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Historical Fiction and Character Development with Storia eBooks

The Book of Tormod: A Templar’s Apprentice by Kat Black (parents | teachers) is intended for the middle-school audience, most likely, though I feel it can be used in the upper-elementary classroom with effective scaffolded discussion. This book begins with “An Unforeseen Duty,” immediately letting readers know the book takes place in 1307. Kat Black does an unbelievable job “painting” a vivid mind movie:

  • “The sun was sinking deep in the late evening sky.”
  • The sun had red and orange hues that “streaked the heavens with a strange and eerie light that made the dark of the woods shadowed and frightening.” (I click on the word “hues” to show it means “colors,” and that makes sense to my students.)
  • “A creep of green moss covered the trunks of the trees.”
  • “Old wet leaves covered the paths.”
  • “It was not a night I wanted to be walking alone.”

As I introduce the beginning of this book (page 3) to my students whole-group, I ask about specific sensory language the author used and the mood it created in the reader’s mind. We use Storia’s highlighter feature to make those words “pop.” The mood is generally mysterious in a negative light. In the second paragraph, the word choice “dung-heap-cheater” shows the narrator of the story possesses low confidence because these words persistently echo in his mind. It is almost as if he feels guilty and forsaken because he feels hot, inside and out, and the “breath of the forest” whispers along his neck. (I can go back to that statement and highlight it as an example of personification.)

In the third paragraph, another one of our state standards is addressed—time-period language. “Can ye no’ see I’m busy, yo gomerel?” This kind of language is called “baroque.” I do not expect my students to understand sentences like these off the bat or what “gomerel” means, yet they understand the author has used language that would have been used in that time period. Readers then learn that is what his brother said to him­—and perhaps that’s why he feels so “forsaken.” Family is a value we hold close.

From there, on pages 4–7, I think it is an excellent opportunity to have the students highlight author descriptions that expand on the fact that the main character is feeling nerve-racked and furious.

  • “My hands were fisted tight and my face was hot.”
  • “No doubt the freckles on my nose and cheeks were standing out.”
  • “His face is as red as his hair.”
  • He thinks about getting out of his house—angrily—and we learn it isn’t the first time he has had these thoughts.
  • He states about his father, on page 5, that he wouldn’t listen to him if he explained his brother Torquil had traded jobs with him. He does all of Torquil’s work. He doesn’t feel his father supports him.
  • On page 6, readers come across this sentence: “The skirl of pipes sounded and my heart dropped.”
  • Readers also learn through page 6 that he has misplaced a box of tinder.

Students can also pinpoint descriptions that help them to visualize the character’s appearance:

  • “My hair was red. Not the soft auburn red of the burn as it washed over the rocks on its way to the sea, but more the ruddy orange of a freshly cut carrot.”
  • “I ran my fingers through the offending mess.”
  • “Sweat from my jog had made the hairs stick out like the spikes of an urchin.”

These two pages also help us learn more about the character:

  • He comes from an extremely large family, and they had just battled lice.
  • He is 13 years old and the seventh son.
  • He is never still, quiet, or listening.
  • Readers learn he is beaten if he does not follow commands: “It would be me that felt the strap. My backside ached at the mere thought of it.”
  • Readers learn on page 5 that his house is not often quiet. When he hears a “lack of sound,” it is strange to him.
  • He has had to engage in a lot of hard working situations. “The smell of the hay that had covered the dirt floors still filled my mouth and clung to my plaid.”
  • He is “flying through the rooms of the hut like a squall” (simile). In that time, he comes across the tinder. However, his father appears on page 7—and his nerves are further racked.

Here are words you can use the dictionary feature for:

  • shearing (page 4)
  • thatch (page 5)
  • procession (page 6)

Words to discuss:

  • Beltane (page 5)
  • tinder (page 6): “the material that would start the fire”
  • naught, bairns (page 6): “Why is naught where ’tis supposed to be? Too many bairns.”

I suggest you continue having your students read this book a little farther because they learn in the second part, “An Unexpected Visitor,” that Tormod comes across an opportunity to be heroic—a Templar knight asks him to deliver a secret message on parchment. At first, Tormod’s thirst for adventure is fueled, and the quest is invigorating. Further in the book, though, the quest endangers his life and he turns to desperation to escape the army of King Philippe le Bel of France. For a whole-book focus, this book is perfect for character development. I highly recommend this work of historical fiction—it’s unlike much of what your students may have ever read before.


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January 28, 2013