Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Boys Without Names (Spoilers Ahead)

Every year my fifth graders study two novels in addition to expository texts and short stories from an anthology. They study Tuck Everlasting in January and Carolyn Reeder's Shades of Gray. (And yes, we do get raised eyebrows and sometimes confused e-mails from parents when we announce this, which is why I've started referring to it as "the-children's-post-Civil-War-novel-Shades-of-Gray-by-children's-author-Carolyn-Reeder.")

This year my awesome principal gave my team permission to add a third novel study. Instead of just picking a novel for the entire grade to read, we decided we want to offer choice literature circles to introduce our Heritage unit. The school where I teach is incredibly diverse. We have students whose parents are from six out of seven continents and something like forty different countries, so we wanted to offer novels that reflect some of the different cultures and backgrounds of students at our school.

Before the end of last school year, we decided on A Single Shard and When My Name Was Keoko (both by Linda Sue Park), Esparanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan), Dragonwings (Lawrence Yip), The Storyteller's Beads (Kurtz), The Breadwinner (Ellis), and Number the Stars (Lowry).

Then over the summer, I read Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth. Right away, I knew I had to add it to our list.

The story begins with Gopal's family secretly escaping moneylenders in their rural village by moving to Mumbai to live with Gopal's uncle. Things don't quite go as planned, and after falling for another boy's trick, Gopal ends up locked in a sweatshop making beaded frames from dawn to dusk.

It's hard to place my finger on exactly why I love this story so much, but I think it comes down to Gopal's purity of heart, and how he doesn't lose that even when his situation deteriorates. Even in the face of horrible conditions, he remains others-focused, which is a characteristic many of us here in the U.S. could stand to develop further. Additionally, Sheth creates a clear picture of Indian culture in modern Mumbai through Gopal's eyes, which makes it perfect for our novel study.

I'm really excited about these literature circles. My team and I hope to add more choices each year as we come across them. If anyone knows of additional middle grade novels (realistic fiction) you'd recommend--especially those set in South America and Africa--I'd love to hear about them!


  1. Every one of the choices you mentioned is stellar, so I'm sure your addition, Boys Without names, is also.

  2. Literature circles are great! I loved using them when I was teaching 8th grade language arts. The kids loved them too. I sat in on some great discussions they had, and I loved that they were so open to sharing their thoughts with each other without prompting from me.

    1. That's what I love about literature circles too!