On My Bookshelf: The Museum Of Extraordinary Things by Alice HoffmanSeptember 28, 2015
Basic plot: Life inside of the Museum of Extraordinary Things with her father, Professor Sardie, and her housekeeper, Maureen, is all Coralie had ever known. Like the other oddities employed at the museum, viewed as freaks of nature by others, Coralie fears how others will react to her deformity, her webbed hands. Her only escape is swimming in the Hudson as her father tries to create excitement about a strange creature in the river's waters.
On a swim gone too far, Coralie spots Eddie, a photographer with a troubled past and on another swim discovers a dead body. The lives of all three intertwine as Eddie searches for a girl gone missing after a factory fire and Coralie tries to pacify her father in his quest for the next great attraction for the museum.
Why I liked it: Historical fiction is my favorite kind of book to read. I was a huge Ann Rinaldi fan growing up and excelled in history in school. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is set in a time period of change. America, or at least New York City is just beginning to look like the place we know today.
The author expertly weaves historical details into the storyline, mixed with just the right amount of romance and suspense. You also can't help but root for the underdogs: Coralie, Eddie, Maureen, Mr. Morris, and the other "oddities" in their conflicts with Professor Sardie and the world around them.
Classroom application: The novel is set in 1911 in New York City and is rich with details about the developing city. Two events are heavily featured in the novel: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the fire at Dreamland in Coney Island. Workers' rights issues are heavily featured in the novel, and excerpts of the novel could also be used as a fiction pairing in history units on women's rights and immigration. Consider using photographs, an excellent primary source, to show students one or both fires and the aftermath.
In the ELA classroom, the novel or excerpts could be used in a genre study of historical fiction. As with Codename: Zosha, students could read a section of the book and then consider where the line between fact and fiction stands. Students could brainstorm the types of sources the author would need to write that particular section of the novel and discuss how the author might have crafted the fictional parts.
And as with Becoming Lisette, this novel could be used as a mentor text as students complete research and write their own historical fiction piece. You can read more about blending narrative and research here.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Museum of Extraordinary Things for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.
For more reading suggestions for students and teachers: