Roald Dahl, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Chains

My almost six-year-old and I have continued our Roald Dahl streak with George’s Marvelous Medicine, about a boy whose grandma is the meanest lady ever. Every day she drinks a horrible concoction so George decides to take everything in the house and mix up something truly dreadful for her–with unexpected results. It’s not as dark as The Witches but has that same trickster spirit. We both really enjoyed it. And we finally convinced big sister to join the Roald Dahl fun so now she’s listening in as I read Fantastic Mr. Fox. Am predicted a third round of The BFG in my future.

Speaking of big sister, her book club in our homeschool coop spend the last several months reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konisburg. I read it when I was a kid but think I only read it once and when we started it up I realized I didn’t remember anything about it except that the kids slept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I loved the journey taken by Claudia, who runs away because she wants to have an experience that makes her different. We had a great time in class, with lots of fun activities and discussions. The kids loved the book, we grown-ups loved the book, and it’s easy to understand why it remains a classic.

I teach the book club for the 4th-8th graders and we read Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. What a book! Most of the kids said it was their favorite of the year. I loved our discussions–we got to go so deep into important issues like justice and mercy, the toxic effect that slavery had on the American dream, and the ways in which goodness can never be fully extinguished. I like to open every class with a poem, and here is my list of poems for Chains:

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus and “Song For a Dark Girl” by Langston Hughes
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers (To WEB Dubois),” “Harlem,” and “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes
“won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton
“Morning” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
“Coal” by Audre Lorde and “On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheatley
“my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell” by Gwendolyn Brooks
“Who Will Cry for the Little Boy” by Antwone Fisher and “Love Is” by Nikki Giovanni

I also discovered the most beautiful picture book about Harriet Tubman. It made all of us grownups cry when I read it to the kids in class, and they were all riveted while listening, even though most of them are too big to be read to. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom is an absolute treasure.

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