This book is all about how Jim and Penn, a mountain boy, meet and begin a friendship with some lessons from the uncles thrown in, of course.
The uncles and mama are going to walk Jim to the new school on his first day. Jim is horrified, but they are just joking. The school yard is crowded and Jim is uneasy until he runs into some boys he knows. They make plans to play baseball at recess. The town boys meet the mountain boys at recess and team up against each other to play ball. As the mountain boys are near to tying up the score, Jim hits Penn in the back with the baseball. Jim isn't sure if he did it on purpose, but perhaps he did. So begins that rivalry of Jim and Penn.
Big Day is the open house for the new school. There is also a carnival and contests and many people are there. Still early in the morning and Jim is anxious to get there so Uncle Zeno takes Jim on a walk and tells him the story of the naming of Aliceville to take his mind off of Big Day.
An Unexpected Guest
The uncles invite Whitey Whiteside to go to Big Day with them all. They seem to be trying to set him up with Mama but she's having none of it. Jim is curious about what's going on.
News from the Mountains
Jim gets tired of the carnival and goes into the school for some quiet. He runs into Penn and Mr. Carson there and they tell him stories of his dad when he lived on the mountain. Stories that are new to Jim. Jim begins to feel a bit friendlier to Penn. He's proud of who his dad was too.
A Victory of Sorts
There is a greased pole contest at Big Day and the prize is a dollar. Penn and Jim are the first big boys to try the pole. Penn makes good progress but is ultimately defeated even though he was determine. Jim makes it to the top of the pole and wins the dollar. He boast of his win on the way home. The uncles teach Jim that he wouldn't have won without Penn's help.
Jim and Uncle Zeno pass Abraham then two convicts digging holes for the poles that will carry the wires that will bring electricity to Aliceville. There have been no poles put in the holes every other trip that summer, but this trip they see the first poles in the holes. They stop to look and Uncles Zeno lowers Jim into the last hole before a pole. Not sure if there is a reason or if it's just a lark. Uncle Zeno lets Jim roam New Carpenter on his own for the first time. Jim runs into Penn and they decide to go exploring. Their exploring ends in a confrontation with some New Carpenter boys. Abraham saves them and Jim gains a new respect for him. Jim's friendship with Penn is also cemented.
The second section in the book not told by Jim. This one is from Mama's point of view. A large flock of blackbirds are leaving a tree to fly south and Jim is asking questions. Mama starts crying, runs to the tree, and chases the rest of the birds off. Perhaps this is symbolic of her life, her freedom.
8. What role does Abraham play? What lessons does he teach Jim, both in the field and in the alley?
I think Abraham shows Jim that people aren't always what you think they are. In the field, Abraham got the best hoe because he was the best worker, outside of the uncles. This shows Jim that hard good work is rewarded. In the alley, Abraham rescues Jim and Penn from having to fight King and the New Carpenter boys. This shows Jim that Abraham isn't a bad guy like he thought he was.
9. What do we know about Whitey Whiteside, "the unexpected guest" (pp. 96-101)?
Whitey Whiteside works for Governor Feeds and sell to the Uncles. He might be sweet on Mama.
10. Jim woke up on the first day of school thinking, "The morning smelled like school. The previous morning had smelled only like summer, like dew and grass and crops growing in the fields." What does school smell like to you?
Elementary school? The books and the library cause I pretty much just read under the lip of my desk all the time.
11. When he went to the old school, Jim knew who he could outrun (see p. 76). Things were different at the new school. Do you remember going to a new school? Do you remember who you could outrun?
I've gone to 13 different schools so far in my lifetime. When I was young though, I was the kid who got beat up and shut in lockers so no "outrunning" anyone for me.
12. On the "Big Day" there's a Ferris wheel (yes, it's capitalized) at the open house for the new school. Last month we read about the wheel that Mr. Ferris designed for Chicago, so compare it with the one in the town of Aliceville, North Carolina.
I didn't remember much about the Ferris wheel in Aliceville so I looked back at the book. Jim could see the Ferris wheel from the front porch, he wanted to get in line for it before Penn, and after dinner, he grew tired of riding it. I might have missed a part but I didn't find a description of the Ferris wheel in Aliceville. I doubt it was as large or on a scale of the one in Chicago. It also wouldn't be the engineering marvel that the Chicago Ferris wheel was as the design and crafting of a Ferris wheel had surely been if not perfected, then improved by this time.
13. Zeno told Jim, "Everybody knows you ain't got much of a town if a railroad track runs though it but the train won't stop" (p. 88). Explain how the train figured in the naming of Aliceville. And maybe tell us about the name of your town. Do trains figure into your town's history?
Uncle Zeno's grandfather did all the things the superintendent wanted for a train stop to occur in Sandy Bottom. Finally, he realized all he needed to do was get the engineer to stop the train so he named the town Aliceville after the engineer's beloved daughter.
Charleston, SC: The city was founded as Charlestown or Charles Town, Carolina in 1670; it adopted its present name in 1783. Charleston's name is derived from Charles Towne, named after King Charles II of England.
14. I can imagine "the red school on top of the hill" (p. 109). What was your school like?
The last elementary school I attended (for three years) was a formulaic brick building on a flat piece of land next to several developments.