It was a great reading week – of the four books in my reading pile, I managed to finish these three:
Set in the period directly after the Civil War, J. Anderson Coats’ The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming gives us a glimpse of life from a unique perspective: the women and children who had lost their menfolk in the war.
Jane Deming’s widowed father remarried a young woman before setting off with the Union Army. When he dies during the Seige of Vicksburg, Jane is left in the care of her rather harsh and controlling stepmother, and with the care of her baby brother, Jeremy. Other women left in such a position were heading out to Washington Territory, where rumor has it that there were many prosperous single men who had made their fortunes and were in need of wives. Mrs. D., as Jane refers to her, is convinced that this is her only option, and so they set sail hoping for their dreams to come true: a rich husband (Mrs. D’s) and the opportunity to go to school (Jane’s).
The real Washington Territory proves to be about as different from expectations as possible, and both Mrs. D. as well as Jane have to make adjustments and sacrifices along the way. Jane makes for a wonderful narrator – describing the perils of the journey West, and the rough and tumble life of all those who ventured into its wilderness in the hopes of building a new life far away from the crowded East coast cities and factory towns.
The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming is rich in historical detail and fascinating characters, it’s a thoroughly engaging story.
I read Caroline Starr Rose’s Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine in one sitting – I simply could not put down this rollicking adventure. Eleven year old Jasper is having a hard time dealing with his mostly drunk and always broke father, who seems to have lost his way after his wife’s death. Jasper is glad that he has Mel, his older brother, to keep him company in their common misery. Someday, both boys plan to run away together, perhaps to prospect gold up in the Klondike gold fields where men are rumored to be making huge fortunes.
When Mel takes off without him, Jasper is determined not only to find his brother, but to prove that if Mel has dreams of gold, he cannot realize them without his intrepid younger brother. Finding Mel proves to be easier than making the hazardous trek up steep mountains in the midst of blizzards in order to get to those fabled gold fields, but Jasper and Mel persist.
I simply loved Jasper, who proves to be the perfect narrator with his wry sense of humor and stubborn courage. He part of a wonderful cast of characters, all of whom are beautifully crafted and great fun to get to know. Like The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming , this is a meticulously researched story, and one learns a lot about what it was like to be a part of the rush to find gold and strike it rich. I know that my sixth graders will love this book, so my challenge will be to have enough copies on hand to keep them happy! This would make for a hugely enjoyable class readaloud, too.
The Perfect Score caught my attention because it was about how students in one middle school plotted to outwit the state’s mandated test. Now, there’s an idea! But, of course, Rob Buyea does more with the story than just that, for The Perfect Score is also about the whole kaleidoscope of middle school life: adjusting to new teachers, dealing with the cafeteria, coping with bullies at school and at home, and learning what cooperative work is all about.
Buyea has become a master of storytelling through multiple perspectives, which is a narrative style that my kids love. I especially liked learning about Trevor, who is a mean bully at school because he is tormented at home by his awful older brother. I think it’s helpful for our students to try to develop an empathetic understanding of all their classmates, even the bullies. The Perfect Score would make a fabulous book club book, for it will spur conversations about so many important issues – middle school related and beyond.