The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen is every Jane Austen fans fantasy. To be the one who discovers a lost manuscript of THE Jane Austen! Could there be anything better??

Syrie James writes a wonderful What If? Novel. Samantha is no stranger to England as she started her Ph.D. studies there. While visiting with her boyfriend, she uncovers a clue that leads her to believe there is another Jane Austen work yet discovered. Samantha soon finds herself on a quest to find this missing manuscript. She attempts to get a hold of her old advisor but is unsuccessful. Eventually, she follows the clue to an estate in Greenbriar. There she meets the owner’s son, Anthony. Together they search the house in hopes of finding the missing novel.

After hours of searching, they discover the manuscript locked away. They come to the realization that it was not LOST but STOLEN by the original owner of the house. Eager to read the never before published story, Samantha and Anthony stay up all night taking turns reading. Samantha could never have predicted just where this new discovery would take her.

The novel is back and forth between Samantha & Anthony and the Stanhope Family of Jane Austen’s novel. Ms. James’ readers will find it easy to follow both stories. And might find themselves, as I did, wishing it really were a Jane Austen novel.

Syrie James did a wonderful job maintaining the Austenian way of writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. Overall, I believe the reader will be satisfied with both the ending of The Stanhopes and the ending of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen.

A few cautions: Samantha puts herself in a few situations that are not wise for a woman in a serious relationship. It is clear that she is attracted to Anthony and she admits to wanting to kiss him. Amelia Davenport (a character in the missing novel) is very selfish and conniving. You could see through it pretty early on.
Overall, however, I found this a quite enjoyable fiction read.

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

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.

Explore Barnes & Noble’s Coupons & Deals! Shop BN.com

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.