Tag Archive for read aloud

Seeing Red

Written by Kathryn Erskine

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After his father dies, Red, a twelve-year-old boy is tries to find a way to get his mother to let the family stay in Stony Gap and run his father’s auto shop. Of course, his motivation goes beyond the business itself. This is the only place Red has ever known and all of his friends are here, as is his great grandfather’s desk with his very own name carved on it.

Woven throughout this coming-of-age story is the story of America’s coming of age through civil rights. Red becomes embroiled with the wrong gang and finds himself stuck gagged and bound watching his friend of a different race beaten and nearly lynched. Red cannot believe that the separation between the races is still a problem in the 70’s.

He learns a lot about himself, his family and his country while learning to become his own man. Book clubs, fifth grade reading classes and older classes studying the Civil Right movements will find this a spellbinding read.

Teachers and librarians, as well as parents, can use this as an excellent read aloud to lead to discussions about tracing family trees and maybe not liking everything found in that past. Ideas like courage, truthfulness, honor and knowledge will be topics of conversation involving this story, individual families and contemporary life. Readers might give thought to what they would be willing to do in standing up for friends and/or strangers of other races.

Literacy skills strengthened throughout this text include, but are not limited to: inferential details, comprehension, main idea, supporting details, plot development, character development, dialogue and setting.

This book could also be used successfully for a readers’ theater by appointing a different reader for each speaking part within a chapter.

  • Seeing RedTitle: Seeing Red
  • Author: Kathryn Erskine
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 344 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-46440-6
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

The Other Side of Free

Written by Krista Russell

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The year is 1739, the location northern Florida near the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. Thirteen- year-old fugitive slave Jem has just arrived from Charles Town in the Carolinas with Phaedra, a feisty black runaway woman, who has been “paid” by Jem’s caregiver, conjure woman Aunt Winnie, to escort Jem to Florida and look after him.
Why would Jem and Phaedra want to go to Florida?  Florida was controlled by the Spanish government. Spain had offered freedom to English colonial slaves if they fled the British colonies, swore to assist the Spanish in defeating the British, and converted to Catholicism. A group of fugitives lived at Fort Mose, just outside the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. About the same time, a slave uprising occurred along the Stono River near the Florida-Georgia border. The British colonists slaughtered or sold many rebels.

Krista Russell, according to her website, writes “stories of adventure that bring history to life.” She has succeeded in this case. Once Jem and Phaedra arrive at Fort Mose, the adventures begin: rescuing an owl, meeting the trader Reynard, learning to fish and hunt the Indian way from Domingo, arrival of other fugitives, encounters in the forest, threats from the British, scarce supplies, preparing for battle, and the battle.
The story line drags a bit at the beginning, but reaches a flashpoint and firepower speed when Jem spies several British soldiers, and British ships blockade the St. Augustine harbor. All the fugitives gather in the Castillo for safety, but supplies are low. Jem learns about what the British have done to Fort Mose. Consequently, the Spanish authorities develop a plan to defeat the British soldiers at Fort Mose based on Jem’s reports.

The characters are many and diverse, each having his own story to enrich the general narrative. Jem is an immature and naïve thirteen, resentful of strong willed Phaedra and missing Aunt Winnie. Jem’s and Phaedra’s strong stubborn wills clash. Phaedra’s history remains a mystery until the final chapters. Reynard, the trader, adds the historical details about the importance of trading with the Indians and the British and American colonists, not only providing goods but also news. Big Sunday is the leader of the slaves and connection to the Native Americans via his son Domingo and connection to the Spanish governor and general who live in St. Augustine. General Rooster is what the slaves have nicknamed General Rojas who trains the fugitives to help fight off the British. Shadrack is the old conjure man who is the fort charcoal maker.

Interspersed throughout is the owl, Omen, that Jem rescues from his nest when he observes crows attacking the owlet. Phaedra dislikes and resents the owlet and the time Jem  spends feeding it, mending it, teaching it how to fly, and, finally, hunting for itself. However, Omen teaches Jem about the forest and the ways of the forest that help Jem provide information during the siege

Several strands of the narrative seem extraneous.  While Jem thinks about his Aunt Winnie, he remembers her stories, the stories of trickster Brer Rabbit and tells them to Omen. General Rojas propositions Phaedra, who rebuffs him. Why is that short episode needed in a story for middle grade readers?  Could other descriptions, examples, information have been used to establish the personalities of Rojas and Phaedra? Neither does the element of conjuring, while providing additional richness to the African-American culture, seem to be necessary to the forward movement of the general thesis.

Few books have been written for upper elementary/middle school readers about this period and location in America history. Most emphasis has been on the British colonies and the use of slaves on the southern plantations. Historians now consider the Fort Mose site and the flight of the slaves from the Carolinas and Georgia as the precursor of the Underground Railroad that took many slaves to safety in the north or to Canada. Russell’s previous book Chasing the Nightbird was a NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People in 2012; Other Side of Free will probably also be included in that honor listing.

Extras: Author website kristarussell.com
Fort Mose Historic State Park: www.floridastateparks.org/fortmose
Castillo De San Marcos:  www.nps.gov/casa/index.htm;
Stono River Slave Rebellion Site: www.discoversouthcarolina.com/products/3566.aspx

  • Other Side of FreeTitle: The Other Side of Free
  • Author: Krista Russell
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2013
  • Reviewer: Marion Mueller
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-710-6
  • Reading level: 4.9

Navigating Early

Written by Clare Vanderpool

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When Jackie’s mother dies unexpectedly, the father he barely knows comes from active Navy duty to take him from Kansas to a boarding school in Maine. Not surprisingly, he has a difficult time adjusting and befriends a most unlikely student. They both have the pain of loss in their backgrounds and the love of adventure in their veins.

This Newberry winning author of Moon Over Manifest, has put together another exciting adventure that fifth grade readers as well as sixth and seventh grade readers will enjoy whether they are male or female.

She uses the boys’ knowledge of the outdoors and particularly of the stars to guide them along their way. While one boy shows signs of being autistic, it is an underlying awareness that comes to the reader, and not an, in your face description. He sees things differently, but he is still understandable to the others around him once they stop and consider what he is saying. It provides a good lesson for us all to stop and seriously consider what people are actually saying when they are talking to us.

Literacy skills enhanced by this book include: comprehension, cause and effect, setting, character development and plot. As a read aloud, it could be effective when studying about autism, the outdoors, dealing with death and separating fact from fiction.

Even though this is a fiction book, Clare has done a great deal of research to make sure the setting, and time period are correct. It is told with a great deal of action and excitement that are sure to keep the reader turning pages late into the night.

  • Navigating EarlyTitle: Navigating Early
  • Author: Clare Vanderpool
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 300 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-385-74209-2
  • Genre: Fiction, Adventure
  • Lexile: 790

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

Written by Steve Sheinkin

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This true crime thriller will amaze fifth grade readers interested in American history. It tells about the conspirators as they plan how to steal Lincoln’s body out from under the Lincoln monument in Springfield, Illinois, as well as when and why they would even try such a thing.

On the other side of the story are the Secret Service agents following their trail but wanting to catch them in the act rather than just prevent the theft. They have placed an undercover double agent in the middle of the works that causes the tension to rise as readers expect him to get caught many different times.

These are the very earliest days of the Secret Service and readers will be interested to read how much of their decision making in catching criminals was left up to each individual detective.

Beside the main crime at hand, these conspirators are also involved with counterfeiting plates of American currency. When one of their main leaders gets sent to prison the rest first try to think of a way to get him out; then devise a plan for keeping up the counterfeiting ring without him.

As a diversion, they plan the theft for election night of 1876 to be sure all the neighbors are off the roads and in town.

Several different literacy skills can be strengthened by use of this book including, reading for details, sequencing, comprehension, vocabulary, context clues, plot and cause and effect.

Boys and girls in the third grade and beyond would benefit from having this book read aloud or assigned in a book club setting where it can be discussed and enjoyed with others.

The story is smoothly written and moves the plot along at a brisk pace keeping young readers interested. It contains several photographs from the time as well as diagrams of the Lincoln Monument and maps of the surrounding grounds to help readers get drawn into the tale.

Author information: This book is written by the same author that wrote the nonfiction Newberry Honor Book, BOMB. BOMB also received the 2013 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal.  http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/sibertmedal

Extras: Glossary, Source Notes, Index, Authenic Photos from the Library of Congress and the Lincoln Monument Site, maps of the site and diagrams of the Lincoln Monument in Springfield, Illinois.

  • Grave RobbersTitle: Lincoln’s Grave Robbers
  • Author:  Steve Sheinkin
  • Publisher: Scholastic, NY, January 1, 2013.
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover/ 207 p
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-40572-0
  • Genre: American History 1875, true crime thriller
  • Lexile: 930


Falcon in the Glass

Written by: Susan Fletcher

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Renzo is an apprentice learning to blow glass and earn his own place among the best glass makers in mediaeval Venice. But he only has two weeks to prove that he can do all of the required steps or be left as a drudge waiting on others in the shop for the rest of his life. What he doesn’t know is that there are things, and people more important than blowing glass into a beautiful goblet or bowl. While trying to save himself and his family, he must decide whether or  to save others. His understanding of the problem will make readers ask if they would take such chances for strangers.

Fifth grade readers will enjoy this look into the dark and mysterious canals of Venice. They will also be enthralled by the early process for making glass and the hard work and extreme heat required.

The story shows what happened to people who lived on the fringes of society at that time. It is a most sobering look at how orphans were left to fend for themselves as outcasts in an earlier time.

The dialogue and action make the story fast paced and engaging for grade 5 readers, as well as those younger and older. For classroom or home use, this book makes a fantastic read aloud option for children from grades 3 – 9.

Extras: End pages give information for readers wanting more information about blowing glass, old Venice during the Renaissance or the annual Carnivale that continues even today. Readers can also meet the author and get more extras by going to: KIDS.SimonandSchuster.com

  • Falcon in the GlassTITLE: Falcon in the Glass
  • AUTHOR: Susan Fletcher
  • PUBLISHER: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Elizabeth Swartz
  • FORMAT: Hardcover/300p
  • ISBN:  978-1-4424-2990-1
  • GENRE: Historical Fiction
  • LEXILE: 660