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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tales of a Fifth Grade Book Club: Part 5-- Echo Pages 191-299

Part 5 of my fifth grade book club tackled The first half of Part 2 of the novel. Please refer to the other posts in this series and the discussion guide I compiled which includes a summary of ECHO.

Before we started the discussion, we showed the kids a picture of the real life Hoxie-- the man who led the famous boys harmonica band which comes up in the novel. We also played the songs (from Freegal via the public library) which were referenced in this section of the book. These activities helped to put us all in the right frame of mind for the discussion to begin...

  • Since we had a week off AND we were staring a new section of the novel, we asked the kids to remind us all of the first 190 pages of the book.
    • The kids went around, taking turns.
    • We started with Otto’s story and kept the harmonica as the focus.
    • Moved into Friedrich. They really wanted to go into detail here. After reading about Mike, they had missed Friedrich a little. I am not even sure they realized how much they missed Friedrich until we asked them to rehash it all.
    • We ended with packing the harmonica up to be sent to America.
  • The way this novel is structured, starting Part 2 means an entirely new time, place, and main character. But at least we all knew Mike, our new protagonist, was going to find the harmonica. Everyone was waiting to find out where, when, and how.
  • The kids were bursting to talk about everything so they directed most of the discussion this week.
  • Mrs. Sturbridge was a hot topic at that start:
    • I did not like Mike and Frankie’s new mom. 
    • As an adult observer, I reminded the kids that we didn’t like Elizabeth in Part 1 at first either, but then we learned more about why she made the choices she did and we changed our minds a bit. Only seeing things from the kid point of view is limiting.
    • The new mom is like the reverse of the King in Otto’s part of the story. She wants a girl child while he only wanted a boy.
    • Mr and Mrs Potter are more like the boys’ real parents. They are loving and caring.
  • Another parent asked the kids to talk about the type music Mr. Potter was teaching Mike on his harmonica. They answered, “the blues.” She told them they were correct, but what does that mean? 
    • Making sad music to make you feel better
    • Blues music is a good metaphor [kid used that word] for Mike’s life up to that point. It makes sense he was drawn to it.
    • As an adult, I interjected that we need to understand that a white kid playing blues in 1935 could cause problems later in the story. The kids were shocked at this notion.
    • Then a kid who had just seen the play Hairspray chimed in and explained how this racism in regards to music was a theme in that play. The issue started to become clearer to the kids after that.
    • Then a parent asked if they even knew the Potter’s were supposed to be African American. They did. One kid said he pictured Mr. Potter as Morgan Freeman with a garden hat on. Ryan definitely gives a few clues beyond the blues music, mentioning their darker skin, but I appreciated that she was subtle about it, but clear enough that the kids got it.
  • The kids wanted to talk about the orphanage and Mrs Pennyweather. Of course they complained about how evil she is. We talked about how she is cheating the orphans out of food and money. But one kid pointed out that when she locked Mike and Frankie in the cellar, that was an important scene for the book because it was the only long time that the two brothers were together at the orphanage and could talk to each other about their history and their dreams.
    • One kid predicted that Mike will make it to Carnegie Hall to play piano on stage, just like he dreams he will. 
    • On a side note, I like keeping track of predictions each week. I can’t wait to see if any of them are correct at the end.
  • That mention of the piano brought us back to Mrs. S and her fancy piano.
    • Why is there an amazing piano that no one can play?
    • Mr. Howard said she wanted kids with musical talent but she won’t let them play.
    • Why would she do that?
    • Maybe the Dad played and she is still very sad that he died. She is not thinking rationally and can’t handle hearing the music.
    • It’s like The Sound of Music. Cpt. VonTrapp bans music because he is sad, but when the music came back, so did his happiness.  Prediction?
    • Mr Howard might have picked the boys hoping they would use music to bring her back.
    • There is also a lot of talk about a deadline. Why did the boys need to be adopted on a deadline?
    • As one of the grownups, I told the kids I predicted that since it was 1935 and Mrs. S is a woman, she might need a male heir so as not to lose all her money. Again, this was something these kids could not understand until a grownup pointed it out. But I also reminded them that in Otto’s story, the King needed a male heir. The kids agreed that things do tend to repeat (or as one girl said, Echo) in this story.
  • This led to a discussion about connections in the story in general. The kids like how everything in the book is connected in some way. They even noted that it was “a good job” by the author.
  • We talked about the scene when Frankie and Mike get their harmonicas
    • Frankie got whatever was up by the register, but Mike had to go in the back, open a new box and pick whichever one he wanted.
    • One of the parents asked if the kids thought the scene was similar to when Harry Potter got his wand.
    • The music shop owner said that the instrument picks the musician. That’s like the wand picking the wizard.
    • Everyone was excited to see the return of the harmonica.  Even though we knew it was coming, it was still fun to see it return.
    • But also a bit sad, noted someone. Sad because at some point in the story we know Mike will have to give up the harmonica so that the next kid can get it. Will things be okay for Mike at that point? They weren’t for Friedrich.
    • How is it going to get to California to our next kid-- Ivy?
  • One kid said about the selection in general, “I want to feel good here but I don’t. I don’t know why but I am worried.”
I reminded the kids that for the next time not only will they have finished Mike’s story-- so we can talk about his entire tale, but also we will have read a few chapters of the next story, so we will have a taste of what is to come.

They are doing a fantastic job with very little effort from us adults.

Professionally, I am learning so much about what lies at the heart of why we do book discussions.  Having to discuss a book in 100 page chunks was scary to me at first. Would there be enough to give them a valuable experience for 60 minutes? But these kids are just dying to talk about what they read, speculate, and vent their emotions about the characters. They are bursting with desire to participate and add to the conversation. It is so refreshing and inspiring to see. 

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