1 cover_bloodontheriver-264x400One of my favorite parts of each school day is when I get to spend a few minutes reading aloud to the class. It’s my chance to draw on my theater background, pull out some interesting accents, and help create a picture in the minds of my students. Actually finding the right book to read aloud can be a challenge, however. When I am choosing a volume to share with students, my criteria are:

The book should be well-written

It should be high interest for students

I want it to be enjoyable for me to read out loud

The book should connect, somehow, to content we’re studying

As I try to locate just the right book, I often put a request out on Twitter or contact some of my teacher friends to glean from their experience and expertise. My visit to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown this summer widened my Personal Learning Community (PLC) and gave me access to some brilliant educators. Ranae Mathias, a teacher and library specialist from California, was the Peer Facilitator for my time at Colonial Williamsburg. She gave me many wonderful resources for teaching about Williamsburg and Jamestown, including an outstanding suggestion for my first read-aloud book of the year.

Blood on the River: Jamestown, 1607 by Elisa Carbone is a heavily researched and brilliantly written book which follows the experience of a boy named Samuel. It begins in London  shortly after Samuel is orphaned, and tells his story as he is selected to serve as a page to Captain John Smith on the Virginia Company’s voyage to and eventual settlement in the new world. The book captures the challenges Samuel faces, the personal demons with which he must wrestle, and the mysterious land of which he finds himself a citizen.

Blood on the River truly meets all of my criteria and has been the perfect catalyst for us to begin to explore the early colonization of what is now the United States. Our next move will be to look more at some of the primary source documents which have survived. They will help us gather a more accurate perspective of what the Jamestown experience may have been. Virtual Jamestown, a collection of first-hand accounts pertaining to the settlement of Jamestown, is a great place to start.

Powhattan Village, Jamestown SettlementConsider this description of the “naturall Inhabitants of  Virginia” from John Smith’s 1612 A Map of Virginia:

The land is not populous, for the men be fewe; their far greater number is of women and children. Within 60 miles of James Towne there are about some 5000 people, but of able men fit for their warres scarse 1500. To nourish so many together they have yet no means, because they make so smal a benefit of their land, be it never so fertill.

Ms. Carbone did a wonderful job of including primary source quotations at the beginning of each chapter, as well as incorporating fact-based details in her book. It can be amazingly powerful, though, to “listen” to the voices of individuals who actually lived the story.

IMG_3112As an additional source of visual reference, I have posted a collection of photos I took this summer at Jamestown and Williamsburg on my Flickr channel.

UPDATE: A recent article in the Wall Street Journal talks about an archaeological find that happened while I was at Jamestown in July. Read about how Dr. Kelso’s team found the actual location of the 1608 church building!