Last week at school I was bemoaning because I haven't been able to find the perfect historical novel about the American Revolution to read aloud to my 4th grade class. One of the middle school language arts teachers started suggesting books to me. "Johnny Tremain? My Brother Sam is Dead?" I wasn't sure if my class could sit through Johnny Tremain, as much as I enjoy it, and I couldn't remember what My Brother Sam is Dead is about. Then she whipped out her phone and pulled up a list of Newbery nominated historical novels about the American Revolution. Technology is amazing.
I later looked carefully through the list, checked the closest public library, and made a trip. I was able to take out five novels from the children's section to preview. The next time I saw my middle school colleague in the teachers' lunchroom, I excitedly exclaimed, "I went to the library and got a stack of books!" A couple other teachers laughed, and one remarked, "Isn't that what you do at the library?" Yeah, it is. It was a pretty nerdy remark I made.
My problem in finding the "perfect" novel to read to my class is that I'm looking for an engaging story that works as a read-aloud and is historically accurate. In the past we have had students read Mr. Revere and I, in which Paul Revere's horse, a stuck up filly who came to the colonies as a British army horse, tells Revere's story and in the process changes her mind about the colonial yokels. The horse uses an awful lot of really big words, and of course, with a horse narrating, it's not historically accurate. We've also had students read The Fighting Ground by Avi, the story of a young boy who runs off to join a ragtag Continental Army group. The whole novel takes place within one day. I don't find that it lends itself to reading aloud. It works better when you see it on the page.
There are other novels, of course. My partner reads Spy, a novel about Nathan Hale. I read it a few years ago and didn't like it, though I can't remember why now. I love Johnny Tremain, but wonder if it's too long. My middle school colleague encouraged me to consider it. Of the books from the library I have so far read Five 4ths of July, which is a really good book, but for teens, not 4th graders. It is the story of a teenager who ends up on a British prison ship. It is well-researched and also follows the coming of age under brutal circumstances of the main character.
I'm also going to read Chains, about a 13-year-old slave girl who becomes an American spy in New York City, and Sophie's War, by Avi, about another girl who becomes a spy. I'm sure there are lots more choices waiting to be discovered.