive at the Lockton Plantation in South Carolina. They climb a tree to wait for nightfall. They have learned that being patient and scouting out residences is the best way to go, but no sooners has Isabel climbed the tree, when a young slave girl strolls from the barn. Immediately, Isabel senses a familiar air about this young woman. After a few seconds, Isabel recognizes her for her she is and throwing caution to the wind, she runs to greet Ruth. Unfortunately, the greeting and the subsequent travels are not at all what Isabel had in mind.

Through kind actions of the older slave couple at the plantation, Isabel, Curzon, Ruth and another slave from the plantation, Aberdeen, escape. They manage to travel through the woods toward freedom. Much of this time, Isabel is trying to get Ruth to speak to her. The group eventually finds themselves in the midst of the Continental Army and their French Allies.

Isabel and Curzon continue to find themselves in situations where their loyalty to each other is tested. Isabel’s greatest focus during the war was never on those involved in the war, but on finding her sister. Now that she will be forced to choose a side. The final major battle of the American Revolution looms before her, Isabel is forced to choose a side. Ruth seems to want to follow Aberdeen… toward the British. Curzon, the boy she has spent years with, is passionately fighting for the Americans. Which should she choose? How will she know which is the right choice? Can she guarantee her freedom?

In this novel, Anderson will ask her readers to think about independence for all. Isabel will be faced with a difficult decision. And she will ultimately follow her heart.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

*Create an Acrostic poem using ISABEL and CURZON’s names. (Or all the characters from the novels.) 

*Write a response to Ms. Serafina’s quote on page 39: “The greatest strength of all is daring to love.”

*Take a page from Isabel’s book. As a family, talk about memories from special events.

*On page 84, Isabel describes the “bedraggled” soldiers. Research the struggles faced by the Patriot army.

*Research the significance of the location of Yorktown.

*Compare the camp at Williamsburg to the camp at Valley Forge. Use chapter XVII to help describe Williamsburg and pages 73-127 in Forge to help describe Valley Forge.

*On page 132, Isabel discusses the walls of Jericho. Read the story in Joshua Chapter 6.

*Compare a regular battle with a siege. How are the two strategies different?

*Research the ending of Yorktown. Who surrendered in Cornwallis’ stead?

*The appendix has some great questions and resources too.

Forge

forge

Grade Level: Fifth

Forge is the second book in the Seeds of America trilogy. I have already written about my unconditional love for the first book, Chains and I fully intend to dote just as much about the final book in this trilogy: Ashes.

Forge picks up with the prelude which is the moment Isabel and Curzon reach the other side of the river. Chapter one picks up 9 months after Curzon and Isabel’s escape. We quickly learn that Curzon is alone because Isabel ran away from him.

I cannot conclusively say that Forge is my favorite of the 3 because I have not Ashes, but it is REALLY AMAZING!

On his way to find the road to Albany, Curzon finds himself in the middle of the Battle of Saratoga. Curzon follows his instincts and saves a young colonial soldier named Ebenezer. Caught up in the constant movement of camp and in an attempt to further escape slavery, Curzon finds himself signing up for the duration of the war.

Moving out from New York, the 16th Massachusetts beds down in a small town outside of Philadelphia: Valley Forge. There the colonial soldiers must build their own huts with limited to no tools. In order to motivate the soldiers, Washington offers $12 to the squad who builds their hut the fastest.

Curzon lives side by side with the other soldiers at Valley Forge. But despite his service, he still must handle personal attacks and slights made at him because of his color. Curzon continues to serve awaiting the day the war is over and his freedom is granted.

One day, all the men line up because George Washington is bringing in the Continental Congress to show the needs of the men. Among the Congressmen is Mr. Bellingham, Curzon’s master. Through smooth talking and a white lie, Bellingham gets Curzon to move into Moore Hall.

Suddenly and without warning, Curzon finds himself waiting on Bellingham and the other Congressmen. He is angry and bitter, but must maintain proper behavior for the sake of the house maid: Isabel.

The rest of the novel follows Curzon’s desire to rescue himself and Isabel from the life of slavery.

Forge ends just like Chains, with Curzon and Isabel escaping the chains that bind them.

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As with any book set in a war, there are a few more gruesome scenes. On page 14, Curzon describes the death of a British soldier Eben kills. A few characters do die throughout the novel from sickness or battle.

This book is also set during a time of inequality. Curzon will be made fun of and mistreated do to his color.

The majority of the characters in this book are young men who are fighting for independence. In one instance, Benny rips his pants and as a result he “cusses” and his fellow continentals give him a hard time about the possible consequences of frostbite. (Page 95)

War changes people. The reader can see the changes in Mr. Bellingham. On page 196, he tells Curzon that if he tries anything, Isabel will suffer his punishment.

We leave this novel much the same way we left Chains. But this time, Curzon and Isabel are not alone; they are marched out of Valley Forge by Curzon’s brothers-in-arms.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

*Check out my workbook!

*This book is historical fiction and as such lends itself to a lot of research ideas.

-Research the Battle of Saratoga (TEKS 8.4C, the first 10 chapters are all set in Oct 1777)

-Research the Hessians

-Research the resources of the British Soldiers

-Research the role of women in the fighting

-Research the Spy ring created by Washington

-Research the different ways slave owners punished slaves for running away

-Research the use of slaves and Native Americans in the Continental and British armies.

-Research the assistance of Spain and France   

*Compare the officers in the continental army to the privates.

-Write a diary entry as a private at Valley Forge and express your thoughts about the situation of the officers versus your situation.

*Write a response to Silvenus’ thoughts on page 121: “This camp is a forge for the army; it’s testing our mettle. Instead of heat and hammer, our trials are cold and hunger. Question is, what are we made of?”

*Analyze the image: Washington presenting Congressional Committee to soldiers at Valley Forge

*Write a response to Curzon’s thoughts: “We were American soldiers and there was pride enough in that to make a fellow stand tall.” (pg 144)

*Write a diary entry as Isabel discussing your desire to leave with Gideon but your fears at leaving Curzon.

Chains

chains

Grade Level: Fifth

I can not say enough about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains. I have read this book three times and as a history teacher I absolutely adore it.

Chains follows two slave girls, Isabel and Ruth, who are sold to a Tory family in New York. Isabel and Ruth should be free but the nephew of their deceased owner sold them instead. Once arriving in New York, Isabel makes friends with Curzon. He tells her that she should keep her eyes and ears open in the house of Lockton. He says that she might learn something of value the Patriots would reward her for.

After several instances of abuse and the selling of her sister, Isabel makes up her mind to find out anything that will set her free. She reports several events straight to the Patriot military. (In one instance Madam Lockton finds her and has her severally punished by branding her face with an I.) Cuzon finds himself a POW and is locked up with other patriots in jail. Isabel visits him regularly to the great dismay of her mistress. Eventually, Isabel will use her wits to break Curzon out of jail. Together they run from New York.  

While she does not gain her freedom legally, she does find freedom. This book is the first of a trilogy. Isabel crosses her river Jordan and there we leave her until Forge.

This book is historical fiction and therefore there are a few things in which to be aware. Ruth suffers from seizures. They call them fits and Mistress Lockton even refers to her having the devil in her. Mrs. Lockton attempts to beat Ruth at one point but Isabel takes it for her. Isabel takes a serious beating and a branding. Toward the end of the book Mrs. Lockton locks her in the potato bin.

The American Revolution sets the backdrop for this incredible story. Each chapter begins with a section from a primary source. It is great to make connections between what the Patriots were fighting for and for what Isabel is fighting. I recommend this book as a support for your American Revolution unit.

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Lesson Plan Ideas:

*Talk about the location of Rhode Island and New York. It’s important for students to understand that slavery extended throughout all 13 colonies.

*Look up the writings of Phyllis Wheatley. Compare the content of her writings with Isabel’s struggles. (page 228)

*In Chapter 4, Isabel tells the reader: “Ruth and me were housed belows the packet-boats deck with six sheep, a pen of hogs, three families from Scotland, and fifty casks of dried cod.” What does this tell you about the treatment and views of slaves? Why might the families from Scotland be below deck too?

*On page 43, Becky complains about having to make tea. She even says that she could be tarred and feathered for making tea. Why is this? Why is she not allowed to make tea? Who would tar and feather her?

*Read the primary source on page 79. Talk about the importance of Abigail Adam’s idea. Compare what she is asking with the primary source on page 105. What is the situation for women at this time? (This is a great lead into the women’s movement.)

*Curzon and Isabel are talking about freedom on page 160-161. Isabel has suffered from a severe beating and branding by this point. She tells Curzon: “You are blind. They don’t want us free. They just want liberty for themselves.” Do you think this is true? Can you see examples of this in the novel? When is slavery abolished?

*Write a response to Isabel’s comment on page 182: “I was changed between two nations.”

*Write a diary entry as Isabel responding to Nathan Hale’s comment: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” (Isabel’s retelling is on page 197)

*There is a great appendix section in the back where the author answers several questions about her novel.

*There is also a discussion section in the back.

Elijah of Buxton

 

elijah

Grade Level: Fifth

I’ll be honest: I picked this book because it was historical fiction! I just can’t help myself. I am familiar with this author’s other works and I knew it would be quality.

Elijah is accused of being “fra-gile” by his friends and family. Growing up Buxton’s first freeborn child, he was allowed the luxury of a childhood. Unlike the adults in the settlement, most of the kids had never been a slave. Elijah spends his days attending school, playing with his best friend Cooter, helping out at the stables and helping Mr. Leroy. When he isn’t working or attending school, Elijah enjoys fishing with only Old Flapjack the mule for a companion.

The goal of the settlement is “One helping one to uplift all.” They do just that. The characters are so sweet and encouraging to one another. The only odd character of the group is the preacher. He is not the actual preacher of the settlement but he calls himself a preacher. He carries around a fancy pistol and a lot of odd stories.

About three-fourths of this book is back story and chronicles the daily adventures of Elijah. The real action starts when Elijah finds himself on the back of a horse headed for America. Elijah’s dear friend, Mr. Leroy spends everyday working to save enough money to buy his family out of slavery. Finally, he manages to save enough. He is planning on how to buy his family with Elijah’s father when the preacher appears and offers to take the money for Leroy to a little logging village an hour out of Detroit. Leroy is so excited about his family that he doesn’t heed Elijah’s father’s warning. The days that follow send Elijah on the grandest adventure of his life. He is forced to accompany Mr. Leroy to the small town outside Detroit to try and find out where the preacher is and what happened to his money. There, Elijah is confronted by the truths of slavery and goes from a “fra-gile” boy to a courageous young man.

The biggest caution in this book is the character of the preacher. It is clear from the beginning of the novel that he is not a very good person. He is a smooth talker and manipulator. Towards the end of the novel, Elijah does find the preacher near Detroit. He is dead. He was killed brutally by slave catchers. One of the slaves Elijah meets describes the scene: “I knowed when they brung him in here and bust his teeth out and split his tongue in two… I (Elijah speaking now) could see now it was ropes that were keeping the Preacher’s arms spread out to the sides. He was strunged up twixt two beams. Another rope was wrapped ‘round and ‘round his neck and was pinching his throat narrow and tight.” (Page 304-305)

Elijah nearly uses the N word, but catches himself. He receives QUITE the lesson from Mr. Leroy on pages 96-99. On the way to the lake, Elijah’s Ma and Mrs. Holton start discussing their lives as slaves. Ma quotes her mistress and uses the word “pickaninnies” (208).

The dialogue is also a little challenging but could make for a great read aloud.

This book is well researched and Christopher Paul Curtis does not sugar coat the evils of slavery. I think this book would be a great introduction to the topic of slavery and the underground railroad.

 

Lesson Ideas:

*There are several ideas/topics you could journal about.

-The Buxton creed is “One helping one to uplift all”. Write a journal entry explaining what that means and why a settlement of former slaves might make that their creed.

-Was it ok for the preacher to take a “tithe” from Elijah? What does that tell you about this character?

-In chapter 6, Elijah talks about learning a lesson in school versus learning a lesson in real life. Write a response to Elijah’s comment on page 92: “But classroom learning just don’t work the same as when something happens to you personal.”

-Write a response to Mr. Leroy’s lesson on page 99: “‘You thinks just ‘cause that word come out from twixt your black lips it mean anything different? You think it ain’t choke up with the same kind of hate and disrespect it has when they say it? You caint see it be even worst when you call it out?’” Why do you think this word upset Mr. Leroy so? Use text evidence.

-Write a journal entry as if you were Ma when she was a little girl. Talk about how you felt when you mom threatened to kill you if you didn’t try and run away next time you were close to Canada. (Page 210)

-Write a journal entry as Elijah and talk about your experiences in America. How did you feel when you met Chloe? Why did you go back to the stable? What do you think will happen now that you have Hope?

*There are several vocabulary words you could have your child look up, define, and draw a picture for each.

*Take a paragraph and correct the grammar.
*The author himself has a list of activities in the back of the book you could look into as well.

City of Orphans

City of Orphans

Grade Level: Third

“And that’s when the body on the ground jumps up.” That body belongs to Willa, resident of an alley off Chrystie street and wielder of a great stick. This moment begins a grand adventure for Willa and Maks.

Set in the 1890s New York, City of Orphans is a story about a newsie and a rag collector learning to be detectives. Maks stumbles upon Willa when running from a gang of boys bent on discouraging him from selling his papers. Owing Willa his life, Maks invites her home. His family immediately adopts her. There is more trouble though, Emma, Maks’ sister has been accused of stealing. She is put in jail and her family only has a week before her trial. Maks will elicit the help of Willa and a sickly detective to find the evidence to free Emma.

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This book is amazing! I read most of it in one sitting. There are a few things to be cautious of: the conflicts from the gang, the murder at the end, and the bouts of tuberculosis.

There are a few fights between the newsies and Bruno, the leader of the Plug Uglies. Bruno brags about beating up the boys. He even breaks someone’s arm. He threatens to soak the street in newsboy blood. There is a large fight between the Newsies and the Plug Uglies which results in a house burning down. The violence is minimal and not very descriptive.

The book ends with Bruno in a crazy fit of rage. He steals a man’s gun and proceeds to kill that man in the lobby of the Waldorf Hotel. Bruno is immediately killed by the hotel’s detective. The author makes note of the blood pooling on the ground but nothing more.

This is New York City in the 1890s. Disease ran rampant at this time. Maks’ sister is struggling with tuberculosis as is the detective who helps the kids. The Avi describes the blood spittle on handkerchiefs and the constant coughing. Willa also confesses that her mother died from the disease.

There is at least one time when the father uses the Lord’s name in vain. On page 43 papa cries, “Great God!”.

I cannot sing the praises of this book enough. I really enjoyed it and I believe that boys and girls will find it enjoyable!

 

Lesson Plans:

*Research NYC in the 1890s

-Types of people who lived there

-Buildings

-Kinds of jobs people had

-Lifestyles

-Different types of clothing

-Diseases (page 155)

* Research some of the important people mentioned: Teddy Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, Alan Pinkerton

*Research Ellis Island

*Child Labor/Labor Movement (TEKS 8.24B)

-Interesting to address the concept that factory owners and newspapers felt that all employees were replaceable.

* Write a journal entry as a parent answering: How do you decide which child to save?

* Keep a diary as Maks while you read the novel

*Discuss the growth in crime and the need for good detectives and police forces. (Could tie in with Alan Pinkerton)

A World Away

A World Away

 

Grade Level: Fifth (interest level High School)

 

A World Away is a coming of age novel about a young Amish woman experiencing her first taste of freedom. 16 year old Eliza is excited for her upcoming rumspringa. But to her disappointment she learns that her parents have no intention of letting her leave the district. They have decided that a job at a local inn and the chance to attend parties is all she will be able to do.

 

Eliza, understandably so, is very disappointed. She thought that, like her brother James, she would be allowed several weeks in a far off place. She shares this disappointment with her close friends, Kate and Annie. She also confesses her desire to be out of her world to her close guy friend, Daniel.

 

A stranger from out of town invites Eliza to stay with her as her nanny. Of course Eliza is thrilled at the prospect of moving close to Chicago, but is bitterly disappointed when her parents tell her no.

 

Continuing to feel restless, Eliza runs away from Sunday services. As she is walking home, Daniel picks her up in his buggy. He encourages her to find a way to go experience the world but also confesses his desire to court her. When her parents return home from service, they sit down with Eliza. For reasons unexplained to her, she is granted permission to live with Mrs. Aster near Chicago.

 

Ultimately, this book is about finding who you are and where you belong. The author does a great job developing rich friendships between the characters. However, there are several things that give me reason to pause.

 

The first is the love triangle between Eliza, Josh, and Daniel. While at home, Eliza is open with Daniel about her desire to go away and not court him just yet. Once at the Aster house, she develops a relationship with Josh. She clearly struggles with her feelings for both boys. But moves quickly with Josh.

 

Which brings me to my second concern, she develops a physical relationship with Josh. On page 208 Grossman writes, “It turned out he wanted to be in the car. He opened the back door with a sweep, and we climbed in, the quiet settling around us… He lay across the the backseat and pulled me down on top of him… He reached under my shirt, and I felt his fingertips on my skin and over my bra.” Eliza mentions later that if she and Josh were back home and courting they’d be allowed to “bundle”. When I first read this term, I thought about the scene from The Patriot where Heath Ledger is being sewn into a bundling bag. In this case, bundling refers to the ability to lay on your bed with your boyfriend, fully clothed, and cuddle with the bedroom door closed. Eliza also mentions being “skin to skin” with Josh and enjoying it.

 

My third concern is the coed sleepover. Technically, Eliza did not know that the boys would be staying over after the dance too. But once she found out, she stayed and participated in the drinking game. Eliza passes out on top of Josh on the couch. In the wee hours of the morning, Eliza wakes up and spends some time over the toilet. She then asks Josh to take her home. He makes it all the way into Rachel’s driveway before hitting anything.

 

Fourthly, there is a lot of unsupervised time between Josh and Eliza. He comes over to Rachel’s house while she and her husband are at work. Rachel is aware Josh is over.

 

The book does have some redeeming qualities, but overall I am not sure this book is for everyone. The text is written on a 5th grade level, but clearly the topic is for an older audience. Despite all of this, I still found myself wanting to know what happened to Eliza when she returned home!

 

Lesson Plan Ideas:

  1. Write a journal entry as if you were Eliza. Would you feel the need to run wild? Why or why not?

Saving Wonder

Saving Wonder

 

Grade Level: 5th

 

Mary Knight’s Saving Wonder is a tale about two young teens trying to save a coal company from destroying their mountain. The story on the surface is really a sweet concept. The idea that seventh graders would love something so much they would be willing to stand up and fight against a large company is really powerful.

 

This novel lends itself to a lot of really neat lesson ideas, but there are several areas I have concerns about. Early on, the main character, who is narrating the book, describes the serious losses he faced as a young boy. His father was killed in a coal mine accident and later, his mother and baby brother are caught in a sludge slide from the coal lake. Curley, the main character lives with his grandfather who is a loving and supportive man but states outright that he is not a “churchgoing man” but he does “believe in something”.

 

He and his best friend Jules spend a lot of time together. Curley deals with a lot of jealousy when Jules begins dating the new boy JD. The author writes that Jules tells people Curley is her boyfriend but “not like that”. I am not comfortable with the idea that she is so close to him and claims him as a boyfriend but then dates someone else. There is a moment when JD, Curley, and Jules are at JD’s house studying. JD’s dad comes into the room after to watch tv. Jules and JD go up to JD’s room alone and are there a long time before returning. JD’s dad didn’t seem at all suspicious or concerned that a girl just went up to his son’s room. Jules and Curley also spend a lot of time in their rooms together. (page 107-110)

 

There are also two instances where Curley has an outburst. On page 123, Curley stops in the middle of his presentation and asks “who cares?” His teacher asks for clarification and he continues to ask who cares if these animals are extinct? It seems a little immature. He also has an outburst towards his grandfather about Jules. He becomes very moody and talks back to his grandfather.

 

As the kids are preparing to create a video to save their mountain, JD’s father comes on the scene. Mr. Tiverton is the owner of the coal company that is trying to destroy the mountain. He literally manhandles his son. He grabs the camera from his hand and slams it against the tree. He then grabs his son by the collar and yells at him. (Page 174-177)

 

The other issue I have is when the children participate in a Cherokee ceremony where they pray to the tree the kids love so much. It is interesting to see a cultural event, but they are literally praying to the tree. They thank it for watching over them. They also offer it gifts of tobacco.

 

Towards the end of the novel, JD and Jules have broken up and now Jules is making her feelings for Curley known. They both sneak out of their houses late one evening and meet at their tree. They engage in a few moments of kissing and caressing. An excerpt from page 271 reads “There’s something about a yes that’s been a long time in coming. It falls all over itself to get where it wants to go. That’s what’s happening now, up here at the Church of Ol’ Charley. Instead of one kiss, like I’ve always pictured it, there are many. And not just on the lips, but all over her face.” The book ends with Curley tracing “the contours of her face in the moonlight…”

 

I hope this input will help you to decide if this book is right for you and your child. 

 

Lesson Plan Ideas:

  1. Have your child keep a personal dictionary. They can use words from the novel they do not know. Have them write the word & definition down, draw a picture, and write a sentence.
  2. They could create images to illustrate the words at the end of each chapter. (The grandfather gives Curley a new word to learn/use in each chapter.)
  3. Your child could do a geography lesson about the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky.
  4. Study the flora/fauna of Appalachian Mountains
  5. Discuss jealousy and the affect it has on people and their relationships.