Book Review – Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone
April 11, 2015
Twelve-year-old Samuel Collier is a lowly commoner on the streets of London. So when he becomes the page of Captain John Smith and boards the ship the Susan Constant, bound for the New World, he can’t believe his good fortune. He’s heard that gold washes ashore with every tide. But beginning with the stormy journey and his first contact with the native people, he realizes that the New World is nothing like he had ever imagined.The lush Virginia shore where they establish the colony of James Town is both beautiful and forbidding, and it’s hard to know who’s a friend or foe. As he learns the language of the Algonquin Indians and observes Captain Smith’s wise diplomacy, Samuel begins to see that he can be whomever he wants to be in this new land.
Blood on the River was a read aloud in two of the classrooms that I work in, and I read along with the students so that I could do some follow up activities with them. I had read parts of the book in the past, but this was my first full read through. Here are my thoughts in a nutshell:
- Carbone does an excellent job of describing the life of early American settlers. Their journey to America, their life when they arrive and as they settle, and their relationships with the Native Americans are so vivid and easy for the kids to picture, especially as portrayed through the eyes of Samuel.
- The characters represent a range of people who made the journey to settle here – wealthy, poor, clergy – as well as the Native Americans they encountered while here. They are based on actual people, and Carbone does a superb job of developing the characters and making them relatable to her readers.
- Kids as well as adults are guaranteed to learn more about our country’s early history – so much historical fact is woven into the plot.
- The portrayal of early life is extremely realistic – kids will definitely understand how difficult and volatile life was during this time.
- It’s not that the following are cons, more points to consider if you are selecting this as a book to use with a group of students:
- Maturity level of the students – I think it is awesome that Carbone provides such an intensely realistic portrayal, but kids being kids can often get wrapped up in the “silliness” of bathroom humor or the mention of a naked girl. You’ll want to preface the reading of the book with a discussion on appropriate reactions.
- Reading and language levels of students – In my district, this book has traditionally been read in fourth grade. This year it was read in 3/4 multiage classes. It was definitely far more difficult for the third graders to truly comprehend (granted they are special education students). The vocabulary and language may need some scaffolding if used in the intermediate grades, and I could see this book still being appropriate with early middle school students.
What did you think of Blood on the River? Are there any other books (for any age level) that you would recommend on this time period?