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Keene author aims to help teachers with Common Core

Sunday News Correspondent

May 31. 2014 7:25PM
Peterborough author Alfred Struthers meets with St. Joseph Regional School sixth-graders to discuss his book, The Case of Secrets. The students are, left to right, Anthony Minickiello, Cooper Bean, Jillian McLean, Fiona Caffrey, Maya Allan, Jackson Lepisto, Natalie Davidson, and Jordan McLean. (Meghan Pierce)

Peterborough author Alfred Struthers answers questions about his new book, "The Case of Secrets," from St. Joseph Regional School sixth-graders in Keene. Meghan Pierce

KEENE - St. Joseph Regional School sixth-graders recently had the chance to meet with Peterborough author Alfred Struthers and discuss his newly published book for middle-grade students, "The Case of Secrets."

Struthers opens the children's mystery with an 11-year-old boy discovering a haunted book in his attic. Clues lead the main character, Nathan, and his friend Gina to uncover a mystery about an 1800s New York City architect.The book was published by an independent publisher out of San Francisco in November.

Knowing that teachers across the country are working to meet the newly implemented Common Core competency standards, Struthers is promoting the book by contacting teachers and sending out suggested study guides, broken down into what is expected for Common Core.

Currently, 40 classrooms in 25 states have added the book to their curriculum, Struthers said. He has been corresponding online with students who are reading his book and meeting with classrooms across the country for Skype sessions online.

Being so close to St. Joseph Regional School, Struthers was able to make a personal appearance.

It was a page-turner for the students, St. Joseph literature teacher Chris Smith said, adding that he had trouble keeping the students from reading ahead.

"I liked that at the end of every chapter it had something that made you want to keep reading," student Jackson Lepisto said.

He also enjoyed how Nathan and Gina bickered in the book.

"I normally teach classics," Smith said, "This, while being obviously extremely contemporary, read like a classic to me because there wasn't much technology discussed in the book. It was an old-style mystery about an old time period so I was able to enjoy it because it read like a classic, an old American history classic."

During his visit to St. Joseph's, Struthers answered questions about the book, but also talked about the writing process, characters, creating conflict and doing research.When writing the book, Struthers learned a lot about Gothic architecture."What happens if I write something in a book that is not true," Struthers asked the class.

The reader would catch it, the students said. Yes, Struthers said, emphasizing the importance of research.

Smith's students used the book as inspiration to do research on Keene architecture and the history of their own school building.

Smith said he loved that the students were unable to find the answers to their research questions about the school building on the Internet, but had to read an actual book they found in the school library about the parish to answer their research questions."There is a lot on the Common Core standards, which I think a lot of people are trying to align their curriculum with, that this book really develops and it was quite a bit of fun to find all these things," Smith said. "We went out in Keene, studied architecture, played word games, and wrote dialogue," all inspired from the book, he said."It had a lot of history," Smith said. "The character had to do research. So those are the kind of things, when you see the character who does research it was easy to transfer that to the kids. We did the same research steps as the character in the book, which as well meets the standards."

"The Case of Secrets" is set in the Boston area. Struthers' next book in the series is set in New Hampshire and follows Nathan and Gina on another mystery, involving a train that leaves Concord in the 1800s and when it reaches its destination, the Lakes Region, a train car is missing.

"And in 125 years it has never been found," Struthers said.

Greenfield train expert Dale Russell is helping Struthers do research for that book, he said.

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