Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1)
Written by Margaret Peterson Haddix
I heard about this book 12 years after it was published. It wasn't until I was a fourth grade teacher and just about every student in my class was raving about it that I became interested. I figured there must be something to it to get the entire fourth grade to be so excited about a single book. But despite the many recommendations, I'm just now getting around to reading it a couple years later (I blame the endless stacks of papers to grade and planner to fill). While it was entertaining and enjoyable, I did not love it. It seemed simplistic and lacking. Even though it is a children's book, I felt there could have been a bit more meat to it. The story addresses several important issues but stays fairly shallow. Perhaps I need to read the rest of the series to get the whole picture, but I finished this one feeling a little disappointed.
However, it is wildly popular among fourth graders and sometimes you've got to jump on the bandwagon when they're excited about reading. Here are a few of my ideas on how to use this book in the classroom:
Read Aloud: The story is a pretty quick read with lots of short chapters (perfect for filling 5 or 10 minutes and still finding a good pausing spot). It is very engaging and would hold the attention of the class. Haddix leaves most chapters with a good cliffhanger (one of my favorite moments of teaching is when you close the book at the end of read aloud and the class, in unison and completely devastated, shouts, "NOOOO!!!") making this one an excellent choice to share together.
Government: In my fifth grade class, we spent a good chunk of time studying the American government: the three branches, bills and laws, the election process, etc. One issue in Among the Hidden is that of overpopulation. The law limiting families to two children is the solution provided by the government which led to lots of problems. It could be a lot of fun to use this issue in a mock classroom government. How would they solve this problem? What would the effects of their decision be? Let them discuss, research, present ideas, and vote on a solution. This would include skills in debate and public speaking and the students would seriously love it.
Literature Circles: Although I didn't love the book, I cannot deny that Haddix skillfully uses cliffhangers to suck you into the exciting world that she creates. Some good discussion questions could be: How does she help you relate to the characters? How is this world different from ours? How is it the same? How does she get us so excited to read the next chapter? I would love for the students to find their favorite cliffhangers and share them and discuss what makes them good. This would be fun to incorporate in their own mystery stories, too.
Writing: This would be a fun novel to use when discussing the use of cliffhangers and how to make your story more interesting for the reader. Students would enjoy revising stories they have written (possibly mystery stories) to include cliffhangers. Many of my students were always working on their own novels and could also incorporate this into their own writing.
Overall, I would give this book a 6 out of 10. It was engaging and a fun, quick read. Though it lacked the depth of some of my favorite novels, I enjoyed reading it and I know it was a fourth grade favorite at my school. It could be a good one to encourage students who have difficulty finding books and help them get more excited about reading.