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.

Hattie Ever After

Hattie Ever After

 

Grade Level: Fourth

 

This book is wonderful! And I am not just saying that because the main character, Hattie, and I share the same birthday. Although, that is pretty awesome. This book is the epitome of what I was hoping to find and share with people. I will admit, I did not pay attention to the top of the cover which lets the reader know this is the sequel to another book. But you need not have read Hattie Big Sky to enjoy Hattie Ever After.

 

In Hattie Ever After, Kirby Larson gives us a strong, independent female lead. She not only tries new things, but she leans on the Lord for strength and comfort. Hattie receives an opportunity to travel to San Francisco as a wardrobe mistress for a travelling vaudeville group. Her biggest doubt: moving farther away from her love, Charlie. Hattie realizes that at the ripe age of 17, she still has a lot to find out for herself before settling down. I should add that this novel is set in 1919.

 

Hattie’s true desire is to be a newspaper reporter. She finds such an opportunity in San Francisco. This book is full of loving and encouraging characters. Hattie makes fast friends with Maude, Bernice, and Spot. Not to mention several newspaper reporters. All the characters in the book give Hattie love and support and push her to be bold in going after her dream.

 

While she is working on her newspaper career, she is researching about her Uncle Chester and why he left San Francisco for Montana. She will discover that her friend Ruby is not her friend at all but instead a confidence woman who pulled off a few cons with Hattie’s Uncle. Ruby manages to manipulate Hattie out of some of her hard earned money. Hattie’s friend, Ned, also hurts her in that he steals her story idea out of jealousy. Hattie handles both situations with maturity and wisdom. She never speaks ill of those who hurt her.

 

She does find herself in a bit of a love triangle unbeknownst to her. Even though she moved to California, she still holds Charlie dear to her heart. She never says or does anything that might lead him on. While in San Francisco, Ned develops feelings for her, but I believe that Hattie doesn’t really realize that until later in the novel. She does kiss Charlie before leaving for California and she also receives a kiss from Ned later in the novel. He does make the following comment to Hattie after driving her home from work late one night: “As much as I would love to take you home with me, I think you’d best get out.” Overall, I believe Hattie handles these relationships well and is very upfront with both gentlemen.

 

Hattie prays throughout the novel and even quotes scripture. She is sweet and caring to all who extend a hand of friendship. She will have to work through her feelings for Charlie and her desire to be a reporter. She does decide which is more important by the end of the novel.

 

Lesson Plan Ideas:

  1. There are a lot of large vocabulary words in this novel. It might be good to front load those words. You can download my list of difficult words from teachers pay teachers for FREE! 
  2. Your child could take on the roll of a reporter and ask family members questions about their childhood. If their grandparents are still living, that would be a great place to start. I loved all the stories I hear from my grandparents about their childhood. They could even mail their newspaper to other members in the family.
  3. Vaudeville is discussed in the novel. Your child could research vaudeville and perhaps create their own show with friends or siblings.
  4. Write a letter to a dear friend encouraging them.
  5. Discuss/journal about the downfalls of pride. Include verses from Proverbs.
  6. Write a response to Hattie’s quote on page 19: “‘Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been.’”

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer

Chasing Lincoln's Killer

 

Grade Level: Seventh Grade

 

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer was an amazing read! The author, James L. Swanson, is incredibly educated about the assassination of Lincoln. The historical information presented in this book is outstanding.

 

As I read through this book, my heart would beat faster as Swanson described the chase for John Wilkes Booth. The description of the plot to assassinate Lincoln was well laid out. The description of the days later were intense. I did not know about the near misses in arresting Booth. He manages to escape from the calvary multiple times.

 

There are several things to be aware of in this novel. Mostly, the descriptions of the murder of Lincoln and the attacks on the other governmental official. On page 41, the author writes, “The ball ripped through his chestnut-colored hair, cut the skin, penetrated the skull, and because of the angle of Lincoln’s head at the moments of impacts, made a diagonal tunnel through Lincoln’s brain. The wet brain matter slowed the ball’s speed…” Later he mentions Dr. Leale’s attempt to relieve pressure on the brain. In both instances, the author states that the doctor uses his finger to remove the blot clot from the bullet wound. In one description he mentions “Fresh blood and brain matter oozed through Leale’s fingers.” (page 77)

 

Chapter III presents a vivid description of the attack on Secretary of State Seward. The author describes how Powell attacked multiple people in the house that night in attempt to get to Seward. These attacks include pistol whipping Seward’s son Frederick. Powell engages in hand-to-hand fighting with a veteran and guard of Seward. He also attacks Seward’s daughter Fanny. Swanson writes, “The blade slashed open Seward’s cheek so viciously that the skin hung from a flap, exposing his teeth and fractured jawbone.” Later on page 169, there is a picture of Seward showing the scar he received from the attack.

 

Most of the book focuses on the chase for Booth. Swanson lays out the route Booth took after shooting Lincoln. He lists the people who assisted him on his way south. In one instance, Booth hires an African-American to help him. Personally, I found this interesting seeing as Booth was a very proud confederate and pro-slavery.

 

In the epilogue, Swanson mentions the fate of those charged with the assassination of Lincoln, Seward, and Vice President Johnson. One of those was Mary Surat. She was the first woman hanged by the US Government. Swanson uses pictures from newspapers from the time throughout his book. A word of warning: the image of the hanging of the four members of Booth’s plot is in the epilogue. Swanson also tells his readers that the man in the booth with Lincoln goes crazy and kills his wife.

 

Overall, this book was an amazing read. The information is strongly supported by historical sources and much research on the part of the author. If your child is interested in Lincoln, then this book is a must read.

 

Lesson Plan Ideas:

  1. Your child could do a science experiment over coagulation.
  2. Use the map on page 62 to practice directions. They could plan an alternate route for Booth to take from Ford’s Theatre.
  3. Create a timeline over the events of the two week search. TEKS 8.1A talks about using chronology and identifying important eras and dates in history.
  4. Kids can create a newspaper article over the assassination of Lincoln or even the capture and death of Booth.
  5. Write a diary entry as one of the characters.
  6. Create a witness statement.
  7. Created a wanted sign for Booth and the men in his group.

Lincoln’s Spymaster

Lincoln's Spymaster

 

Grade Level: 7th Grade

Lincoln’s Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America’s First Private Eye by Samantha Seiple is an engaging read. Similar to that of The Hour of Peril, Lincoln’s Spymaster focuses on the detective agency started by Allan Pinkerton. This book starts a few days before the plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way to the White House. Seiple uses this plot as an introduction to Pinkerton’s skills. She continues on through Pinkerton’s career discussing his involvement with Union General George McClellan as well as his experiences fighting the Reno Brothers’ Gang and the James-Younger Gang.

Seiple does a great job of introducing vocabulary to the reader. She presents the facts in short spurts that are easily digested and followed by the reader. She keeps the story short and sweet outlining all of Pinkerton’s cases.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. One, she uses a lot of pictures. It is always fun to see pictures of the people being discussed in the book. The images used give the reader a chance to better visualize this time in history. One particular image on page 166 shows the Younger brothers. I found it fascinating because they do not look like what one might think outlaws would look like. The author also mentions that they came from a wealthy family. I found this interesting. I thought both the picture and that particular fact opened up the possibilities of conversation with kids. You could talk about how we cannot always tell things about people by their outsides. It also lent itself to a conversation about greed.

Two, this book lends itself to Civil War research. It talks about the Battle of Ft. Sumter ( page 53), the Battle of Antietam (page 112) and Bleeding Kansas (page 154). All three of these events are listed in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) under 8.8B. Seiple does a great job of introducing these events and the role the difference characters in the book played in them.

Three, this book is a great introduction to Wild Rose and The Hour of Peril. All three of these books are set during the mid to late 1800s. Many of the characters are seen in all three of these novels. I think this would be a great book to start with and if your child shows continued interest in Pinkerton or the issues surrounding the Civil War, they could look into the other two books.

Part I of the book is really child friendly. Part II is a little more violent. The second part of the book focuses on Pinkerton’s hunt of outlaws. This particular topic lends itself to a little more violence. On pages 140 & 147, Seiple describes the hanging of a group of outlaws. These lynchings are at the hands of a vigilante mob. For example, at the bottom of page 139 and continuing on page 140 she writes, “The nooses were tightened around each one of their necks. The barrels they were standing on were kicked away. Instantly, they were hanging by their necks, their bodies flailing until finally limp.” The scene on 147 is a little more graphic because she describes the assault on the sheriff before the mob kidnaps the robbers and hangs them. Chapters 13 and 14 also contain graphic information. Several Pinkerton guards are killed while investigating the James-Younger Gang. An example of one of the deaths described can be found on page 171: “There was a dead man lying in the road. His hands and feet were tied. The dead man’s body was shot all to pieces.”

I really enjoyed this book. It was very interesting to think about the issues West of the Mississippi in the late 19th century. While the level of this book is 7th grade, I encourage you to think about the maturity of your child. I do believe this book opens up discussion about the development of the US. Many people don’t think about the development of law enforcement. It’s hard to imagine a time where people really believed in an “eye for an eye”. Outlaws and vigilante forces are a fact in American History and should not be overlooked, but this book may not be the best choice for your child depending on their age or maturity.

 

Lesson Plan Ideas:

*Read all of Lincoln’s Inaugural Address and summarize his thoughts on secession.

*Read Jefferson Davis’ Inaugural Address and fill out a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting his thoughts on the Union and secession with Lincoln’s. (This is TEKS 8.8C)

*List and define all vocabulary mentioned in the book.

*Create a wanted poster for a member of one of the gangs.

*Write an obituary for Pinkerton.

Flygirl

Flygirl

Grade Level: 4th

 

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith was a very delightful read. It not only discussed events of WWII, but it zeroed in on the sacrifices made by women.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It was empowering to read about the role of women in WWII. This book opens a discussion on gender, race, and religious issues. The main character, Ida Mae, is a fair skinned African-American woman living in Louisiana. She was taught to fly a small crop duster by her father but was unable to get her pilot’s license because of her color. Upon hearing of the WASP recruitment, she decides to use her fair complexion to get into the program.

This book does show readers the challenges faced by African-Americans in the 1940s as well as the challenges all women faced. The male characters in the book make snide comments about the ability of women to fly planes. There is even some ribbing between the women in regards to one girl being Jewish. On page 76, one of the characters says: “‘Carnies and hicks and Jews, oh my!”’

Because of the racial slanders, general belittling of women, and religious slurs, I would highly encourage parents to read this book before their child to get a better sense of the content and then decide if their child is mature enough to handle it. One of the friends of Ida Mae is very flirty and boy crazy. The author does a good job of making her comments nothing too risque. For example, on page 26 Jolene says, “… but I’ll be alive and looking good when those boys come home again. Remind them of what they’ve been fighting for.” There are also a few times where the girls visit local bars.

This book does lend itself to a whole lot of research potential. Your child can look into the planes mentioned, the WASP program, roles of Russian women in their military, and the roles of minorities in the army.

 

Overall, I believe that Flygirl is a worth-while read and would pair nicely with any nonfiction reading or research your child is doing over WWII. I think it would make a great book for a discussion group.
*All opinions and thoughts in this blog belong to the blogger and are not affiliated with the author.

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