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.

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.

The Hour of Peril

The Hour of Peril

Grade Level: Upper Middle/High School

 

“We never sleep” was the motto of the first private eye in the United States. Allan Pinkerton, an immigrant from Scotland, made a name for himself as Chicago’s best and only private eye. The Hour of Peril by Daniel Stashower follows the early years of Pinkerton and ultimately outlines how he came to Baltimore to uncover a plot to kill the newly elected President: Abraham Lincoln.

 

The book is divided into three parts. Part one does an outstanding job of describing the life of Allan Pinkerton. The reader is taken all the way to Scotland during a time of civil unrest and introduced to the fiercely passionate Allan. Stashower brings us into the story of a youngman caught up in the Chartist movement of his day. So much so, that he will become a fugitive and board a boat to America with his new wife.

 

Stashower gives the reader many details depicting the early life of Pinkerton in the United States. Using many of Allan Pinkerton’s own words, Stashower portrays the story of the unlikely detective.

 

The meat of the story really develops in part two. There, Stashower introduces the reader to the turmoils of America in the late 1850s. After Lincoln was elected president, there was an outcry from the Southern states, many of which seceded. Maryland is what we call a border state. It did not secede and housed both pro-slavery and anti-slavery sentiments. It is discovered that there is a plot to kill Lincoln to his way through Baltimore en route to DC. Allan Pinkerton is hired by a railroad owner to investigate these rumors and foil the plot to kill the president-elect.

 

Part three ultimately wraps up the plot and ends with the installation of Lincoln in the White House.

 

This book is well written and plays out like an old fashioned mystery. I was eager to continue reading to learn the details. Daniel Stashower moves back and forth between Pinkerton’s investigation in Baltimore and Lincoln’s travels to the capital. Because of the back and forth, the reader is constantly wondering if Pinkerton will foil the plot in time for Lincoln to safely pass through Baltimore on his way to the White House.

 

This book would be a great read if your child already has some basic understanding of the tension in the United States at this time. It is a rather lengthy book at 340 pages, but is well researched. The use of primary sources is outstanding and really allows the reader into the thoughts and feelings of all of those involved at the time. There are two specific instances to be aware of: on page 123 there is a description of one of the plotters spending time with a woman of ill repute. The gentlemen is said to have “hugged and kissed” this woman for over an hour. That is as far as the description of the scene goes. The other area to be aware of is the use of the word G–D— in the primary sources. These particular sources, found on page 83, are addressed to the president and written by southern sympathizers.  

 

Lesson Ideas:

 

  1. Draw Pinkerton & Lincoln’s heads and create a conversation between the two of them.
  2. OR create a text message conversation between Lincoln & Pinkerton. (Or any two characters)
  3. Since the book moves forward and back through time, creating a timeline might be really helpful. Timelines are a great way to practice chronology.
  4. Create biographies for some of the minor characters like Pinkerton’s detectives or Lincoln’s travel companions.
  5. Create a biography/backstory for the detective’s characters.
  6. Create a facebook or instagram for any of the characters in the book.

Wild Rose

Grade Level: Upper Middle School/High School

 

Wild Rose is a detailed account of Rose Greenhow’s espionage on behalf of the Confederacy. Ann Blackman does a superb job detailing the life of Rose. Using excerpts from letters and diary entries by Rose herself, Blackman pieces together the life of this unlikely spy.

 

After the death of her father, Rose is sent, along with one of her sisters, to live with an aunt in Washington, DC. There she is introduced to society and sophistication. Never one to bend to others, Rose spoke openly about her support of the south and her love for the Confederacy. Through a series of connections, Rose is able to send word of Union movements to southern officials. Her outspokenness for the southern cause and her fraternization with union officials, eventually lands her in prison.

 

This book, while heavily supported by Rose’s own words, reads more like a novel than a scholarly work. As a history teacher, I loved that Blackman set the stage for the Civil War by mentioning all the events of the 1850s and how they connected to Rose. The connection between Rose and many key players for both sides of the war is fascinating. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the role of women in the Civil War.
My one word of caution is this: she was a southern sympathizer. The reader must understand that this book will point out Rose’s views and beliefs about slavery and the Confederacy. Blackman does a great job of presenting Rose’s point of view without belittling any one group of people. Rose is also thought to have had intimate relations with multiple men in order to receive important information. Blackman only mentions this to educate the reader on how Rose knew so much. She does make a point to mention that there is no evidence to support these claims. Only Rose will ever know what truly happened in her personal space.

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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