This post includes language arts and interdisciplinary activities for My Near-Death Adventures, by Alison DeCamp. It’s part of a series that shares language arts and interdisciplinary activities for selections from Duke TIP’s 4th-6th Grade Online Book Club, which you can re-purpose for your classroom.
Why My Near-Death Adventures?
- A coming-of-age story featuring a boy growing up with his mother and grandmother in the midst of a late 19th-century logging camp.
- Historical fiction with insight into American culture in the late 1800s.
- Lots of humor.
- Opportunities to explore gender stereotypes and roles.
- As Stan, the protagonist matures, we see his developing metacognition, which provides opportunities to reinforce those skills with students.
- Social-emotional topics that include
- overcoming adversity,
- Engaging, challenging interdisciplinary connections in history; math; marketing, and environmental science
About the Book
A mysterious envelope and a wild imagination can sure cause a lot of problems, we don’t mind saying. Ordinarily, Stanley Arthur Slater spends his time as “any self-respecting almost-twelve-year-old” Michigan boy living in 1895 would: reading Mark Twain novels, making his birthday list (only 11 ½ months to go!), evading loup-garous, and dreaming of adventure (4). Everything changes, though, when Stan finds a crumpled, empty envelope on the kitchen table and overhears Mama and Granny whispering about money problems and his dearly-departed father. Then he learns the unthinkable: His father isn’t actually dead! How could his sweet mama have kept this secret from him? His father is probably leading a cattle drive, performing with the circus, or climbing a steep mountain peak somewhere. They should start looking for him immediately!
Unfortunately, Mama has other plans. They are leaving their home to spend the winter cooking at a lumber camp up near Lake Michigan. His evil Granny is going along to help Mama find a new man and make Stan do schoolwork. To make matters worse, his annoying cousin Geri will be there, too, causing trouble and blaming him as usual! Stan will sure have his work cut out for him, what with ducking his Granny’s pinchy fingers, avoiding Geri’s schemes, and keeping the shanty boys away from his mama. On the bright side, a lumber camp might be a good place to start looking for his long-lost father. Maybe he can even learn to be a lumberjack and go on a river drive, too! Somehow, Stan’s got to show Mama he’s the only man she really needs . . . until they track down his father, that is.
About the Author
Alison DeCamp is a former middle- and high-school Language Arts teacher who proudly hails from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where her family has lived for generations. She grew up working in her dad’s hardware store, absorbing family lore, and flipping through her great-grandma’s scrapbook of unusual magazine clippings, all of which inspired her to write her first novel about a whip-smart, young boy with a quirky sense of humor coming of age in a northern Michigan lumber camp. After My Near-Death Adventures hit the shelves, she divided her days between raising her two teenagers, working part-time in a local bookshop, and writing the next installment of Stan’s adventures, My Near-Death Adventures: I Almost Died. Again. To learn more about Alison DeCamp’s writing process, visit her website.
Have you taught My Near-Death Adventures or other books Alison DeCamp?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- As far as Stan can remember, he and Mama have always been on their own, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal to him. In reality, a single mother raising a child alone was not nearly as common in 1895 as it is today. How would you say Mama is doing managing her child and household on her own? What kind of mother is she? How would you describe her priorities and decision-making skills? How does she spend her time? In what way(s) is her life different because she doesn’t have a husband with whom to share these responsibilities? Be sure to include specific evidence from the book for support.
- Based on what you have read so far, what can you tell about society’s typical expectations for men’s and women’s roles inside and outside the home in 1895 America? How do these expectations compare with the way you observe men and women living, working, and interacting with one another today? Where do you think our overall ideas of “manliness” and “womanliness” come from, anyway? Remember to include specific examples for support.
- In Chapter 23, when Stan regains consciousness after hitting his head, he goes a bit crazy from the pain, the sight of his own blood, and the fear that he’s going to die. In response to his over-the-top behavior, Granny “throws her hands up in the air and rolls her eyes to the ceiling,” declaring, “Good Lord, Alice. I say let him die” (169). Obviously, Granny is just being sarcastic. Even though they don’t always get along, she clearly doesn’t want Stan to die. After all, she has just waved her own smelling salts under his nose to wake him! Why, then, does Granny talk this way? Do you see any similarities between Granny’s and Stan’s personalities, particularly in terms of the way they talk, think, tell stories, and occupy their free time? Why (or why not)? Be sure to provide specific examples from the book for support.
- Even though he has resolved never to trust him, Stan finds himself telling Stinky Pete (Peter McLachlan) all about his secret wish to find his father, so he’ll have someone to take him on the river drive: “This guy [Stinky Pete] has a way of weaseling into a fellow’s skull and making him spit out his brains. He is so sneaky” (192). Why is Stan reluctant to let his guard down with someone who has only been kind and patient with him? What is it about Stinky Pete that makes Stan feel so unexpectedly comfortable and safe? Does Stan really think Stinky Pete is dangerous? How can you tell?
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
- The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition – with activities on the architects who designed the famous “White City”; the collaboration between inventors Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse; and an exploration of the numerous inventions – like the elevated electric train and the ferris wheel – that we still enjoy today that made their debut at this Exposition.
- Silviculture and the Origins of Forest Management in America – with activities to help students understand the history of the logging industry, the impact of deforestation, the economic conditions brought about by the Industrial Revolution that made forestry management possible, and the academic and career fields of silvics and silviculture.
- Mathematical Problem Solving in Forestry – with activities on the mathematics used in day-to-day forestry-management; the principles of geometry and physics involved in the tree-felling process; mathematical methods for measuring the heights of trees; and calculating a proper tree-felling notch.
- The Advertising Revolution in America – with activities on the history of advertising in America and the various persuasion techniques advertisers use to sell products.