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Perspective and Perseverance: January 2017 Intermediate

December 15th, 2016 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | January

marvelsThe Marvels by Brian Selznick. Scholastic Press, 2015

Almost the first two-thirds of this hefty novel is told through black-and-white illustrations depicting generations of the Marvels, a theater family in England, from 1766 to 1900. A jump to 1990 begins the prose narrative in which Joseph, cold, wet, and sick, arrives on the doorstop of his Uncle Albert’s Victorian home in London after running away from boarding school. He doesn’t really know Uncle Albert, but Joseph’s parents are traveling outside the country, so he stays. Uncle Albert’s neighbor, a girl named Frankie, strikes up a friendship with Joseph, and the two of them begin trying to string together information about a famous theater family, the Marvels, who clearly once lived in the house, which is a living museum in their honor. There are personal belongings and even letters to be found in rooms that are staged like tableaus. Uncle Albert won’t talk about them, which makes Joseph and Frankie even more curious: How are the Marvels connected to Uncle Albert, and to Joseph? When finally revealed, the answer is bitter for Joseph. But for Joseph and for readers, too, it becomes bittersweet, and then wonderful, a tribute to the power of story, and the gifts of imagination, friendship, and love. Brian Selznick moves back and forth between prose and visual narrative in the final third of a novel that concludes with an extensive and fascinating author’s note about the two men and the house that were the real-life inspiration for the story.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How do Joseph’s actions affect his uncle’s life?
  2. How does perspective in the illustrations help tell the story? (Distance: close-up and far away)
  3. How do the different characters deal with death?
  4. Brian Selznick chose to tell this story in alternating illustrations and prose, or text. Why do you think he uses both mediums? What story do each of these mediums tell? Why do you think he alternates between the illustrations and the text?

irasshakespearedreamIra’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Lee & Low, 2015

Ira Alridge’s dream of performing Shakespeare was difficult for a young African American man to achieve in early 19th-century America. Despite his obvious talent, his father urged him to forgo acting and put his vocal skills to use as a minister. Instead, Ira became a cabin boy on a cargo ship heading to South Carolina, where he narrowly escaped being sold into slavery. Ira signed on as a valet to British actors James and Henry Wallack for their voyage home. Once in England, he worked in theaters running errands and as an understudy, all while studying acting. His perseverance paid off, and by the 1840s he was considered “one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actors in Europe.” He spoke out against slavery in the U.S. and encouraged audience members to financially support abolitionists. Oil wash illustrations employ warm earth tones and soft edges to follow the evolution of Alridge’s career from eager school boy to mature professional, a welcome account.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Pre-reading question: Who was Shakespeare?
  2. How does perseverance help Ira achieve his dream?
  3. What problems does Ira want to solve by acting?
  4. Find examples in the story of individuals who take chances on Ira and protect him along the way.

Find teaching guides and other resources for The Marvels and Ira’s Shakespeare Dream at TeachingBooks.net.

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