Smack Dab in the Classroom : by Dia Calhoun

I am pleased to offer the first in a series of posts exploring how to use middle grade books in your class or reading group. Over the next year, on the 23rd day of each month, I’ll offer my own ideas on this topic, as well as those of other authors, teachers, and librarians.

This week, I explore a way to get kids more involved with the story, using the example of my middle grade novel After the River the SunFirst, a brief synopsis:

City-boy Eckhart loves books and video games about King Arthur’s knights. After his parents drown in the Snake River, Eckhart must move to Eastern Washington to live on an orchard with his crusty Uncle Al. There Eckhart steps out of a video-game fantasy world of knights and monsters into a real-life quest for family, home, and courage.

Eckhart looks at challenges that come his way through the lenes of the knights he wishes to emulate, especially Sir Gawain. One example is this section where Uncle Al wants Eckhart to learn to drive the tractor, but Eckhart is scared of the enormous machine.

Eckhart stared at the tractor.
It was huge,
with two enormous wheels in back
and two smaller wheels in front.
Dials plastered the dashboard
liked goggling eyes.
Gear shifts sprouted upwards,
and hoses sprang out like tentacles.
It looked like a big green monster.
Eckhart didn’t want to get on it—
not one bit.
Then he thought of Sir Gawain.
What would Gawain do?
He had faced the Green Knight
and the monstrous giant Gormundus.
Wasn’t the tractor
really a kind of green Gormundus?

[Page 151]

Like the knights he admires, Eckhart is on several different quests throughout the novel. Discuss with your class or reading group Eckhart’s many quests. For each one, have students:

1. Name the quest.
2.  Identify the goal and why it’s important.
3.  Identify Eckhart’s method for achieving it.
4. Identify and discuss the ultimate resolution.

Be sure to include the following quests and go as far beyond this list as your class takes you: 

 The quest for home

 The quest to win the Green Knight video game

 The quest for courage

 The task of clearing the old orchard and, then replanting the new orchard

 The quest to atone for his parents’ deaths

Which other characters have quests (or goals)? Have the class name them and talk about how they go about achieving their goals.

For more ideas on how to use After the River the Sun in your classroom or reading group, find a complete, free classroom guide here:


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