Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone

For those of you who like historical fiction I would like to recommend Blood on the River: James Town 1607 by Elisa Carbone.

Blood on the River is based on the true story of James Town from the perspective of a fictional character named Samuel Collier, a boy whose role is to serve Captain John Smith in the year 1607.

How many of you can say that you admire someone? Have you ever thought why you admire them? What is a quality in someone that you admire? Here's a stranger question: Is it okay to admire a quality in a person that's not real-a fictional character?

I have to say I admire the main character in this book. The qualities which I admire in him are his honesty, humility, spirit and his willingness to change. Samuel's path in life has been a series of unfortunate events. In the beginning of the book Samuel has been recently orphaned. His mom just died and Samuel is living alone on the streets of London. One day he looks through a pawn shop window and spots a piece of jewelry that catches his eye. It used to be his mom's. He sees no justice in his world. Even though his mom's jewelry was sold to the shop owner after her death, Sam believes he rightfully should have it, so he steals it.

Sam is immediately tracked down and is found guilty of stealing. (Why do you think it was easy for the police to find him?)

Fortunately he was brought before a merciful judge and narrowly escapes being hanged for his crime. Sam isn't completely safe yet, however. Sam is next put on a ship sailing for the New World and is ordered to be Captain John Smith's servant. Captain John Smith is a good judge of character and sees potential in Sam, even more potential than many of the men sailing along to establish a settlement for the Virginia Company in the New World. The journey would be dangerous of course, but the real fear was that they could end up like the Roanoke Colony that was never heard from again.

Of course Sam has seen danger before, but what he doesn't see is the positive potential in him that Captain John Smith observed in him when they first met. At first Sam is like a stone wall, hard and difficult to crack. (Remember, Sam has been scraping a survival existence for himself on the streets of London and doesn't want to be told what to do.) He's been looking out for himself and also doesn't want to work with any of the other boys on the ship who also serve the men on the ship.

Sam built up a lot of anger inside of him because of his life circumstances. (When you get angry, how does it come out?) He doesn't hide or withdraw from his anger like a lot of people do. Nope. He lets it out. The most common way he lets it out is by fighting and picking on the smaller boys on the ship. It seems that Captain John Smith puts up with Sam's behavior until Sam finally hits a boy named Richard so hard in the face that Sam's knuckles are cut open.

Let's pick up the story more directly from the book...

[Captain Smith grabs him.]

"Stand on one foot," he orders.

[Sam hesitates a moment, thinking this is a stupid order.]

"Stand on one foot!" he shouts.

[It is difficult to balance on the rocking ship, but Sam tries to do it. The ship lurches and Sam stumbles and falls into a barrel.]

"Do it! Captain Smith Orders. [Captain smith Glowers at Sam.]

"Stand on one foot!"

[Sam balances on one foot for a split second but then Captain Smith shoves him.]

[Sam fumes with anger. And then Captain smith stands over him.] "Does it work, Samuel?" he demands. "Can you stand on one foot when a storm rocks the ship? Can you keep your footing when I shove you?"

[Sam is bewildered but especially angry. Of course he cannot balance on one leg in a storm.]

Captain Smith says, "In London it might have worked for you, this standing on your own, treating [others] as if they don't matter. In Virginia, it will not work, do you understand me? The wilderness is like a ship in a storm. We will need one another to survive." "This colony will need to stand on many legs if we are not to be toppled over in the Virginia wilderness."

What do you think Captain Smith was trying to teach Sam?

Does it seem like Captain Smith is worried about something else besides Sam's behavior? What do you think it is?

For further investigation go to: Virtual Jamestown

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