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Reading Historical Fiction in Literature Circles

By Kim Marshall, TIE Columnist

The article: “Literature Circles and Historical Fiction,” by Carianne Bernadowski in Middle Ground, October 2011 (15 2, pp. 32-33); link for members only. Ms. Bernadowski can be reached at
In this article in Middle Ground, Robert Morris University professor Carianne Bernadowski says that good historical fiction is one of the best ways to motivate middle school students to read.
Here are some of her favorites:
-The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
-Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
-Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
-Cooper Sun by Sharon Draper
-Day of Tears by Julius Lester
-Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
-Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
-Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
-Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
-47 by Walter Mosley
-In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
-Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
-Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
-Sarny: A Life Remembered by Gary Paulson
-Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
Ms. Bernadowski is a great believer in literature circles. Students need a quick explanation on how circles work, especially the different roles within each group: discussion director (moderates discussions, asking questions like “Would you like to have the main character as a friend?”), word wizard (identifies and gives the definition of words that may be of interest), passage picker (highlights interesting paragraphs or phrases), summarizer (writes a short paragraph describing the important events of the book), investigator (brings additional information about the topic to the group), trivia tracker (asks basic questions to check for details, e.g., “What year did the story take place?”), artful artist (creates a drawing, sketch, or diagram), and connector (finds relationships between the book and the real world).
With this basic training under their belts, each group of students chooses a different book, assigns roles, and reads the book with the teacher as overall facilitator. “If you were to eavesdrop on a literature circle discussion,” says Ms. Bernadowski, “you would hear enthusiastic conversations about book characters, events, author’s craft, and how a story is related to the reader’s personal life. You would hear students make important connections to other texts and to the world around them.”
When students finish their books, they might share observations with the whole class, take part in a discussion of different books, write a letter to one of the main characters (or take the role of that character in a letter), create a timeline of the main events in a character’s life, or produce a video depiction of something that happened in the book.

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