Highlighting Our History: Colonial Times Read-alouds PLUS for the Common Core
Character Driven Books: Early Colonial Times
Cohen, Barbara. Molly’s Pilgrim. ISBN: 9780440410577. Lexile: 450.Based upon an incident involving one of the author’s family members, this story brings the idea of a pilgrim into more of a modern setting. When third grader Molly and her mother move to America from Russia she has a hard time fitting in. Children will understand the range of emotions Molly experiences—shyness, embarrassment, sadness, anger, and (eventually) pride. Molly’s character lends itself to working on CCSS Reading Literature Standard 3. Encourage students to go back into the text for evidence of Molly’s traits, motivations, and feelings-- and how she responds to the events in the story. Project a graphic organizer like the one on page 5 of this set of comprehension activities onto your interactive whiteboard and record student thoughts and evidence.
Hermes, Patricia. Our Strange New Land: Elizabeth’s Diary. ISBN: 0-439-11208-7. Lexile: 350.
Hermes, Patricia. The Starving Time: Elizabeth’s Diary Book Two. ISBN: 0-439-19998-0. Lexile: 360.
Although they are not picture books, these two titles in the My America series (for younger readers than the popular Dear America series from Scholastic) offer short diary entries that can be read as time allows. Nine-year-old Elizabeth Barker is part of the settlement at Jamestown. Students will enjoy the voice in the writing and will be able to relate to her concerns, emotions, and fears. As was the custom at the time, Elizabeth's diary was kept for someone. (A cousin she left behind when she came to the New World.) This reinforces a sense of audience for student writing. Consider having students experiment with journal or diary entries of their own for a day or two. Whom will they write for? How does that affect the writing? Try writing about the same day or event a second time with a different audience in mind. What happens?
While they are works of fiction, these books provide opportunities to discuss historical fiction as a genre. Students should be able to recognize many historical details from other readings that have been woven into these tales.
Background information about the colonial period, a timeline, scrapbooks, recipes, and teacher resources for working with the Scholastic Dear America books is available here at Scholastic.
Johnston, Tony. The Ghost of Nicholas Greebe. ISBN: 0-8037-1648-6. Lexile: 870.
This somewhat spooky fictional tale recounts how the ghost of Nicholas Greebe haunts his former farmhouse dwelling until his skeleton is reunited with a bone that had been dug up by the family dog. Johnston's story contains rich language and interesting syntax at times, making it a great choice to read and discuss.
Challenge students to verify the colonial period by looking closely at the detailed illustrations and thinking back to what they have learned from other titles about clothing, colonial homes, and architecture, sailing vessels, etc. What mood is established by both the words and the illustrations, and how? (CCSS Reading Literature Standard 7) Have students provide examples from the text.
Ransom, Candice. Sam Collier and the founding of Jamestown. ISBN: 1-57505-874-X. Lexile: 530. (part of the On My Own History series from Millbrook Press)
Sam Collier, age twelve, was one of just four boys who came to Jamestown in April of 1607. The author explains that we know of him because Captain John Smith, who served as the colony’s leader from 1608-1609, mentions him in writings. Sam served as Smith's page, and Ransom imagines some of the trials Sam might have gone through while incorporating facts we know to be true of Jamestown. Though not a diary, the author moves the narrative along with a date for each section, spanning events from May to October 1607. Use the dates listed to create a timeline at the Interactive whiteboard for the narrative. After each section, have students summarize the key ideas and details (CCSS Reading Literature Standards 1-3) for the timeline. Later, use what is recorded on the timeline to construct a group response to this prompt: What evidence from the text shows what Captain Smith meant when he told Sam that they were in a “strange, harsh land”?
This early reader can also be used to work on a text's central message or theme, as well as character response to challenges and events. (CCSS Reading Literature Standards 2 and 3, respectively)
How was Sam feeling when he said: “Nothing in this new land is easy”? How was he feeling by the end of the story? Find evidence in the text that shows what happened, how Sam responded, and how this brought about a change in Sam.
Turkle, Brinton. The Adventures of Obadiah. ISBN: 0-670-10614-3. Lexile: not available
Turkle, Brinton. Rachel and Obadiah. ISBN: 0-525-38020-5. Lexile: 417.
If you can find copies of these older editions, they can add another layer to your study of the colonists. Brother and sister Rachel and Obadiah Starbuck are Quakers who live with their family on Nantucket Island. In Adventures, Obadiah (who has a very active imagination) is reprimanded for telling “falsehoods.” At the island’s annual sheep-shearing festival a wild series of events causes Obadiah to lose his hat, but (like the boy who cried wolf) no one believes him.
In Rachel and Obadiah, Turkle captures the excitement and joy of the safe return of ships that have been at sea for many months. Rachel and Obadiah challenge each other to a race to see who will spot the next ship first and perhaps earn a silver coin from the captain’s wife for delivering the good news.
Remind students that different groups of people (including the Quakers) traveled to the New World in search of religious freedom. Call attention to details that distinguished the Quakers from others—their hats, their Meeting practice, and some of their language. Have students use the context as you read all the “thees and thous,” consider the different meaning of Friends, and what the reference to “the World” implies.
Because Turkle keeps the story grounded in the children’s perspective, students will relate to their feelings and emotions. The lively, colorful illustrations do much to enhance and clarify the text, and students will find many familiar historical details for text-to-text connections. Additionally, these stories show children of the period having fun and suggest more pleasant times than are sometimes depicted in informational texts.