Get a FREE ebook by joining our mailing list today! Plus, receive recommendations for your next Book Club read.
Print Reading Group Guide
THE SECRET OF THE RED FLAME
By K. M. Kimball A Reader's Guide for Grades 4 and Up Guide Developed by Nicole M. Jensen About the Book After Jozef loses the earnings from his family's butcher shop to a gang, he vows to recover the money. Despite his brother's warnings, Jozef and his friends form a secret society to infiltrate the gangs that have been victimizing the Polish-American community in 1871 Chicago. As Chicago threatens to erupt in flames, Jozef pursues a foe far more dangerous -- and evil -- than the homeless waifs who stole his family's cash. In a city in flames, can Jozef smoke out a killer? Praise for THE SECRET OF THE RED FLAME: "[T]his historical novel is refreshing in its willingness to take on difficult realities and weave them into a story with narrative force..." -- Booklist THE SECRET OF THE RED FLAME 0-689-85174-X Aladdin Paperbacks About the Author Always fascinated by the "mystery of history," author K. M. Kimball decided to feature the Great Chicago Fire in her latest mystery novel for children, THE SECRET OF THE RED FLAME. The carefully researched story focuses on the young hero's dramatic efforts to discover the truth behind the crimes in the city's Polish community. To do this, he enlists the aid of his older brother, an embittered Civil War veteran. Ms. Kimball has written for children, teenagers, and adults for over twenty years. Her many novels have been published in the United States and abroad under various pen names. As a history buff and former teacher, she delights in creating exciting stories for young readers that bring history to life by way of one of her favorite genres -- the mystery. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two frisky and literary kitties, Miranda and Tempest, both of whom love to be read to. Honest. Study Questions The following questions are provided to assist in classroom or reading group book studies. They may be selected or altered to fit a particular group's needs. The Vocabulary list is provided to assist in the study of this novel. Words have been listed in the form in which they are found in the story. Page numbers have been provided. Encouraging students to identify the root words, define the words as used in the text, and/or compose their own sentences using the Vocabulary may enhance Vocabulary skills. Prior to Reading Before beginning the novel, take a moment to reflect on the title: THE SECRET OF THE RED FLAME. What do you think the "Red Flame" is? Make a prediction about the meaning of the "Red Flame" and the "secret" it holds. At the end of the story, reflect on your prediction and its accuracy. Chapter 1: Thieves Vocabulary gritty p. 1 serge p. 2 frock p. 2 mused p. 3 jostle p. 3 billows p. 3 1. Define gritty. Compose two sentences describing things that you would call "gritty" in your life. 2. Who is Tato? 3. What relationship do you think Jozef has with his brother? Why? 4. What job does Jozef perform for his family? 5. What crisis happens to Jozef in Chapter 1? Why is he afraid to return home? Chapter 2: Shamed Vocabulary nave p. 10 tenements p. 11 loathing p. 17 succulent p. 22 purveyors p. 22 1. On page 14, the author uses a metaphor when Jozef describes Tato's hands as "immense paws." What is a metaphor and why do you think the author chooses to use them in her writing? 2. There is tension between Jozef's father and brother in this chapter. Why? Do you think the reader is supposed to fully understand this tension at this time? Chapter 3: The Secret of the Red Flame Vocabulary visage p. 24 putrid p. 24 constable p. 25 glumly p. 26 glowering p. 26 subtle p. 27 winced p. 31 feat p. 31 reluctantly p. 31 silos p. 32 tinder p. 32 conspirators p. 33 anarchists p. 33 crimson p. 33 1. What does Jozef mean on page 27 when he says Nick's ideas are "never exactly subtle"? Explain. 2. What direct impact did the cholera epidemic have on Jozef's family? 3. This chapter reveals "The Secret of the Red Flame." Does the actual "Red Flame" agree with the prediction you made before beginning to read the novel? Chapter 4: Bridget Vocabulary summon p. 35 solemn p. 35 wretched p. 37 shanties p. 37 residue p. 37 thoroughfare p. 40 cooper p. 40 populace p. 40 immense p. 48 careened p. 49 innards p. 49 evasively p. 50 vague p. 51 wary p. 53 credence p. 55 1. Where are the Flames' headquarters located? Why is this an ideal location? 2. In this chapter, a new plan is hatched. Do you think it is a good plan? Why or why not? 3. On page 46, as Jozef and Donna are walking along, the author writes, "Six squares later..." What does this mean? What are other ways to say this in the present day? 4. What is a "stall" as defined in this chapter? 5. In Chapter 4, Jozef meets the redheaded girl once again, only this time under different circumstances. How is she different than she was during their first encounter? Has Jozef's opinion of her changed? Has yours? Explain. Chapter 5: A Test Vocabulary ransack p. 61 jubilation p. 61 gilded p. 68 dispersing p. 70 covetousness p. 72 folio p. 73 1. Why does Jozef persuade Nick not to go back to the gang's hideout for the money? 2. What is the "test" in this chapter and who is tested? Is the test passed? 3. What is historically significant about the play that is mentioned in this chapter? 4. Why does Bridget insist on going through with the test? Chapter 6: Caught in the Act! Vocabulary parasol p. 74 mayhem p. 75 perilously p. 83 beholden p. 85 1. How and why has Jozef's perception of Bridget been altered by the result of "the test"? 2. This chapter reveals some of the deeper characterization and thoughts of Jozef's older brother. What past experiences are explained that cause the reader (and Jozef) to more fully understand Frank's position? Chapter 7: A New Plan Vocabulary jeopardy p. 89 fathom p. 89 parchment p. 90 gout p. 90 mutton p. 91 threshold p. 94 imperial p. 94 obliged p. 95 clandestine p. 98 1. Jozef is faced with a difficult ultimatum in Chapter 7. What are his options? What choice or plan would you make in his predicament? Chapter 8: Murder! Vocabulary patriots p. 100 maneuvering p. 103 naught p. 103 mused p. 103 urchin p. 104 provocation p. 105 pivoted p. 105 sluicing p. 105 flourish p. 109 dire p. 110 1. The author includes Polish Vocabulary throughout her story. Why do you think she does this? Give three examples from the novel when the author uses Polish words and explain how she makes them understood by the American reader. 2. What impact does the murder in this chapter have on Jozef's family? How does his mother react? What action does his father take? Do you think his action is justified? Chapter 9: Panic! Vocabulary kindling p. 116 banished p. 116 conspiring p. 117 cumbersome p. 117 sallow p. 119 gully p. 120 noose p. 122 1. Who do the members of the Red Flame suspect of the murder committed in Chapter 8? Does Jozef agree with them? Do you? Why or why not? Chapter 10: A Traitor Revealed Vocabulary sacristy p. 125 ashen p. 128 conjecture p. 132 albatross p. 133 deranged p. 134 1. What does Frank mean when he refers on page 133 to his chair as his "albatross"? 2. In Chapter 10, Jozef discovers a clue. What is the clue and what change does it bring about in Jozef and Frank's relationship? 3. The last line of Chapter 10 reveals how Jozef is feeling about trust in relation to his brother at this time. Translate this line into your own words and discuss what it means to you. Chapter 11: Wheels Vocabulary carcass p. 137 invalids p. 137 comparative p. 137 pram p. 138 diminished p. 138 valiant p. 139 venturing p. 140 dejected p. 141 conviction p. 141 grimace p. 142 precarious p. 145 arrogant p. 146 dank p. 146 anticipation p. 146 1. Jozef is puzzled by Frank's motives for helping solve this mystery. Why do you think Frank is now so willing to help Jozef? 2. Why do you suppose the author allows us to witness Frank "practicing" on page 142? How does this make you as the reader feel about Frank? 3. Imagine that you are Frank at the end of Chapter 11. Write a short paragraph from his viewpoint describing how you are feeling right now. Chapter 12: The Wolf Vocabulary magistrate p. 149 cholera p. 150 exaggerates p. 153 portent p. 154 minutiae p. 154 illusive p. 154 bleak p. 154 deceptive p. 157 pedestrians p. 158 proximity p. 158 assumption p. 159 ruthless p. 159 treacherous p. 159 agonizing p. 161 nauseated p. 163 conscious p. 163 anew p. 164 1. Rewrite the line on page 152 ("his eyes growing brittle...") to include a simile of your own with the same general meaning. 2. There is a section in Chapter 12 where Jozef describes the "luxuries" of 1871 Chicago. Compare these luxuries to those of our own modern times. [Hint: See page 156] 3. In this chapter, the Wolf is not only spotted by the brothers but he is also recognized by one of them. Who is the Wolf and how is it clear that he is even more dangerous than once thought? Chapter 13: Setting a Trap Vocabulary theory p. 166 rogue p. 166 formidable p. 167 felony p. 167 revulsion p. 170 apothecary p. 171 corrupt p. 172 slack p. 174 sentry p. 176 quarry p. 176 eluded p. 178 1. Why doesn't the Wolf choose to prey on richer victims? 2. What elements of a mystery novel are present at this point of the story? Identify the information or clues that are present thus far. What new information do Jozef and Frank discover in this chapter? 3. We are now approaching the final chapters of the novel. Using what you have learned from the characters so far, make a prediction about how the remainder of the mystery will play out. Is the villain brought to justice? What happens to Bridget? What role will Jozef and his family play in the outcome of the mystery? Make as complete a prediction as possible and compare it to the actual conclusion at the end of the book. Chapter 14: Where There's Smoke... Vocabulary haggard p. 180 feebly p. 181 brooded p. 181 pilfer p. 181 absurd p. 182 shirking p. 183 hovel p. 186 uninhabited p. 186 fetid p. 186 roust p. 186 negotiate p. 187 corridor p. 188 gallows p. 189 plume p. 194 culprit p. 195 posh p. 195 1. On page 187, the author describes the difficulty Frank has getting around even with his new and improved wheelchair. List some of the advancements that have been made for people with disabilities since 1871. 2. What is the gang's reaction to Jozef asking them to turn in the Wolf? Are you surprised by their reaction? Why or why not? 3. Imagine that you are a member of Bridget's gang and Jozef approaches you for information about the Wolf. Make a list of pros and cons that you must weigh in order to make your decision as to whether or not to disclose the Wolf's location. What is the final outcome of your list? Chapter 15: The Great Fire Vocabulary portico p. 199 ornate p. 199 firmaments p. 200 unyielding p. 201 spectacle p. 203 schooner p. 203 inferno p. 203 iridescent p. 204 skiff p. 204 spontaneously p. 207 smoldering p. 207 charred p. 207 dervishes p. 209 rummaging p. 211 heed p. 212 reproaching p. 213 liberate p. 214 scourges p. 214 passive p. 215 1. On page 203, the author uses a simile ("cinders falling like red snow") to describe an aspect of the Great Fire. Why does the author use this writing technique? Do you think it is an effective tool in writing? Why or why not? 2. The Great Fire is a terrifying event for the community. What positive effect on the people of Chicago can you find in this chapter? Can you relate this tragedy and the reaction of the community to an event in your lifetime? Explain. [Hint: See page 210.] 3. The author has created a truly evil character in the Wolf. Give four examples from the story that convince the reader that he is undoubtedly evil. 4. Some readers may call this chapter the "climax." Why would this term fit this chapter accurately? Explain. Chapter 16: The Chapskis...Plus One! Vocabulary affluent p. 218 diligent p. 218 citizenry p. 219 manufactories p. 220 acknowledging p. 220 1. The Chapskis add a new family member in this last chapter, but Jozef says he also received a "new brother." Explain what he means by this statement. 2. Imagine that you are Bridget and have just been invited to join the Chapski family. How do you feel? Write a brief journal entry about your first days' events and the feelings you experience with the family. 3. This is a historical fiction story as well as a mystery. Explain how this book fits properly into both literature genres and describe at least one example from the story that qualifies each type of writing. Activities and Research Using the events and descriptions throughout the novel, design a map of the city including all significant sites such as the gang's lair, alleys, Jozef's home, friends' homes, streets, churches, the lake, and three branches of the river. Remember to label your design features. There are many classes of people described in detail throughout the novel. Draw a sketch of at least two different "types" of people (street people, theatergoers, businessmen, etc.) and label the clothing that distinguishes them as such. [Hint: See pages 48, 72, and 155.] Use encyclopedias, Internet resources, and/or other sources to recreate a map marked with the landmark setting of the novel. Create a book review poster presentation of this story persuading friends and family to read it. Focus on the mystery and the historical fiction aspects of the book. Include captivating quotes from the book, descriptions of characters, and fascinating facts that will draw people to your review and the story itself. Imagine that you are Jozef or Bridget at the conclusion of the novel. From the moment they met, their friendship was filled with adventure. What adventure do you think they will seek out now? Write your own follow-up chapter taking Jozef and Bridget on one more exciting adventure. As an alternative, you may choose to write a follow-up chapter from Frank's point of view showing what new challenges he accepts with his fresh and positive take on life. Create a board game to challenge your friends' knowledge about the novel and about the Great Fire. Include specific references to the characters and events in the story as well as facts about the historical tragedy. Also by K. M. Kimball THE STAR-SPANGLED SECRET 0-689-84550-2 Aladdin Paperbacks A thrilling mystery set during the War of 1812. Young heroine Caroline Dorsey races against time to get to the bottom of her brother's disappearance before the war raging around her forces her to abandon the quest. Caroline's search for the truth takes her from Maryland plantation to President Madison's White House to the rough-and-tumble Baltimore docks, where danger abounds. But is there an even greater peril waiting for Caroline closer to home? Sometimes seeking the truth can be dangerous... Literature Guide to The Secret of the Red Flame by K. M. Kimball copyright © 2002 by Nicole M. Jensen. This material may be copied, excerpted, and shared for teaching purposes. It may not be sold.