Dear America: I Walk in Dread Storia Teaching Guide
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
About this book
It is 1691 in Salem Village. 12-year-old Deliverance (Liv) Trembley and her 17-year-old sister Remembrance (Mem) live with their uncle after the death of their parents. When the uncle leaves home to find work, he instructs the girls to take care of the farm and tell no one of his absence. Liv and Mem are left alone to survive the witch craze that sweeps across Salem like an infectious epidemic.
Liv records these frightening times in her diary, noting the sisters’ day-to-day struggles with hunger, disease, and—worst of all—the curiosity and gossip of neighbors. When several young village girls fall into hysterical afflictions and begin to accuse townspeople of witchcraft, the leaders of Salem set up the witch trials. Residents of Salem are accused, found guilty, and imprisoned. Liv believes that the trials are irrational and dangerous for the sisters. Mem accepts a proposal of marriage from a younger man of another village so they can flee Salem and its witch hunt before they, too, become accused.
The book leaves young readers asking questions that reach the core of this dark time in American history. Why do the girls act the way they do? Why do the villagers believe the girls? What lessons can we learn today from what happened in Salem?
Teaching the Book
I Walk in Dread tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials through the diary of young Deliverance Trembley of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This dark but fascinating period of American history provides the opportunity to teach students about the power of irrational fear and the importance of understanding culture and beliefs in a work of historical fiction. Activities engage students in researching and reporting on the history of a critical time in our country’s past.
Theme Focus: Fear
Comprehension Focus: Analyze Setting
Language Focus: Fearful Words
Get Ready to Read
Discuss the Witch Trials
Explain to students that they will read the fictional diary of a 12-year-old girl named Deliverance Trembley who lived in 1691 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Deliverance, also known as Liv, was a witness to the Salem Witch Trials. Ask students what they know about this time in American history. Do they think people really believed in witches? What are things that happened to those accused of witchcraft? After a discussion, explain to students that by 1692, 140 men and women in Salem were imprisoned for witchcraft. 19 were hanged as witches. One more was pressed to death under rocks.
A Video Introduction
Preview this historical video about the Salem Witch Trials from the Discovery Education website. Play it for students to build background knowledge.
Explain to students that I Walk in Dread contains many words that describe the feelings and fears of the people in Salem. These words are important to the meaning of the story and have strong negative connotations. Ask students to look for clues in the text to figure out the meanings of the words, check the dictionary definitions, and write them on the vocabulary cards.
Use Resource #1: Vocabulary Cards and distribute copies to students.
- abomination (p. 9)
- blasphemy (p. 32)
- affliction (p. 64)
- grievous (p. 73)
- ailments (p. 87)
- torment (p. 103)
- agony (p. 106)
- delusion (p. 115)
Words to Know
Ask students to refer to the definitions they wrote on their vocabulary cards to answer the following questions and define the words.
- What do the Puritans think was an abomination?
- How do the girls show their affliction of being tortured by witches?
- Why does Liv worry that she might be accused of blasphemy?
- How would a witch torment the girls?
- Why does Goody Corey think the girls have been caught up in a delusion?
Ask students to generate more questions about all the vocabulary words, including questions that relate to the book and questions that relate to their own lives.
As You Read
Reading the Book
Read aloud pages 3–7 of the book, asking students to follow along. Then prompt them to discuss questions such as: Who is telling the story? How is the language different than what you usually read? What kind of person is Deliverance? Do you like her?
Assign students to read I Walk in Dread independently. Encourage them to discuss the book with a partner as they read, asking questions and sharing responses about what is happening in the story.
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about this question as they read and be ready to answer it when they have finished the book. Write the question on chart paper or have students record it in their reading journals. Who do you think was most guilty during the Salem Witch Trials?
Analyzing and understanding the setting is an important element in students’ comprehension of I Walk in Dread. Explain to students that setting refers to the time and place of the events of a story. In this work of historical fiction, the setting also includes the culture and beliefs of the time. The Puritan beliefs about good and evil helped create the hysteria that fed the witch trials.
Help students understand these beliefs by analyzing evidence in the text that exemplifies them. Use the first example on the graphic organizer of Resource #2: Analyze Setting to model a think-aloud for students. Project the page on a whiteboard or pass out copies to students.
Model: Liv is thinking about how angry she became at Mem when they were playing a game with the other girls. To explain her anger, she says the Devil must have gotten into her. Like other Puritans, she really believes that the Devil can possess people. Next, Liv says she is grateful to God’s providence for having a place to live and food to eat. She believes that what happens to her depends on God’s goodness and she wants him to continue helping her sister and herself. From this quotation, I learn a lot about the importance to the Puritans of God’s goodness and the Devil’s evil.
Have students fill in the rest of the organizer to analyze text quotations shown about the beliefs of the Puritans. Discuss students’ answers and ask them to give evidence to support their thinking.
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements.
What different kinds of fear were behind the Salem Witch Trials? (Sample answers: People feared witches and the Devil because they could torture you; people feared the possessed girls because they accused others of witchcraft with little evidence; people feared each other because no one could trust each other.)
2. Analyzing Setting
What do the Puritans believe about God’s power over their lives? What sort of power do they think the Devil had? How were witches and warlocks connected to the Devil? (Sample answers: The Puritans believe that God could punish them through hardships, disease, and war. They believe the Devil worked evil by stealing the souls of men and women who became witches and warlocks.)
3. Fearful Words
Why do you think the author titled the book I Walk in Dread? What does dread mean? (Sample answers: The word dread means to fear greatly or to be very apprehensive. Everyday, Liv feared that she would be accused of witchcraft because she could write and read, kept a secret diary, and had no one to defend her.)
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
How do you think you would react if you lived in Salem at the time of the witch trials?
Do people today ever gossip or spread rumors that have no basis in fact? How does the Internet help keep those rumors alive?
Compare this fictional diary with another work of historical fiction that is written in chapters. What are the advantages of both kinds of books? Which do you like better?
Content Area Connections
How was medicine practiced in the time of the Salem Witch Trials? How much did doctors know about how the human body worked? Encourage students to research the role of the apothecary, the use of leeches to bleed patients, and the ideas about medicine in early colonial America.
Witch Trial Timeline
Encourage students to create a timeline of the witch trials in Salem. Direct them to start at January 1692 and end when the trials were condemned and stopped. Suggest that at the top of the timeline students include what was happening to Deliverance Trembley during the months of 1692. At the bottom of the timeline ask them to include the major events in the Salem Witch Trials. Guide students to the PBS Secrets of the Dead website.
Diary vs. Non-fiction
Assign students to read an encyclopedia article or other work of non-fiction about the Salem Witch Trials. Then have them create a T Chart to compare the fictional diary genre of I Walk in Dread with the non-fiction genre of the article. How do the two pieces present the time in history? Which is more accurate? Which is more interesting to read? Which tells the story most effectively and why? Discuss students’ responses with the group.
An important historical side note in I Walk in Dread is the conflict between the English settlers and the French and Wabanaki Indians. Encourage students to research more about the treaties, conflicts, and betrayals that took place between the Native Americans and the European settlers. Suggest that they report on their research presenting both the Native American and English points of view.
A Diary Entry from the Witch Trials
Students can use I Walk in Dread as a model to write a piece of historical fiction in the form of a diary entry. Ask them to take the role of another character in the book such as Mem, Goody Corey, Ann Putnam, John Proctor, Benjamin, or Darcy Cooper. Have students choose a day to write about from their character’s point of view. Remind them to use the pronoun “I” when writing and to keep in mind the language, culture, and beliefs of the time.
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Remind them that there is no one right answer. Who do you think was most guilty during the Salem Witch Trials?
Testify at the Witch Trials
Announce to students that they have been called to testify at the Salem Witch Trials. They have one day to prepare their statements. Like any other citizen of Salem, they have to bear the consequences of what they say. The rest of the class will play the role of the judges and the girls afflicted by the witches. Make copies of the Big Activity: Testify at the Witch Trials and distribute them to students to use to write their testimony. When they finish, create a “mock trial” for them to speak before. Instruct students playing the judges and the girls to react in a historically accurate manner.
About the Author
Lisa Rowe Fraustino has published four novels for young readers including I Walk in Dread for the Dear America Series; three anthologies of young adult short stories; and a picture book, The Hickory Chair. She won the 2010 Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literatures for her book The Hole in the Wall. Fraustino teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University and in the Graduate Program in Children’s Literature at Hollins University.
Fraustino grew up in rural Maine and lives with her husband in Connecticut and Maine. She has three grown-up children and four cats—including one who thinks he’s a dog. Visit the Scholastic website for an interview with the author about writing I Walk in Dread.
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