I have chatted with a few folks in the last week and they look at me oddly when I say I am going home to read. What are you reading they say? Well, there are the daily newspapers on my I-pad, there are the blogs I follow (about reading or writing or gardens), and then there are the books.
It is Monday and I am sitting with a pile of books – hardcover books and e-books. The fall reading is upon us – don’t they know!!? And personally I can’t keep up. Why are they not reading?
For me there is the reading that go’s with my writing, the research needed for my story (Counting by Sevens and Henry Mitchell on Gardening this week). There is the reading for my adult book group (Boys in the Boat). There is reading for my children’s book group (Enchanted Air). There is reading because the awards are just not that far way and there is reading just because. So much reading!
This week I finished Took by Mary Downing Hahn. (release September 15th) When I was teaching we read many of her books in the fall since they fit in well with the scary times of Halloween – they are ghost stories. Took follows the same scary tale formula. A nice family moves to a small town hoping to make ends meet financially. The kids being “city kids” struggle to fit in with the small town culture and the small town tales about witches and missing children. Especially children missing from the house they are now living in.
This books walks that fine line between what is real and what is magic. Are there really witches? Have children really been taken to be a slave of the local very old witch? And does Erica really hear voices and does her doll speak to her?
So much can be explained by stress, the wind and the over active imagination for children. But there are some things that can’t be explained and it becomes clear that Daniel is the only one in the family that sees something odd is happening.
Hahn writes her magic into thus tale just like her other stories. It is written for early middle grade students. It is scary without being gorse or violent. You need to think about what is going on. There are the children who bully Daniel and Erica because they are new and outsiders. There are the parents who are lost in their own issues of finding jobs and struggling with what they have lost in their lives. There is the old woods tales – “don’t go into the woods at night”.
This is a fun scary read (but not to scary) with lots to discuss for students. There are
- The issues the children face from bullies, from being new in a community
- What decision would you make if you were Daniel or Erica
- There are the brother sister relationship issues
- How do you get parents to listen to you when they are stressed or busy
- What makes this a good ghost story?
This week I also read Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko. ( released August 4th) I should have been reading other things but I have fallen for Gennifer’s books (The Al Capone Shines and Shoes series). I love her mix of history and fiction. The stories have humor but deals with issue that students can relate today. This story places us in San Francisco in the early 1900. She drops us right into the history of the city and gives a feisty female character as our lead in the story.
There are the rich and elite living in fine homes, the poor struggling to get along and the Chinese who are doing so much of the work around town but are clearly second-class citizens and not wanted. In this historical time we get to know a young girl, Elizabeth, who really does not want to follow the norms of young ladies of the period. She prefers to be riding horses, following her father, a doctor, as he tends to the poor and sick in town and helping out the cook, a Chinese man by the name of Jing. She is a girl always looking for adventure and ways to help.
This becomes risky when people become very sick and it is thought the plague might have traveled by ship to the city. There are those who are keeping it secret, those who blame it on the Chinese and are using it as a reason to burn them out of town.
This story reads quickly with lots of action and interesting details about the time and events of 1900. It would be a powerful read aloud for a classroom due to all the material for good discussions.
Some discussion topics might be
- Role of immunizations and health – the fear and use of them – then and now
- Family relations – living with Aunts and Uncles, sibling relations
- Elizabeth makes many choices through out the book – each of these come with risks. It would be interesting to see how students feel about her choices- would they make the same choice? This would be a great topic for students to write about – response to text.
- Gender roles now and in the 1900’s
- Racial relations – learning about other cultures and developing respect for others
- The does the newspaper or news present the truth – whose truth is it?
- Discuss the research needed for a historical fiction book
- Students might like to research an event in their own city and try their hand a writing historical fiction.
Choldenko provides a nice time line at the back of the book detailing the accurate dates of the events the San Francisco plague.
These books might not win the Newbery but I would definitely share them with students.