SOLSC: March 14, 2016 & #IMWAYR:”Blue Birds” by Caroline Starr Rose

 

The politics of this year’s election have seeped into our classroom, and there are fierce feelings on all sides.  Since I teach history (the end of the American Revolution to the end of the Civil War), current events are very much part of what moves our daily conversation as we ask: how do past events influence and foreshadow today’s events? Always, we try to focus on civil discourse: we can voice and explore our differences, we believe, without (in sixth grade parlance) “hating on each other”.  I am proud of my students, because they work so hard to live up to this.

This year, as we begin our unit on historical fiction, I feel it’s more important than ever to present my students with books that illustrate the belief that people can come from very different backgrounds and perspectives and still discover their common humanity.  And so it was with particular pleasure that I read Caroline Starr Rose’s Blue Birds, the historical basis of which  is the Lost Colony of Roanoake – the first English settlement in Virginia, whose people  vanished mysteriously and without a trace.

BlueBirds

Here is a synopsis, from the author’s own website:

It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.

Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.

Kimi and Alis make the journey from suspicion to curiosity to engagement and friendship in this  beautifully written novel in verse.   The alternating voices of each girl are exquisitely crafted to give the reader a sense of their individuality: Kimi, a proud Roanoake Indian who fears for her nation, and Alis, who sees that the ways of her English people are at odds with the land they mean to settle.  Though every secret meeting is fraught with danger, the two girls are drawn together by all they hold in common: brave spirits, knowledge of loss, and a deep sense of connection to:

…land heavy with trees,

thick with darkness.

The mysterious island,

Roanoake.

Even as the adults on both sides fall into enmity, suspicion, and murder, Kimi and Alis forge a powerful bond of friendship and trust.  This is what I found so moving and uplifting about this story – that these children find a way to reach across many barriers to discover all that connects us as one people:

IMG_4185

I was sad to come to the last page of Blue Birds, but I know that I will soon be immersed in it story once again as we read it together in our classroom.

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25 thoughts on “SOLSC: March 14, 2016 & #IMWAYR:”Blue Birds” by Caroline Starr Rose

  1. This seems the perfect book for your students, right now. I feel like so many verse novels are visual feasts. I’m wondering how you will read this aloud. I usually show a good number of pages in this kind of book. Do you?

  2. Walking that political line can be tricky, but it is so much easier when a book comes along and teaches lessons of humanity. Love that it is in verse.

  3. Millions of adults have a thing or two to learn from your students about tolerance and respect for difference. You are shaping a future generation to engage in the political process the way the process was intended – multiple perspectives coming to consensus about what is best for most. And yes, without hating on each other.

  4. This sounds so wonderful. I love historical fiction and I do not know much about this time and place. Love how you wove what’s happening now politically in with your post.

  5. I have the book, & still need to read. Now you’ve made me want to start it soon. I’m so glad you teach your students how to voice their different views with respect, Tara, & don’t shy away from the controversy. It must be very different this year compared to other ones.

  6. I have a special place in my heart for this book. Not only are Kimi and Alis special, but so is Caroline Starr Rose herself. I hope your students love it, too.

  7. I’m not familiar with this book; but I plan to get my hands on it soon! I have always been fascinated by the haunting story of the lost colony. Thanks for sharing this title with us.

  8. I won a signed copy of this book last Valentine’s Day in the Middle Grade Authors Love Teachers Giveaway, and I still have not read it. Maybe I need to move it up a little in my pile-stack-shelf!

  9. Love Leigh Anne’s reference to the pile-stack-shelf. I have one of those, too. And I never get to the bottom. Interesting that both you and Linda reviewed books today by Caroline Starr Rose. I haven’t read either book, but as soon as I finish commenting, it’s back to Pax for me!

  10. Reading this I can’t help but think about how much I love novels w/ multiple points of view. I can’t help but wander what a novel in verse from the various candidates’ points of view would look like. And even though I teach seniors primarily, I think I’ll order “Blue Birds.”

  11. I hadn’t read this book before. It sounds wonderful and incredibly timely as we see so much divisive language and behavior with people who are “others”. Thanks for a new title on my TBR, Tara!

  12. Your post today made me miss teaching my fifth graders. I had a small group of 5 female ESL students. We spent much of the year reading about people like Malala who were making a difference in the world. I was thrilled to be the person who introduced them to her and hoped the memories would last forever. You sound like a very thoughtful teacher. Your students are lucky to have you.

  13. Emotions can run so high when talking about history or politics, and it can be hard for children (and adults!) to not take differences of opinion as a personal attack or challenge. It’s wonderful that your students have opportunities to discuss, to challenge and to learn from each other.

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