by Paul Fleischman. (Candlewick Press, 1996. ISBN 1564024695. Order Info.) Novel. 79 pages. Grades 5-9.
Dateline: Troy is a retelling of the Trojan War. Fleischman tells it clearly and, although considerably shorter than The Iliad, all the pertinent events are included and he's made it very accessible for even less able readers. Fleischman's masterful retelling of the tale of the Trojan War is only part of this remarkable book. It's the juxtaposition of his newspaper collages which makes this book startling and immediately relevant. After an introduction stating: "Though their tale comes from the distant Bronze Age, it's as current as this morning's headlines", Fleischman then shows his statement's truth by placing newspaper collages on each page reflecting the modern equivalent of those events in the text.
For instance, Hecuba's nightmare, interpreted by the priest to mean that the child she was about to bear would bring ruin to Troy, set in motion the events that would cause the gods, heroes and mortals to engage in a deadly war that would, ultimately, fulfill the prophecy. Opposite the page telling of Priam and Hecuba, the king and queen of Troy, hearing the awful prophecy, is a collage. Against a background of the constellations, this collage shows the newspaper article headlined: "REAGANS USE ASTROLOGY: AIDS CONFIRM". When Paris chooses Aphrodite as the fairest, the reflected article shows Miss Universe being crowned.
What a fantastic idea! The book should be accessible to most readers from fourth grade and up, but you may want to read it aloud.
Things to Talk About and Notice
- Show the kids what he's done. Do a little predicting and brainstorming, after they get the idea, about what modern events he could have used for each part. Probably someone will suggest doing it with other books but, before you go off too far in the direction of the clippings, stay with this story for a while.
- A good discussion might take place starting with a series of "If Only" statements about the war such as: "If only Hecuba had kept her dream to herself, Priam would never have ordered the killing of the new baby Paris." It's a good way to retell the story and make sure everybody's got the events in mind. You could make other "If Only" statements about real events in today's headlines if you want to take a side step.
- Find other accounts of the Trojan War. Rosemary Sutcliff's Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad Illustrated by Alan Lee (Delacorte, 1993 ISBN 0 385 31069 2) is almost the antithesis of Fleischman's account: it is more descriptive and, although Lee's illustrations are fine, Sutcliff's meat is to be found in the text, not the graphics. Sutcliff's story is more detailed and more human than Fleischman's. Her images are powerful and she presents a more balanced account than the Iliad's pro-Grecian one did. Olivia Coolidge's The Trojan War (Houghton, 1952 ISBN 0 395 06731 6) has few illustrations and has been around a long time but it's well done and, much lengthier than Fleischman's, offering many details not included in either Fleischman's or Sutcliff's accounts. There are many other, less literary but accessible books on the subject.
- Re-read one page from Paul Fleischman's book and then another author's (even Homer's if the kids are up to it) account of the same events. What material did Fleischman choose to omit? What would the inclusion of that material have done to the book's effect?
- Gather together as many versions of the story of the Trojan War and its extensions as possible. Don't forget the mythology of Greece, current geography, the history of Greece, books about the archeological discovery of the ruins of Troy, biographies of Schliemann. Let individuals or small groups decide which aspect they'd would like to further investigate and how they'll convey the discoveries to the rest of the class.
- The class may want to take on an all-class project. They could make copies of the brief text in the book and use them to make an annotated time line of the events of the Trojan War. Let the kids decide the best form and style of illustrations to use to illuminate their time line.
- Look at Fleischman's choices for newspaper clippings for each event in the war. What other choices might he have made? Look through current issues of magazines and newspapers as well as library archives to find other possibilities. Place those clippings or copies of them on the time line. Make lines showing the relationship of those clippings to the events of the war.
- One of the many tragic figures in the war was Cassandra, doomed to be able to see into the future and yet have no one believe her predictions. What other characters do they see as particularly tragic in Fleischman's book: heroes Hector and Ajax? Hecuba? Paris? There are many, many choices. In fact, kids may need to keep a cast of characters list in order to keep them all straight. It could be a series of pictures and stories on a bulletin board. They could even make a data base on the computer since many of these characters had lives before and some, after the events in the book. The data base could extend the information and even link characters by computer.
- Maybe it's time now to make a list of other books that could be done Fleischman's way. Brainstorm for a few ideas for each title you come up with. The Giver by Lois Lowry would be first on my list. Wouldn't it be a great book to use for today's parallels? -- giving up color, hills and forests because they are inefficient and unnecessary, creating perfect families, matching individuals with the perfect occupation, using some women as child-bearers only, euthanasia of the elderly. In fact, almost any piece of science fiction should work. Look what you could do with Orwell's 1984 on the middle school level.
- Get out the newspapers (new and old), the Reader's Guide, the computer access to other reference sources, the Microfiche film and reader. Post a list of the books individuals or groups have chosen. A writing board on which they can leave messages about the headlines or articles they're looking for, should get the cooperation spirit functioning. They're bound to come upon parallels they can't use but someone else can.
- This story is referred to as a "mythic tale" meaning that it contains many actions and reactions of the gods and goddesses. Students can re-read the story and make a list of the events that they think could actually have happened. If Hecuba's dream and Paris's awarding of the golden apple to Aphrodite did not set in motion the events that were to become the Trojan War, what could have done it?
- If your class hasn't already done a mythology study, Fleischman's book will make a good introduction to it. If they're well versed in the subject of gods and goddesses, the book should let them review it a bit. Depending on the directions your class takes you can end up a long way from Troy or you could be with Ulysses on his Odyssey. Either way it's a nice gift, isn't it? Thank you, Mr. Fleischman.