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Joshua's Song

Reading Group Guide

    By Joan Hiatt Harlow
    Joshua's life has changed dramatically with the death of his father during the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919. He now needs to help support the family, which means he must stop being a schoolboy and become a man with a job. Joshua adapts to the changes in his life, and when disaster strikes Boston, he proves that people can rely upon him.
    • Why didn't Joshua want his mother to know that he was working as a paperboy? Should he have told her what he was doing?
    • Why couldn't Joshua sing at his father's funeral? How can you help someone who is grieving?
    • Children don't need to find jobs to help their families anymore, but are there other ways they can be helpful? Do you help your family? How?
    Find a picture of the disaster online or locate a copy of Yankee Magazine, January 1965, or Smithsonian, November 1983 for articles pertaining to the subject.
    • Have the students place a small amount of molasses on their hands. After removing the molasses (was it difficult?), have them write about what it felt like, or how they would try to remove it when everything is covered with molasses.
    • Work math problems using the facts about Joshua's newspapers. For example, each paper costs $.01, Charlie gets $.01 for delivering the papers to Joshua, and the papers sold for $.03. If Joshua got a $.25 tip, how many papers would he need to sell to make $1.00? For older students you can have them compare the cost of six apples in Joshua's day ($.05) as a portion of Joshua's daily income ($5.00) to the cost of six apples today (have the students find the price) as a portion of daily income at today's minimum salary ($5.15/hr x 8 hours/day).
    • Have the students make a newspaper for the day after the molasses disaster. What information would they want to include? Have the students look at a present-day paper to see what a newspaper contains.
    This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
    Prepared by Betty Neal
    © William Allen White Children's Book Award
    Please visit for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles.

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About the Author

Joan Hiatt Harlow
Photograph courtesy of the author

Joan Hiatt Harlow

Joan Hiatt Harlow is the author of several popular historical novels including Secret of the Night Ponies, Shadows on the Sea, Midnight Rider, Star in the Storm, Joshua’s Song, and Thunder from the Sea. Ms. Harlow lives in Venice, Florida. For more information, visit her at