Sorry to have been so quiet lately; the garden of ideas has been so active that I've been weeding, trimming, even harvesting, but not talking much! Here's a sample of what I've been up to, as requested by VOYAGE, the imprint publishing The Secret Room this September:
As a kid who "hated" history and nonfiction, but who woke up to the excitements of "detection" in history thanks to a gifted Advanced Placement high school teacher, I've envisioned all of my YA novels as potential classroom tools to engage students in the flow of history and in critical thinking, through their hunger for narrative. Here are some of the threads for classroom learning woven into The Secret Room.
HISTORY DETECTIVE WORK
What is the history problem that Shawna and Thea investigate? Why does it interest them?
What are the tools they use to probe what really happened in their town during the Underground Railroad years? Are some tools better than others?
How can you find out what the Underground Railroad looked like and what it meant to the Civil War?
How can you find out what the Underground Railroad was like where you live now?
Many "history" moments focus on important people, like a President or a hero. The Underground Railroad was different: It depended on the courage and planning of many ordinary people. What evidence is there for this in The Secret Room? Do you think it could be harder to find out what "ordinary people" did a hundred and fifty years ago, than finding out what a President did? How could you find out more?
MATH IS FUN
Not everybody thinks math is fun, but Shawna and Thea do! Why is it fun for them?
Here are some of the math ideas that Shawna and Thea explore: measuring rooms and recording their perimeters; finding out areas and adding them; looking for multiples of numbers like 2, 6, and 12; what prime numbers are; creating scale drawings; creating timelines; exploring how the ages and birth years in a family fit together; and squaring numbers. Can you find each of these in the book? What would they look like if they were imagined in your own life, or your best friend's life?
ISSUES AROUND THE CIVIL WAR
Shawna and Thea discover that people in different parts of the country react in different ways to "current events" in politics and to their history. Some of the issues that led to the Civil War included enslavement of people who were captured in other places, like African countries; expecting people who look different (skin color) to be and act differently; whether the states of America needed to handle things the same way; and how people's beliefs about human dignity and faith affect their decisions to take a stand and help others.
FAMILIES ARE DIFFERENT -- AND MAYBE THAT'S GOOD!
Families differ in terms of what they think is most important in life; how they show love to each other; how they get enough money to support each other; and what they think kids should do and be. List the differences between Shawna's family and Thea's family, and add columns for your family and your best friend's family.
How do Shawna and Thea find ways to feel OK about being different from each other? How do they choose to be more similar to each other?
Who is Shawna's real mother? Why? Who loves Shawna? How can you tell?
BEING FRIENDS TAKES WORK
(I don't have time to write this part today, but ... you know where this is going!)
FOOD IS SOMETHING WE ALL ENJOY -- AND IN DIFFERENT WAYS
What decisions have Shawna and Thea made, before they met, about food? What habits do they have about food? How can you tell what their favorite foods are? Do Shawna and Thea talk about food? Do their ideas and actions change in terms of what and how they eat during the story?
PROJECTS and CLASSROOM EXERCISES
(This will have to wait for another day for me to start the list, but there are a LOT that spring out of what Shawna and Thea do.)