Using ‘Out of the Smoke’ in a Book Group

Many thanks to Sarah Jones of ‘Delivering Grace‘ for this guest post about using ‘Out of the Smoke’ in a home education setting. Sarah is an experienced home educator and has been using the book in a Zoom book club over the past few months. Here are her thoughts, and a few ideas


Book Group 3, in our home education group, is loud, fun and interactive; and this group of 10 to 12 year olds wanted an adventure book next. As a group leader, I was a bit nervous about the series which some of the boys wanted: most of them had read at least some of the books and there didn’t seem to be much point reading something familiar and also, frankly, I found it hair-raising.

Out of the Smoke seemed like a reasonable alternative. It was recently published, 31st October 2020, so there was a sporting chance that none of the group would have already read the book and it is an adventure. I had preread the book, an essential(!), and yes, I found it hair-raising. Plenty of action, with a bit of violence, would definitely appeal to the group.

The Book Group

The book group meets fortnightly, currently on Zoom. We have been using this format since April 2020. The children have never had any real difficulty with it. There are about eight children in the group which works well as they can be seen on one screen. The children can choose whether to keep their cameras and microphones on, unless they interrupt when others are speaking.

In addition to the book we are reading, we have a time for book recommendations.

Well before the first session, I sent information to the parents about where to buy the book. There was no prereading before the first session to allow people time to obtain the book. Out of the Smoke is conveniently divided into three sections. I divided part two into halves to make the reading fit better. There is always some child who reads ahead and that is fine, as long as they don’t give away any spoilers.

Using the Book

To introduce the book, the children and I drew a timeline on the Zoom whiteboard. We talked about what was different in Victorian times and watched a video of original footage from an Edwardian street. I wasn’t sure how successful a poor quality black and white film reel would be but this sparked a fair amount of interest.

Other activities have varied from week to week:

  • Read aloud from chapter one and talked about what we could glean from the first paragraph and about story hooks.
  • Comprehension questions for chapter two from the website
  • Money activity for chapter two.
  • Work on inference using a BBC bitesize video and then talking about the significance of neckerchieves and whether there is a modern day equivalent.
  • Talking about child labour and what the current law is around children working.
  • Discussion about modern social issues. We ended up talking about Marcus Rashford, free school meals and Rashford’s merits as a footballer.
  • Video about Lord Shaftesbury and a discussion around the meeting with Lord Shaftesbury which Billy inadvertently attends.
  • We are looking forward to an author visit. Sadly, Zoom means that there won’t be autographs!

We have optional home activities:

  • Find a map of the local area from Victorian times (these are free online). One of the children made a fascinating presentation of his area along with old and new maps and photographs.
  • Write a letter to an imaginary Victorian Member of Parliament about making the use of climbing boys illegal.
  • Find out about what poor Victorians ate. I did suggest trying some of the food but no one was keen!
  • Investigating the early life of Lord Shaftesbury plus looking for old photos of his family and the family estate.

I have had positive comments about the book from both children and parents. It has been pleasing to be able to find a book which is well written and has a clear Christian perspective. It just leaves me the challenge of finding something else which is as successful for next term


Thanks again to Sarah. I hope you’ve found this article informative and useful. If you’ve used the book in an educational setting, whether at home or in the classroom, please do get in touch to let me know about it.

You can visit Sarah’s blog here for book reviews and comment on Christian home education.

One thought on “Using ‘Out of the Smoke’ in a Book Group

Add yours

  1. This is incredible, Matt. What an honour to have your book enjoyed this way!

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