The Jeweled House
By Bernadette Cortas
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*Curriculum and Study Guides Available Below
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Will Ally survive her punishment? Or will her 10 days, in an unfamiliar city, in an old rundown house, helping her Great-aunt Vera pack moving boxes, bore her to death? Many things are changing for this 12-year-old girl, and finding herself in unfamiliar territory only adds to her frustration, until she learns of her ancestor’s secret. With her new friend Ciro, she sets out to save her collapsing family by finding the jewel within.
Aquamarine: provides direction in life and calms ones nerves
Out the plane window, the ground was rising up to meet her, faster and faster. Trees grew larger and larger. Their leaves waved wildly as if warning: “Turn back, Ally! Turn back!” Her stomach somersaulted into her throat as the plane’s landing gear groaned and shook beneath her seat.
She closed her eyes and squeezed her lucky amulet hanging around her neck. The plane hit the ground hard, rocking and bouncing the passengers around, before cruising to a stop. “Welcome to Chicago” crackled through the static of the plane’s microphone.
While the other passengers jumped from their seats, grabbed their bags, and filed out of the plane, Ally remained seated, listening to the cacophony of clicking seatbelts. Outside her window, heat was visibly rising from the tarmac. A baggage handler tossed luggage from an opening in a plane onto a large baggage carrier. He glistened with sweat. Ally empathized with the man, assuming he would prefer to be somewhere else. She would prefer to be home with her friends, enjoying the summer, but instead had been sent here to help an elderly relative for the first ten days of her summer vacation.
“Excuse me,” said a flight attendant. Ally looked up at the woman standing over her with her hands on her hips. Her smile had sharp edges. “You have to exit the plane now.”
Ally released her seatbelt.
“Nice necklace,” the woman said, pulling a discarded coffee cup from a seat pocket.
“Thanks,” said Ally. But to her, it was more than an ordinary necklace. The bluish-green stone, the size of nickel that hung on a thin, leather cord, was a gemstone known as aquamarine. She trusted in its power to give her guidance and direction in life. Ally also liked that aquamarine stones have the ability to calm a person’s nerves.
The attendant slammed the overhead compartment door shut above Ally’s seat. “Let’s go.”
Ally collected her Be Jeweled magazine from the seat pocket in front of her, and followed the lanky attendant in her fitted navy blue uniform and tidy hairdo. She reminded Ally of a Barbie Doll.
“Is someone meeting you today?” asked the attendant, suppressing a yawn.
Ally straightened her back, standing as tall as possible. “No. I’m taking the ‘L’ train.” She had ridden the ‘L’ only once before from the airport to her great-aunt’s house in Chicago, but that had been with her mother seven years ago, when she was only five years old.
“You can find your luggage at baggage claim number B-4. Would you like help locating your bags?” The flight attendant was facing the wall of the plane, stuffing tattered magazines into a rack. She yawned again. Ally thought the woman could use a cup of coffee. Or better yet, a carnelian gemstone, which people carried for high energy.
“No, thank you, I have all my luggage right here.” She tried to move past the attendant, but the woman was blocking the aisle. Ally faked a little cough.
The attendant turned and faced her, crossing her arms. “Where are you headed?”
“To—the—train,” said Ally, enunciating each word. “Remember? I said I was taking the ‘L’ train.”
“Right, right.” The attendant looked her over. Ally awkwardly adjusted her backpack on her shoulder, her duffle bag in her other hand. “To catch the train you follow the signs for baggage claim, then take a left at the bottom of the escalator.” The attendant paused to check her nails. “Enjoy your stay. Thank you for flying with us,” she said. And with a well-practiced smile, she finally stepped aside and out of Ally’s way.
The steamy-hot gangway reminded Ally of how she could be home right now, spending the long, hot afternoon swimming with her friends at the city pool. But, in the back of Ally’s mind, she knew that would not have happened. She would most likely be confined to her backyard, babysitting her four-year-old brothers (known as the terrible triplets), as they pummeled each other in their baby pool.
Checking her watch, she was surprised to see it was already eleven o’clock in the morning. An icy chill greeted her as she entered the frigid air conditioning of the airport. People were everywhere. Some scurried about while others sat waiting. Ally believed that everyone in the world belonged in one of two categories: those who make things happen, and those who wait for things to happen. She strived to be in the first category.
As she headed off to find her train, she glanced at the baggage claim board, and remembered the flight attendant saying the baggage claim carousel number for her flight was B-4. Following the signs to the train, she muttered, “B-4” to herself.
“B-4. Be-four. Before. Before what?” Was fate trying to tell her something? Was nothing going to be like it was before she had arrived in this big city? According to Ally, life’s changes never seemed to be for the better, beginning with the birth of her triplet brothers. The arrival of a baby, times three, had hit her like an earthquake. The ground under her shifted and rolled until nothing was the same in her once-perfect, only-child world.
Another, more recent, unexpected curveball was her parents’ loud debate about whether they should attempt a trial separation. And now here she was in a strange part of the country, miles from her East Coast town, serving out her punishment. Was life about to take another dramatic turn?
As she rode the escalator down, she rolled the stone of her amulet between her thumb and finger. An anxious feeling crept inside her. The trip had been easy so far, perhaps too easy, she thought. It was like the calm before her brothers launched a surprise attack. It didn’t matter if their weapon was a squirt gun, a pillow, or small green army men their unexpected assaults were dreadfully unsettling.
Ally pulled her bag closer to her side, as the escalator, grinding and groaning, slowly lowered her all the way down.
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THE JEWELED HOUSE a mystery
Introduce middle grade students to the Gold Rush (1849-1855), the Great Chicago Fire (Oct. 1871), and the Great Depression (1929-1939), using this work of fiction as a basis for discussions in the middle grade classroom. These topics are part of the National Council for the Social Studies and curriculum for U.S. History. Topics for discussion:
- Introduce the Gold Rush. Discuss immigration and the westward movement.
- Introduce the Great Chicago Fire. How did the fire affect the city and its people?
- Introduce the Great Depression. How were families affected by the Depression?
- Discuss and create timelines and family trees.
- How did/could these events have effected the students’ families? If not originally from the United States, how did events of their country of origin possibly affect their families.
- To understand the cause and effect of events in history on ones own family.
- To understand chronological order and how to read a timeline, measuring and calculating calendar time.
- To understand how different events in U.S. History affected American families, thereby shaping our society today.
- Gold Rush
- Great Depression
- Family (understanding that many students are raised in nontraditional family structures).
Background: Ally’s journey is fictional, but the story is an example of a family’s timeline from immigration to present day. While the purpose of the story is to entertain middle grade readers (ages 8-11) as Ally tries to solve a family mystery, it touches on important events in U.S. History, creating lessons for the classroom and helping students make a connection between themselves and history.
The Gold Rush drew many immigrants and easterners of the U.S. west helping populate the west and California in 1849. Many people spent their life’s savings to get to California. In pursuit of great wealth, they left their families and hometowns, risking it all.
The Great Chicago Fire, in 1871, destroyed most of the city of Chicago in two days. The fire left 100,000 people homeless and took 200 to 300 lives. The tragedy left most families with the struggle to start all over again.
The Great Depression, from 1920 – 1939, was a time of great economic decline. In other words, banks closed and businesses failed leaving many people without work or money. By 1933, about 13 to 15 million Americans were unemployed. Throughout the story, Ally tires to put herself in her ancestor’s shoes and comes to appreciate what it means to be part of a family.
Part One: Making the topic relevant: Begin a discussion on family. Ask the students where their families originated.
Part Two: Read THE JEWELED HOUSE with students and start a discussion using the following topics:
- How did events in U.S. History affect Ally’s family?
- Why was Ally worried about not finding the family jewel and the possibility of losing the family home?
- How did Ally’s perception or view of family change from the beginning to the end of the book.
Possible Concluding Activities:
1) Have students pick one of the historical events (Gold Rush, Chicago Fire, or Great Depression) and write about what their lives would have been like if they had lived at that time. What do they think it was like for their own families?
2) Ask students to write about their own family history. Do they know where their parents were born? Where their grandparents were born? How about great-grandparents? Students can create a list of interview questions to ask family members.
3) Have each student create a family tree or timeline with dates that correspond to dates in history that they have been studying.
THE JEWELED HOUSE a mystery
Questions that align with the Common Core State Standards for 3-5. To find the CCSS explanations, consult the Common Core website http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy
Reading Standards for Literature
Key Ideas and Details: RL 3.1, 3.3, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 5.3
Craft and Structure: RL 3.5, 3.6, 4.6, 5.4, 5.5
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: RL 3.7
1. How did Ally’s ideas about family evolve throughout the story? How did she feel about her family at the beginning of the book? How did she feel about family at the end of the book? (RL 3.3)
2. Family is one theme of this novel. Discuss another theme using examples from the text. (RL 4.2)
3. What did the family jewel symbolize? How did it keep the Restelli family together through the generations? (RL 5.4)
4. What characteristics made Ciro a good friend for Ally? (RL 3.3)
5. How do you feel about Ally’s suspicions regarding Crooks at the beginning of the book? Do you believe Ally’s feelings were justified? (RL 4.3)
6. Do the Jeweled House floor plans help create the tone of the house? How do these sketches aid in the reading of the story? (RL 3.7)
7. Why do you think the author chose to use names of gems and jewels as the chapter titles? Why do you think the author chose those particular jewels for each chapter? (RL 3.5)
8. The point-of-view of this novel is in third person. How different would the story be if told by Ally in first-person point-of-view? (RL 4.6)
9. Describe Crooks. Would you call him a villain? How did his actions contribute to Ally finding the family jewels? (RL 3.3)
10. When Ally found the threatening note in the bookcase’s hidden compartment, did you think she was right to not tell Aunt Vera? (RL 4.1)
11. Do you think it was foolish or courageous of Ally and Ciro to sneak into Crooks’ house? What would you have done? (RL 3.3)
12. When Ally first met Crooks, it was a tense conversation. Why? (RL 5.5)
13. Compare and contrast Ally’s reaction to finding the threatening note to Ciro’s reaction to the note. (RL 5.3)
14. Explain how the weather plays a part in the novel. (RL 4.3)
15. Do Ally and Ciro make likely friends? (R.L 5.3)
16. If you were Aunt Vera, how would you have answered Ciro’s questions in the last chapter? “Are you going to sell the necklace to keep the house? Or are you going to sell the house and wear the necklace?” (RL 3.1)
17. Would you describe Ally as resourceful? Use quotes from the text to help you defend your answer. (RL 5.4)
18. If you lived in a home that was said to have a hidden treasure inside, would you look for it? Was Ally right to look for the family jewel even though Aunt Vera asked her not to waste her time? (RL 3.6)
19. How did Aunt Vera’s character change throughout the book? What was she like at the beginning? How was she in the middle? Did she change at the end of the book? (RL 4.3)
20. After reading Ally’s adventure, have your thoughts about family changed?