Melodie A. Cuate's book, Journey to La Salle's Settlement, targets young readers who are 9-12 years old. La Salle's Settlement is book number five in the Mr. Barrington's Mysterious Trunk series, and Cuate's approach to historical fiction is a great read for history students of all ages. Mr. Barrington (Mr. B), the seventh grade social studies teacher, keeps an old trunk with historical artifacts in the classroom. When Mr. Barrington's trunk transports Nick, Hannah, and Jackie, into the past, a fascinating trip through Texas history begins.
Mr. B left brother and sister, Hannah and Nick, to lock the trunk in the classroom closet. After having previous adventures with the trunk that transported them back in time, Nick warns Hannah to be careful what she was thinking and not to open it—no matter what happens. Hannah promises. However, in spite of her good intentions, she opens the trunk when beach sand and seawater begin to leak out. Soon Nick and Hannah, along with their friend, Jackie, find themselves in a canoe on the ocean, with only a list of riddles and a magic ring.
Will those clues and the ring be enough to save them? Are they really in the seventeeth century? Will they die when the French bark (small ship) La Belle sinks? How will the kids complete a scavenger hunt with alligators and Indian warriors hunting them?
Fortunately, they meet the Talon family and learn the required survival skills, while also helping the village and their new friends. Then they encounter an even bigger problem. People in the village are dying, and Hannah's running a fever. When she collapses on the eve of La Salle's return, Nick and Jackie are scared. Will they all make it home this time?
Young readers will appreciate knowing the courageous Talon children really existed and lived with native tribes, became orphaned, were rescued by Spaniards, and lived to grow up in spite of the dangers. Finding a real family to become a part of the story adds great deal of meaningful information and realism. The facts skillfully blend into the story, and the characters are very realistic.
The page of French to English translations adds additional learning experience and authenticity. The only thing lacking is a pronunciation guide for parents or teachers who lack experience with French language structure, and that may be included with classroom materials for teachers. Perhaps, they'll make a copy to send home too. A timeline and guide to the historical characters adds interest, along with a map, reproduction of a painting, diagram of a ship, descriptive rhyme, and artistic emblems throughout.
Unlike many textbooks, this book uses contemporary language that will appeal to young readers. The dialog is formal enough for learning, but it is also informal and comfortable enough for students to feel that they are talking to friends and reading about the experiences of peers. Adults who read this book are likely to search for the rest of the series and wish they could stowaway and share these adventures too. So go ahead, help your kids with their homework, or buy it as a gift and read it first. No one will tell.
Melodie Cuate is a fourth grade teacher with travel and classroom experience. In addition, she offers teacher workshops based on this series. In 2006-07, Cuate received the Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award. McAllen, Texas is home to Cuate, her husband, and daughter. Visit her website.
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