|The House of Dies Drear
Theme: Prejudice and Principles
Grades: Grades 6-7
In a mystery novel full of "ghostly" discoveries, thirteen-year-old
Thomas Small and his family buy a house in Ohio that was once a stop
on the Underground Railroad. As Thomas explores his new surroundings,
he uncovers the secrets of the house, including dark tunnels, hidden
passages and Pluto, the old caretaker, who has been protecting a room
full of treasures that belonged to the original owner, Dies Dreara
"conductor" for the Underground Railroad. Thomas, Pluto, and Pluto's
son Mayhew work together to save the slave artifacts from neighbors,
who think the "treasures" in the room are things that can make them
- Tapping Prior Knowledge: Slavery and the Underground Railroad.
Invite students to work together to share what they know about the
history of slavery and about the methods used by fugitive slaves and
those who helped them escape to northern states and to Canada. Have
volunteers record the students' information and ideas on the chalkboard
for reference as they read the novel.
- Linking to Today: Legacies.
Bring to class an object that holds personal significance for you.
Display the object and describe the associations the object brings
to mind to you. Then explain to students what a legacy is. Students
can volunteer to bring in objects from their own pasts to exhibit
The Layered Look.
Ask students, individually or in small groups, to use newspaper
and magazine pictures and headlines to create collages that communicate
the pride that people take in their heritage. Encourage them to
express the variety of racial, ethnic, religious, and national heritages
found in the United States.
- The Voice of the People.
Ask students to record and present oral histories that explore some
aspects of their community or of students' family heritage. Each student
should interview someone with a tale to tellan older relative,
friend, neighbor, or community leader. If possible, the interviews
should be tape or video recorded; if not, students should try to write
down the words of the interviewee as accurately as possible. The oral
accounts should then be presented to an audience of fellow students
or parents at a Heritage Day celebration.
- Extra! Extra!
Have students assume the role of a newspaper reporter and write a
news story about the recent discovery of the Dies Drear house as a
station on the Underground Railroad. Your news story should include
names, facts, dates, and details about the Underground Railroad for
readers unfamiliar with this episode of American history.
- Research It!
Have students write a report about a person famous for their activities
during the pre-Civil War period. You may choose someone mentioned
in the novel or connected with the events or themes of the novel.
Possibilities include Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, John Brown,
Dred Scott, Abraham Lincoln, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.