I love any text that gives us a glimpse into the past of what life was like then. My mentor text this week does just that! Across the Alley by Richard Michelson is a story about a young Jewish boy who is secretly best friends with Willie, an African American.
This story is told from the point of view of the Jewish boy (and we never learn his name) who lives with his grandpa during a time period when civil rights were not honored for all Americans. His grandpa insists that he learns to play the violin and become an excellent player, but he desires to learn baseball like his friend Willie. However, Willie finds playing the violin very interesting. Together Willie and the narrator teach one another their skill. Through their secret friendship, they discover that both of their ancestors had been slaves at one time and become good at the other’s skill. As the story progresses, the grandpa discovers their friendship and the theme of courage begins.
Not only could this text be used for historical fiction purposes and to explore the discussion of civil rights, but also for the strategy (and common core standard number one) of questioning. When I read this mentor text with my students, I always model questions that come to my mind as I read it such as:
*“Why are they only friends at night?”
*”Who is Sandy Koufax and Satchel Paige?”
*”Why does grandpa believe that Jewish kids shouldn’t waste time with baseball?”
*”Will they get caught trading the violin through the window?”
In addition to being a great mentor text for teaching the questioning strategy, but it could also be used for inference, as there are many places where students can infer why things are the way they are between them and infer the feelings of the characters. While grandpa is a minor character, one could even discuss the change in grandpa as the story develops. However, I would not center an entire lesson on that aspect of the text.
Mood would be another literary device that could be explored, along with the use of similes. Finally, a large discussion could be centered on the meaning of a phrase uttered in the book, “Ignorance comes in as many colors as talent.”
Definitely check out this book on Amazon (aff. link). Grab Across the Alleyfor your classroom library today!
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