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About The Book



After Jozef loses the earnings from his family's butcher shop to a gang of street urchins, he vows to recover the money. Refusing to heed the warnings of his brother, an embittered, disabled Civil War veteran, he and his friends form a secret society to infiltrate the gangs that have been victimizing the Polish-American community in 1871 Chicago.

To his surprise, Jozef finds himself in an uneasy friendship with Bridget, a member of one of the gangs. When Bridget is falsely arrested for the murder of a parish priest, Jozef knows the only way to save her is to find the real killer. As tinder-dry Chicago threatens to erupt in flames, Jozef, with the help of an unlikely ally, pursues a foe far more dangerous -- and evil -- than the homeless waifs who stole his family's cash.

Reading Group Guide

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?
"[T]his historical novel is refreshing in its willingness to take on difficult realities and weave them into a story with narrative force..." -- Booklist
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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!
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!
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
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
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
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
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...
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
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!
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
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.

About The Author

K.M. Kimball is the author of The Secret of the Red Flame, a Simon & Schuster book.

Product Details

Awards and Honors

  • Agatha Award Finalist

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