It’s Monday, and Here’s What I’m Reading: February 24th., 2014

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! 
is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts
Water Street is part of Patricia Reilly Giff’s trilogy – Nory Ryan’s story which begins in Ireland during the Potato Famine with Nory Ryan’s Song, continues with Nory’s journey across the ocean to New York with Maggie’s Door, and ends with the story of Nory’s daughter Birdy, with Water Street.   The first two books have long been part of my classroom library, and hey are selections for our historical fiction book clubs, but I’d never gotten around to reading Water Street, for some reason, until last week … and I loved it.
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Here’s the summary from the hardcover copy:
Brooklyn, 1875: Bird Mallon lives on Water Street where you can see the huge towers of the bridge to Manhattan being built. Bird wants nothing more in life than to be brave enough to be a healer, like her mother, Nory, to help her sister Annie find love, and to convince her brother, Hughie, to stop fighting for money with his street gang. And of course, she wishes that a girl would move into the empty apartment upstairs so that she can have a new friend close by. 

But Thomas Neary and his Pop move in upstairs. Thomas who writes about his life in his journal–his father who spends each night at the Tavern down the street, the mother he wishes he had, and the Mallon family downstairs that he desperately wants to be a part of. Thomas, who has a secret that only Bird suspects, and who turns out to be the best friend Bird could ever have.

Giff uses the same dual perspective as in Maggie’s Door, alternating the stories of Birdy and Thomas as they experience hardscrabble immigrant life in Brooklyn.  The sights and sounds of New York are brought vividly to life in this lovely story of family love, survival, and grit.
I’ve been reading many wonderful reviews of Elizabeth Atkinson’s I, Emma Freke, and I was not disappointed.
i emma freke
Emma Freke (“Like, if you say it slowly, Am a Freak”), feels very much a freak – she doesn’t look like anyone in her family (which is just her wacky mom and her grandpa , and doesn’t feel she belongs anywhere.  Only  her best friend Penelope seems to “get” Emma, and what kind of sixth grader has a second grader as a best friend?  Just when Emma is getting ready to face a long, dreary and lonely summer, an invitation arrives from her long lost father’s side of the family for a reunion in their home state of Wisconsin.
Emma hopes that she might finally find a place to belong, and at first, her Freke (pronounced  Freck, much to Emma’s delight) relatives prove to be just what she had always dreamed about.  But, every family has its issues, and Emma discovers that to be a Freke is to accept conformity and to never question the “family rules” – something she is simply not willing to do.
Although I found aspect of this story all too predictable, and the resolution just too pat, I grew fond of Emma as a character – she is clever, and full of a wry humor.  I liked the themes of finding oneself, needing to belong, friendship and honesty, and think that my sixth graders will, too.
Since we’re into our Westward Expansion unit, now, I’ve been on the hunt for research center books, and discovered the following:
 The Trail West: Exploring History Through Art is a wonderful book, which uses paintings of  that period to depict the stories of pioneer life, and Native American life.   I love using art and political cartoons in our Social Studies units, and this is exactly the sort of resource that gets our kids to look more closely, interpret visual clues, and analyze perspective – all important learning and thinking skills.
the trail west
Gold! Gold From The American River is Don Browns retelling of the discovery of gold in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains – it would make for a wonderful read aloud, with charming illustrations to bring alive the Gold Rush settings and cast of characters .   We also learn about the hardships  faced by the miners, the eventual collapse of the mining enterprise, and the rise of the city of San Francisco.
gold from the american river
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10 thoughts on “It’s Monday, and Here’s What I’m Reading: February 24th., 2014

  1. Sorry!… I hit “post comment” before I was finished! I love using picture books to support my content areas. One I use for the Gold Rush is called Gold Fever by Verla Kay. It has rhyming text but I love the detailed illustrations. Have a great week!

  2. Now that I read about I Emma Freak I am realizing that I have not seen my copy in some time now. Someone must have really liked it 🙂 I know many teachers that would like The Trail West. Thanks Tara!

  3. I love Don Brown, but I’d never seen Gold, Gold until now! I can see my students enjoying that as much as his other books we have. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. Hi there Tara. Emma Freke sounds like a perfect book for our next bimonthly theme as we talk about outliers, and we have it in our public library! Like Nicole, I am also a huge fan of Don Brown but haven’t seen Gold Gold yet! Thanks for highlighting it. Will be on the lookout for this one. 🙂 Enjoy your week, Tara!

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