3 ways to use The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz to teach reading skills | Mentoring in the Middle

3 ways to use The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz to teach reading skills

 You probably know Alan Gratz from Refugee and his many other books about World War II, or maybe Ground Zero, about the World Trade Center on September 11th.  But did you know that he also wrote a book about baseball?  Nine generations of the Schneider family whose lives were linked to baseball and American history.


Brief summary

The Brooklyn Nine introduces the reader to nine generations of a family whose lives were linked to baseball and to American history.  Each Inning is one generation, composed of three short chapters.

The first Inning introduces us to Felix Schneider, "the fastest boy in New York" who came to the 
U. S. in 1845.   He works as a runner, taking fabric to his uncle who cuts it and then running it to the families that sew it.  All the while, he's saving money to bring the rest of his family from Germany.

One of his guilty pleasures is sneaking away to watch the Knickerbocker baseball club, one of the first organized baseball teams in Brooklyn.  His love of baseball and a tragedy cause him to cut up his good shoes, using the leather to make a baseball.

In the next Inning, we meet Louis, Felix's son, fighting in the Civil War.  He carries that lucky baseball everywhere he goes because when his father gave it to him, he asked him to bring the ball back in one piece.  Which means he needs to come home.  But a fateful meeting with a Confederate soldier, blinded when his rifle exploded, leaves him instead with a baseball bat made in Louisville.

As the book works its way through nine Innings, each character makes an important decision that impacts the next generation.  And each one gives advice to the younger generation to set the next generation in motion.

It's a very cool premise and Alan Gratz does it well.  There are lots of ways that you can use this novel to teach reading skills!

Compare and Contrast

Read the first chapter aloud or have enough copies so that all your students read it individually or with partners.  Discuss the setting, plot, characters and their development over time, and themes.

Then assign the chapters in Innings 2 and 3 to different small groups.  Now, have students explore how characters dealt with these ideas:
  • connections
  • setbacks
  • bullies
  • sacrifice
  • advice
Continue doing that with each set of innings as students find the threads that carry one generation into the next.

Sequence of Events

The story starts in 1845 and continues through 2002.  A lot of history happens during that time and Gratz has the Schneider family involved in a lot of it.

Have students make a double timeline.  On the top, put the historical events over those 117 years that are mentioned in the book.  On the bottom, put the events from The Brooklyn Nine that are part of the plot.

Problem and Solution

Similar to Cause and Effect, but with a problem as its focus, there are many situations in this book that require problem-solving.  Sometimes, the problems aren't resolved until the next generation.

Break your students up into partners or small groups and have them identify some of the big problems in the book.  Share out what they found and come up with the main problem for each inning.

In their groups, have them come up with the solutions to each problem.  Are there any common themes between them?

  • You have a great opportunity to do some digging into the text in this book.  It's perfect for lovers of historical fiction, certainly for lovers of all things baseball, and I think it appeals to the reader because it's not about big names in baseball, but about one "regular" family that happens to be connected to the sport in many different ways.
  • Did you discover some baseball fans among your students?  Finish up the year with this baseball-themed Project Based Learning activity.  With an academic focus great for review, and a creative bent, I promise your students will love it!  Click below to take a closer look.

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