Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Danger Box

I recently read aloud Blue Balliett's The Danger Box to my class. When I picked it up at my favorite children's bookstore, Cover to Cover, I was initially drawn in by the front flap:

"A boy in a small town who has a different way of seeing.
A curious girl who doesn't belong.
A mysterious notebook.
A missing father.
A fire.
A stranger.
A death.
These are some of the things you'll find within the Danger Box."

As a fan of mysteries, these words immediately caught my attention. I love things that need further explanation and investigation. I also gravitate to characters who appear to be "different" in some way. A boy with "a different way of seeing" and a girl "who doesn't belong." These are characters with whom I wanted to spend more time.

On my first read, I read the story through in one sitting. The cliffhangers kept me turning the pages. I will have to say as a read aloud, though, it was frustrating for my students to have me stop some days in places they might have continued to read on their own.

But, there were so many other reasons this made for a good class read aloud. Some of the many things we tracked together as a class:
  • The "game" that is introduced in the first chapter and continues throughout the story, and trying to figure out what exactly the players' final goal is.
  • The 2nd chapter introduces us to Zoomy (the boy mentioned on the front flap), and the reader realizes he's in trouble as he hears footsteps coming toward him and his Danger Box.
  • Then, Blue Balliett leaves us hanging and the book becomes a huge flashback for a quite a period of time. It makes life interesting as details about the main characters start to come into focus during this flashback.
  • Many of my students really paid attention to the development of characters over time. They keep read aloud notebooks to track their thinking and a majority of them were gathering information about the many characters.
  • Trying to figure out who was publishing all the Gas Gazettes, a free newspaper found in places around town.
  • A mysterious code that comes into play later in the book. On a side note about this code, one of my students immediately figured out how it worked. I've included a picture of how he figured it out (this will mean more to people who have already read this story / sorry for the image reversal).
  • **This is a little bit of a spoiler** The ties in this book to Charles Darwin were fun for the students as well.
  • The vocabulary - the two children who are the main characters collect good words; we did the same as a class.
  • The concept of the "search box" -- Zoomy continually uses this item to find out more information about topics of interest to him on the computer. So, in our class, we stoopped calling it a Google search, but rather a search with the search box.
The Danger Box is a fun addition to the other mysteries Blue Balliett has already written.


  1. I wish you could see my reader's notebook entry for The Danger Box... we have an almost a word for word match on why we chose the book! The inside flap and cover color/design completely grabbed my interest, too! There were so many bits of language that I loved. I adored Zoomy's thought process... his feelings about list making (p.16) mirror mine.

  2. I love Blue Balliett! This one is on my "read it when you're through the Notables push" shelf. I can't wait!