Bibliographic Information: Peck, Richard (2003). The River Between Us. New York: Dial Books.
Plot Description: Tilly lives a quiet life with her family (mother, twin brother and younger sister) on top of the hill above town (Devil’s Backbone). One day as war is brewing, Tilly and her family’s lives change forever. When the town dance is interrupted by the whistle of a ship coming into port, the whole town rushes down to the river to meet it. As people shout up to the ship for news from down river, two mysterious women, Delphine and Calinda, come down the gangplank. Tilly’s mother takes the women in as boarders and all manner of fascinating objects come with them from corsets, to spices, to lamp oil. Tilly is having the time of her life with these strange visitors, until war breaks out and her brother Noah leaves to join the army. One night Tilly wakes to find her mother in a trance demanding that she go get her brother Noah and not to return until she has him with her. Thus Tilly and Delphine head off in search of Noah.
Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile Measure: 740L Interest Level: Upper Grades ATOS Book Level: 4.9
Qualitative Reading Analysis: Shifts in time and point of view at the beginning and end of the novel, may cause confusion for a few readers, but most should not have any trouble because the shifts happen at chapters and the years are noted under the chapter number. At the end of the book there is a note from the author about the period around the civil war and what life was like during that time, as well as the cultural and societal effects of the war. There is some unfamiliar vocabulary from the time period, but context provides meaning for those phrases. Also, a few characters occasionally speak in French. Most of these instances are then repeated in English, so they do not impede comprehension for non-French speakers. Experiences will not be familiar to students, but some may relate to loss, hardship or racism experienced by the characters. Some meanings are left to the reader to identify, but they are usually revealed later in the story.
Content Area: Reading, Literature, History
Content Area Standard:
English Language Arts Standards for Reading: Literature: Key Ideas and Details: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
English Language Arts Standards for Reading: Literature: Key Ideas and Details: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
English Language Arts Standards for Reading: Literature: Craft and Structure: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
Curriculum Suggestions: Have students analyze a primary source from the Civil War Era to gain more background about the time in which the story takes place. Do a cross curricular unit with History and English, where students learn about the Civil War in their history class and apply that knowledge to understanding the novel. Teach students about foreshadowing and have students find examples in the novel and make predictions based on the foreshadowing. Have students keep a journal of any unfamiliar vocabulary they come across, with notes on whether or not they are able to discern meaning from the context. Delphine talks a lot, but doesn’t reveal much about her situation. Keep track of any personal information she reveals and compare them for accuracy. Does her story change over time?
Supporting Digital Content:
Awards: Scott O’Dell Award; ALA Notable/Best Books; Parent’s Choice Award/Honor Book; Publishers Weekly Best Book; Booklist Editors’ Choice; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; BCCB Blue Ribbon Book; IRA’s Teachers’ Choice Award; Great Lakes Book Award/Honor
Character names/descriptions: Tilly tells most of the story, she is 16 when the Civil War breaks out. Noah is Tilly’s twin brother who goes off to join the war, Cass is their little sister who can see things others can’t, Delphine is a mysterious and extravagant young woman who arrives by riverboat late one night, Calinda is the young black woman traveling with Delphine.
Personal Thoughts: I loved Richard Peck’s Blossom Culp stories as a child, so I was excited to see he has some very recent publications, such as this novel. There are some of the same supernatural elements in this story, as there are in the Blossom series.
High interest annotation: On the eve of the Civil War, two mysterious young women arrive on the last riverboat out of New Orleans and change the Pruitt families lives forever.