Bob Boone

Larson's Lodge


Red Sky at Morning: An Overlooked Gem

Over the years, I've used a number of prompts from Moe's Café: 48 Decidedly Different Creative Writing Prompts to spice up my literature units. Since my high school does not offer a creative writing class per se, most of my creative writing activities are designed in conjunction with some piece of literature I'm teaching at the time. Although Moe's Café was not written to be used with any particular book, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could match up all of the chapters of a novel that I was teaching with pre-reading/writing prompts from Moe's Café. I chose Red Sky at Morning, the opening work for my English 1 class.

Richard Bradford's Red Sky at Morning tells the story of Josh Arnold, a wise-cracking yet engaging teenager forced to grow up quickly in the waning days of World War II. First in Mobile, Alabama and then later in the mountains of New Mexico, Josh must come to terms with the universal problems of growing up. Along the way, he encounters a number of colorful characters who both help and hinder the process. Josh's wry interaction with these people makes for compelling reading. The novel also offers enough insight into the power of nature and the foibles and strengths of human beings to be worth teaching to the freshmen in my English 1 course.

Although it's unlikely that any teacher would have the time to assign all twenty-one of these prompts in the course of teaching the novel, each chapter having its corresponding prompt affords a teacher a number of alternatives. The prompts can be used as pre-reading activities, discussion starters, extra credit opportunities, narrative assignments, portfolio entries, substitute teacher lesson plans, etc.




1) “Last Night in Mobile” “Too Much Person” (p.26)
In this opening chapter we meet a number of characters Josh will be leaving behind in Mobile. Unfortunately for Josh, professional house guest Jimbob Buel will reappear in New Mexico. Since Jimbob is "too charming," "Too Much Person" is a natural.
2) "Father and Son" "Gatsby" ( p.48)
Like Gatsby, family friend Amalie Ledoux has been carrying a torch for Frank Arnold for years. At the end of the novel we learn a little more about her unrequited love. With "Gatsby," students can imagine what it would be like to "carry a torch" for someone.
3) "Ringworm and Prickly Heat" "Quite a Trip" (p.78)
Memories of trips, especially extended car trips, provide students with a chance to connect with the Arnold family's experiences. "Quite a Trip" lets kids share their horror stories of being stuck in the backseat for what seemed an eternity, visiting distant relatives, etc.
4) "Summer of '44" "Brand New World" (p.76)
Although Josh had spent summers in Sagrado as a child, relocating there as a high school student exposes him to an entirely different world from Mobile, which is exactly what his father had in mind. "Brand New World" gives students a chance to write either about an entirely new place or a place that is no longer the place they remembered.
5) "First Day at School" "Mr. Jones' Bad Day" (p.6)
Although Josh describes his first day at the new school as the "Same old stuff," it's definitely not. Anyone who has been the "new kid" can relate to this one. Freshmen, who are new kids by definition, usually have plenty to say about adjusting to life at a new school. With "Mr. Jones's Bad Day," students can exaggerate the experience for comic effect.
6) "A Letter from Dad" "Distant Role Model" (p.98)
At this point, 42 year old Frank Arnold is away on active service with the Navy. His parenting is restricted to "snail mail." Nevertheless, his advice remains insightful. "Distant Role Model" let's readers think about those people who influence their lives.
7) "Las Fiestas del Corazňn Sagrado" "Building a Buddy" (p.96)
This chapter features the "gallina" game, a favorite scene of most readers. We see Josh becoming "honchos" with his two best friends, Steenie and Marcia. "Building a Buddy" lets students retell experiences that led to stronger friendships.
8) "Romeo Bonino" "Savvy Acquaintance" (p.58)
While fleeing a couple of local toughs, Josh meets sculptor Romeo Bonino, a favorite of Josh's father but definitely not of Josh's mother. He will offer some offbeat adult guidance to Josh in his father's absence. "Savvy Acquaintance" prompts readers to do some real life character analysis.
9) "The Cloyd Girls" "Eccentric on the Bus" (p.16)
The interchangeable Cloyd twins offer a little comic relief to the novel. When Josh and his friend Parker double date with the girls, they meet John Cloyd, an eccentric who makes a living getting hit by cars and then suing the drivers. "Eccentric on the Bus" lets kids create an "unforgettable" character of their own.
10) "Four Letters" "Gossip" (p.94)
With Jimbob back in the picture and Frank away at war, the people of Sagrado will soon begin to wonder just what is going on in the Arnold household. "Gossip" lets kids explore an all too ubiquitous aspect of adolescent life.
11) "The New Chango" "Fooled by Appearances" (p.70)
Being stabbed in the liver has a considerable effect on Chango's personality. Josh learns that Chango's "macho" act is not the whole picture. "Fooled by Appearances" prompts students to examine what lies beneath the surface.
12) "Losing Control" "Learning Outside of School" (p.72) Event As Ann Arnold starts to crawl into the sherry bottle, Josh must decide how he's going to handle the situation. In "Learning Outside of School" students share experiences that have shaped their lives.
13) "Visiting the Montoyas" "Old Acquaintance/New Role" (p.54) Event After a drunken Ann Arnold fires the Montoyas, they agree to return to the Arnold household, but only if Josh takes over as the head of the family. With "Old Acquaintance/New Role" writers can have some fun imagining what happens when the familiar meets the unfamiliar.
14) "Mrs. De Crispin's Lecture" "One of a Kind" (p.60)
Mrs. De Crispin, a would-be "expert" on Native Americans, is legendary in a town that has more than its share of eccentrics. "One of a Kind" lets kids recall quirky people from their own lives
15) "The Parchment" "Meeting a Challenge" (p.64)
Frank's approval of Josh's new role transfers some authority and much responsibility on to 17 year old Josh. "Meeting a Challenge" lets students write about challenges they've overcome in any aspects of their lives.
16) "New Year's Eve" "A Disagreement" (p.80)
Josh's budding romance with Marcia faces a setback when he and Steenie get drunk on New Year's Eve. Most students have significantly quarreled with someone in their lives; "A Disagreement" lets them consider the consequences.
17) "La Cima" "A Revealing Place" (p.84)
La Cima is a world unto itself, a fact that Josh finds out the hard way. "A Revealing Place" lets the class recall or create a place that defines a neighborhood.
18) "Sex Education" "Surprising Folks" (p.82)
Viola Lopez's transformation from a future nun to a "fallen woman" reverses the trend established by her brother, Chango. "Surprising Folks" ask students to pick either an obvious or a subtle example of a false impression.
19) "Vicky's Scholarship" "Luck at the Beach" (p.42)
Josh's Christmas gift for Vicki Montoya affects her life in a way that neither one of them could have predicted. "Luck at the Beach" is one of the most sophisticated prompts in Moe's Café and should provide a challenge for the best writers in the class.
20) "Bad News" "Life's Not Always Fair" (p.66)
In this poignant chapter, Josh must face the ultimate coming of age moment—the death of his father. Students who have lived through an emotional experience often have a jumble of thoughts and feelings to sort out. "Life's Not Always Fair" provides the opportunity for readers to explore and share their ambivalence and insight.
21) "In His Father's Footsteps" "Farewell" (p.100)
As Josh heads off to war, some loose ends of his life are tied up while others remain for his return. "Farewell" lets readers write about their own poignant memories of having to say goodbye.

Bradford did not entitle his chapters, so the chapter titles are my own, as is the attached study guide.
If you contact the website, I'll be happy to send you a variety of Red Sky tests, quizzes, and other activities I've created as well for the novel as well.

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