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Across Five Aprils

Irene Hunt

Theme: Individual vs. Community Loyalties
Grades: Grade 7-9


Summary:
Across Five Aprils is a historical novel about a boy who grows up during the Civil War. Jethro's family farms in Southern Illinois and is divided about which side of the war to support. Two of his brothers fight for the North and one fights for the South. The remaining family members face trouble from the community because of the brother who went South. When Jethro's father has a heart attack, Jethro has to become the man of the family and the main farmer. He is a sensitive boy and hears of the war through letters, finding out that it is not a pleasant experience. By writing a letter to Abraham Lincoln, his hero, Jethro helps his cousin who deserted the Northern army. By the end of the novel, an enlightened Jethro comes to the realization of the horrors of war.


THEME OPENERS

  1. Keeping a Diary.
    Ask students to imagine how their lives would change if our country had a civil war today. Suppose, for example, that their state were at war with two neighboring states. How would their lives be affected? Make a chart on the board and have students suggest ideas and list changes under such categories as Daily Life, Travel, Family Relations, Activities, and Immediate Future.
  1. Have students discuss or role-play one of the situations that follow:
    A close friend has done something that your community sees as shameful. The wrongdoer asks for your help covering up or getting away. How do you respond? Will you help? To what lengths will you go in providing aid?

    Imagine that you and a classmate have a serious disagreement. Other members of the class and your friends side with your classmate. Will the opinions of others make you change your mind? Will you try to convince others you are right? What else might you consider doing?
CROSSCURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  1. From the Battlefield.
    Have students write a character sketch about Jethro in Across Five Aprils.Show how Jethro changes from the beginning of the ovel to its end, emphasizing the episodes that contribute most to Jethro's growth.
  1. Mock Debate.
    Point out to students that several people in Across Five Aprils make decisions that violate either popular opinion or the law. Matt Creighton, Bill Creighton, and Jehro all do this. Divide a group of student into two teams and have them choose one person whose decision they think required the most courage, explaining their choice. Have the two sides engage in a debate, each side defending their choices.
RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
  1. Lincoln's Choices.
    In Chapter One, Ellen Creighton says, "He's like a man standin' where two roads meet, Jethro...and one road is as dark and fearsome as the other; there ain't a choice between the two, and yet a choice has to be made." Have students write a research paper, using history textbooks, the library, or the internet, detailing the many difficult choices President Lincoln had to make during the Civil War. Some questions they will want to answer are: Why were his choices so difficult? What might have happened had President Lincoln made different choices?
  2. Coming of Age.
    In this project, students will examine how the conceptions of growing up differ from culture to culture and from one generation to another. Their task is to investigate the different ways of growing up.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Explain to students that they will be investigating the various meanings that "growing up," or "coming of age," had at various times, and in various cultures. They might identify examples of these meanings in Across Five Aprils. Their task is to research and gather additional meanings. Some cultures have specific ages at which a person is considered "grown up," while others do not; some have specific rituals that mark the passage into the role of "grown-up," while others do not. Have students individually or in groups research some of these practices, and then report to the class as a whole.
  • Once students understand what they are looking for, have them explore what "growing up" means to them and their classmates; through their research of their peers, they should see that even within their own peer group the concept has various meanings that may change according to conditions such as chronological age, physical size, general political and social circumstances (including war), and cultural expectations (including religious beliefs and values). If any students or groups wish to investigate a culture other than their own, encourage them to do so.
  • Have students prepare a simple questionnaire, with a dozen or so specific questions to ask parents and/or grandparents about their growing up. Students should ask their respondents if there was a particular age at which they were considered grown up; if there were associated rituals, either official or unofficial; what responsibilities being "grown up" entailed, what growing up meant to them, and so on.
  • Set aside class time for students and groups to report their findings.