- Grades: 6–8
About this book
Subject Area : Language Arts
Reading Level : 6.1
Eleven-year-old Nicholas Young is about to embark on the journey of his life. In August 1768, he sneaks on board the H.M.S. Endeavour , piloted by famous explorer Captain James Cook, only to find that the ship is destined for an exciting adventure around the world. Discovered by the crew, Nick proves himself to be an able seaman and wins the admiration of the men on board, including the esteemed Captain Cook. His travels take him from London to such exotic locales as South America, New Zealand, and Africa, where he witnesses amazing discoveries and faces serious challenges. In Stowaway , Newbery Award-winning author Karen Hesse chronicles the adventures of an actual boy who soon discovers that his ship has set sail — to make history.
Students will understand and explore the book's historical context by researching a related topic. They will also learn how to incorporate research into expressive and descriptive writing.
Standard: Gathers and uses information for research purposes
To introduce the book, read aloud Nick's first journal entry (pp. 1-2). Then ask the students the following questions:
Where is the narrator? How do you know?
When does the story take place?
What do you know about the narrator?
Chart and discuss their responses. Give a brief summary of the plot, emphasizing that Stowaway is based on a true story and refers to real people, places, and events in the mid-1700s.
Ask students to consider the book's genre . Is it fiction or nonfiction? Review definitions of these terms, if needed. After a brief debate, introduce the terms "historical fiction" and "fictional account," two ways to define a literary work based in part on real people and/or events in history.
While reading, remind students to notice historical facts and fictional details in the book. Also encourage them to look at the "back pages" for more background information (Glossary, Ship's Company, and Ship's Itinerary).
- Read the Afterword (pp. 303-305) to learn how author Karen Hesse did research for this book and invented fictional details about the main character, Nick Young.
- Explain to the class that, like Hesse, they will be doing research for a writing piece. What historical figures, events, or topics from this book would you like to investigate further? Make a list on the chalkboard of possible choices: Captain Cook, Joseph Banks (the Naturalist), scurvy, and other diseases at sea, etc.
- After choosing their topics, students will conduct research via the library and Internet. During the research process, they will learn how to take notes and create a bibliography of source materials.
- Once the research is complete, they will write a series of Ship Logs (three to five) related to their research topics. For example, a student investigating Captain Cook would write about the sea voyage from the captain's perspective. What insights and observations would he make about his discoveries? What would he say about Nick the stowaway? Or perhaps there is an outbreak of scurvy, what are some possible passages from the ship's doctor's log.
- Remind students to base their writing on research, details from the book, and their imagination. Include maps and drawings to make the ship logs authentic. Add a bibliography at the end.
After reading the entire book, revisit the question posed in the Before Reading activity:
Is Stowaway fiction or nonfiction?
How would you categorize this book now? Why?
Invite students to cite examples of historical facts and fictional details from the book to prove their points. For an interesting twist, they can create a new name for this genre of writing (i.e., fictional nonfiction).
Other Books About Sea Voyages
By Sharon Creech
A young girl's adventure at sea told through her travel journal entries.
Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady
By Ellen Emerson White
In 1912, a 13-year-old girl describes her harrowing experience on the Titanic .
Other Books By Karen Hesse
Out of the Dust (Newbery Award Winner)
Letters From Rifka
A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin (Dear America Series)
The Music of the Dolphins
Teaching plan written by Lauren Gold