It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading: October 21, 2013

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts

I had the good fortune be in the audience when  Seymour Simon gave a keynote address at a TCRWP Summer Institute some years back, and have been a huge fan ever since.  More importantly, my students are huge fans, too – Simon’s books and his blog are staples in our nonfiction units of study. His books are engagingly written, beautifully organized, and lushly illustrated with gorgeous, informative photographs.  Coral Reefs was just acquired by our local library, and I knew I was in for a Seymour Simon treat the moment I saw it.  

Simon has a way of embedding information in well written, descriptive sentences.  His texts are models for both the teaching of reading nonfiction as well as writing nonfiction, and Coral Reefs  will join our library ready to wear both hats.  

Free Boy: A True Story of Slave and Master by Lorraine McConaghy and Judy Bently is a fascinating and unusual book.  Here is the jacket copy, which provides an outline of its contents:

Free Boy is the story of a 13-year-old slave who escaped from Washington Territory to freedom in Canada on the West’s underground railroad. 

When James Tilton came to Washington Territory as surveyor-general in the 1850s he brought with his household young Charles Mitchell, a slave he had likely received as a wedding gift from a Maryland cousin. The story of Charlie’s escape in 1860 on a steamer bound for Victoria and the help he received from free blacks reveals how national issues on the eve of the Civil War were also being played out in the West. 

Written with young adults in mind, the authors provide the historical context to understand the lives of both Mitchell and Tilton and the time in which the events took place. The biography explores issues of race, slavery, treason, and secession in Washington Territory, making it both a valuable resource for teachers and a fascinating story for readers of all ages. 

Lorraine McConaghy is a public historian at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle and the author of Warship under Sail. Judy Bentley teaches at South Seattle Community College and is the author of Hiking Washington’s History, along with fourteen books for young adults.

The book alternates between historical narrative and imagined scenes in which Charlie and James Tilton interact with a variety of people; each of these imagined scenes provides a glimpse into the complicated and conflicting sentiments of the time about race and slavery.  Free Boy is set in such a significant time period: Westward expansion, Native American displacement and warfare, the role of slavery on the eve of , during, and after the Civil War, and the absolute sundering of family bonds between slaves and their families by owners who had complete power, are just some of the connecting and intersecting themes in this book.  
I could see using this as a teaching resource during our units on slavery and the Civil War.  The imagined passages could be used to chalk talk, with students reacting and sharing their thoughts about situations both Tilton and Charlie found themselves in.   The rest of the book provides important information about this time period which could be shared through mini lectures and through reading excerpts.  
Here is a wonderful  interview with one of the authors:

10 thoughts on “It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading: October 21, 2013

  1. We have more than one of Seymour Simon's books-great for research, for sure, but I too didn't realize his website was useful too. I'll share it with others. And the book Free Boy sounds great, Tara. Thanks for the review!

  2. Any of Seymour Simon's book are great. Students have such a natural curiosity about books that deal with slavery and the underground railroad. I have not seen this book. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. The historical narrative tied to imagined scenes in between the two in Free Boy sounds interesting. And, of course, I love that you heard Seymour Simon speak — it always adds so much to the appreciation of an author's book(s), doesn't it?

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