A SPARK Jacob's Ladder exercise to help you get the most out of the literature you read.
Clay Marbles, Aleksei, & Me, by Kathleen Brown (Grades 4–5 Honorable Mention, Center for Gifted Education Talent Search, Williamsburg, VA)
Every night I open my tin box and examine the clay marbles that my little friend Aleksei and I used to play with. As I hold them, I hope the rumors are not true. The Romanoffs must be alive, especially my little friend Aleksei.
I remember the games we used to play with his beautiful glass marbles and my clay marbles. In the afternoon when the kitchen was quiet, I was ordered to take Aleksei a snack and keep him company. Whoever thought Sophia, the kitchen worker, would be allowed to hold the hands of Aleksei Nikolaevich, heir to the Russian throne? Whenever I would visit him I would take milk, cinnamon bread, jam, and marbles. As soon as he finished eating we would play games. These visits were wonderful.
Soon after I started working for the Romanoffs, Aleksei and I became great friends. His parents, Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra, encouraged our friendship, so the afternoon visits became a routine. We had to play quietly because Aleksei had hemophilia. I had been told that it is a serious blood disease. Aleksei had four sisters: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia who would sometimes play with us.
I remember one cold afternoon we were shooting marbles into an empty milk cup, when suddenly there was a sharp knock at the door. Aleksei ran to answer it, hoping it was his father. When he opened the door there stood that filthy Grigory Rasputin. Rasputin was a special friend of the Tsar and Tsarina, and supposedly had magical powers. The Imperial Couple felt that these powers controlled hemophilia, so Rasputin was always welcomed.
Aleksei told me that he did not like Rasputin because he was ugly and smelled bad. Rasputin gave orders that he was to examine Aleksei and that I should return to the kitchen. I quickly gathered the dishes on a tray and reluctantly said goodbye to my little friend. As I was walking down the long halls toward the kitchen I kept wondering why Rasputin fascinated the Tsarina. Was it because he could heal her son? I think he was an evil fraud.
I well remember the time Aleksei was watching me bake bread at the winter palace. I received a message that Rasputin would join the family for dinner. Aleksei and I looked at each other and started laughing. We immediately knew I had to make another loaf full of hot spices.
When it was time for dinner each plate was filled with fish, turkey, cabbage, potatoes, spiced apples, and a special slice of bread. While the family was talking and eating, Rasputin suddenly grabbed his throat and started drinking big gulps of cold water. His bread was so spicy that he could hardly talk. He called me to come to the table, grabbed my shoulders and said he had been poisoned. At the far end of the table Aleksei was trying not to giggle.
I told Rasputin that no one in my kitchen would poison him or anyone else. He demanded that I sample his food. After taking small bites of everything, including the bread, he was reassured that he had not been poisoned. I quickly left the room, ran through the kitchen, knocking over a jug of milk, making my way outside to eat handfuls of snow. After that evening Rasputin ate fewer meals at the palace.
Another palace visitor was Eugene Fabergé. Unlike Rasputin, he was an elegant gentleman and always so interesting. He was a royal craftsman and his family had made beautiful and unusual creations for the many Romanoffs. Every Easter the Fabergé family was ordered to design, create, and deliver an Imperial Easter Egg. They were full of jewels and delicate patterns. The special thing about each egg was the surprise inside. The Fabergés had complete control over these egg creations. The Tsar and Tsarina had no idea what the eggs would be like.
The day before an egg delivery the palace was filled with joy. The servants were busy cleaning and cooking special foods. Little Aleksei watched out the window, ready to signal us when he caught sight of the royal automobile coming towards the palace. Preparing for this visitor seemed like a celebration. Eugene Fabergé was kind to everyone in the palace, but he seemed to have a special interest in my dear little Aleksei. Aleksei loved the Imperial Eggs and Fabergé loved telling how they were made.
It was Easter, 1912, when Eugene Fabergé delivered my favorite Imperial Egg. We were staying at the Lividia Palace in Yalta and I remember hearing the Tsar say that Fabergé was traveling across Russia with the newest egg. We all knew he would be exhausted after his journey. His room was in order and we baked his favorite pies.
When he arrived you would have never known that he had come such a very long way. As usual, his attention was focused on Aleksei. He held him in his lap while Tsarina Alexandra opened the new Imperial Easter Egg. Not only was the entire royal family there to see the new masterpiece, but the Tsar allowed the servants to watch as well.
The egg was magnificent. It was blue lapis and gold. The surprise inside was a double-headed eagle with hundreds of diamonds that formed a miniature picture frame around my precious Aleksei. It was a double-sided picture. Not only could you see his beautiful face, but you could see the back of his head. I wanted to have the egg for myself and then I would have Aleksei forever, but all I have are my clay marbles.
My life with the Romanoffs was always an adventure. I traveled to many places, and met unusual people. I was frequently in the company of five beautiful children. All I have to remember them by are my clay marbles and a tin box full of memories of my afternoons with Aleksei.
Eugene Fabergé, The Romanoffs (Aleksei in front), and Grigory Rasputin.
Experienced readers refer to plot, setting, character, and point of view when discussing literature to appreciate deep, rich storytelling.
Support your answer with evidence from the text
Support your answer with evidence from the text.
Thoughtful readers will often draw conclusions beyond the facts stated in the story. Inferring based on reasoning and experience helps make a story or work of art more meaningful by looking for clues about the author's or artist's mindset.
Themes and Concepts
Experienced readers can often identify a theme (the meaning, feeling, or message) or concept (a philosophy or outlook about how the world works) that may be stated clearly or left hidden by the author for readers to discover.
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