Two Characters Named Johnny

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This could be a confusing winter for me.  We started new literature groups this week, and I’m teaching two books to two groups of Inly students. The 6th grade group is reading Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes to complement their study of the American Revolution. The Middle School group is reading Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence in which main character’s name is Johnny, but the book is takes place during World War I.  I need to keep the two Johnny’s straight or this could get very confusing for the students. I have this fear of talking with the Middle School students about all of the exciting events taking place in Boston when they are reading about Belgium!  The best part is that I truly love both books and always look forward to sharing them with students.

Johnny Tremain is one of those books that when I carry it around school, teachers will say “Oh, I loved that book when I was young.” It’s not only a compelling story, but it’s particularly wonderful to teach it 30 miles south of Boston, where all of the book’s events take place. Many of our students have walked the Freedom Trail, visited the Old South Meeting House where the Patriots decided to toss the tea, and have grown up with the story of “the shot heard ’round the world,” so reading Johnny Tremain is a wonderful gateway to their city’s history.

Lord of the Nutcracker Men is not as well known, but it presents an equally rich portrait of historic events. Johnny, the ten-year-old protagonist, lives in London where his father is a toymaker. When England enters World War I, Johnny’s father joins the British army and sends his son a series of letter documenting the horrors of war.  The story is told through Johnny’s point of view, and while at first Johnny is enthusiastic about his father going to war, he soon begins to understand the realities of life in the trenches. It is a thought provoking book for middle school students, many of whom “experience” war and death through video games. Lawrence’s book is an honest portrayal of the true cost of war.

From the Sons of Liberty in Boston to muddy trenches in Belgium, it promises to be an eventful winter.  By springtime, I think all of us will be ready to read The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.

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