Curriculum Guides



Grades 3-5

The Secret School by Avi. Janet Sauber
School Story by Andrew Clements. Julie Tomlianovich
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. Holly Engle
All the Way Home by Patricia Giff. Betty Neal
Ghost Sitter by Peni Griffin. Arlene Wiler
The Girl with 500 Middle Names by Margaret Haddix. Julie Tomlianovich
Anna on the Farm by Mary Hahn. Beverley Buller
Joshua’s Song by Joan Harlow. Betty Neal
Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath. Carol Robison
Any Small Goodness by Tony Johnston. Janet Sauber
Belle Teal by Ann Martin. Arlene Wiler
Fair Weather by Richard Peck. Virginia Prather
Secret in St. Something by Barbara Wallace. Betty Neal
Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles. Liz Wilson
Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart by Vera Williams. Virginia Prather

The Secret School
The Secret School. Avi; Harcourt, 2001. 
Grade Level: 3 - 5
ISBN & Cost: 0152163751 $11.00

Synopsis: It is the spring of 1925, and Ida Benson wants to become a teacher; but the 14-year-old Colorado girl has a problem. The teacher of her one-room schoolhouse has to leave before Ida can graduate from the 8th grade, and the school board sees no reason to get a new teacher to finish out the school year. Ida cannot go onto high school in the fall unless she passes her exams this spring. Ida keeps the school open the only way she knows how, by secretly becoming the teacher herself. Through all the struggles, Ida shows determination and resourcefulness while learning more about herself and her co-conspirators at The Secret School.

General Review: The Secret School will transport readers to a time when all students learned in the same room with the same teacher, a time when going to school was a privilege and not a right, a time when going to school past the eighth grade was uncommon, especially for girls. The Secret School can also teach some lessons on being resourceful and determined. Ida’s spunkiness and determination can serve as an inspiration to anyone who has ever been told, “I’m not sure you can do such a thing.” It may seem that Ida’s parents and Miss Sedgewick from the County Education Office were uncharacteristically liberal for this time period; one wonders just how many parents and county officials would actually allow a 14-year-old girl to teach school while keeping it a secret from the school board.

Author Information:

SATA vol. 14; 
Fifth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators

Discussion questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
Discuss what you know about a one-room school. List the characteristics of a one-room schoolhouse on the board. Do you think you would like to attend a one-room school? Why or why not? 
Miss Fletcher has to leave the school. Discuss how this might affect the plans Ida and Tom have made for their futures. Discuss the importance education plays in what you want to do when you get older. 
Discuss the different obstacles Ida must face to keep open the secret school. Can you think of a time that you worked really hard for something you wanted? Did you get what you wanted? How did that make you feel? 
Discuss how the students make decisions in the secret school. Why do they make decisions this way? Have you ever had the opportunity to vote on an important matter? How did it make you feel? 
Discuss the different students at the secret school. What are their family lives like? Describe their personalities. Which person do you think you are most like? What about that character is similar you? What about that character is unlike you?

Activity suggestions: 
Learn more about one-room schoolhouses by accessing the One Room School House Project at This web site is a “database of information currently maintained as a courtesy at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. The project includes listings and information on some 880 schools throughout the state and nation. The information, pictures, and stories included in this site have been collected and sent to the project by researchers and historians from across America.” Use information from this site to create a poster about one-room schoolhouses. Standard 3, Benchmark 1

Locate people who attended one-room schoolhouses. Grandparents and senior citizens centers would be good places to begin the search. Decide on a list of questions to ask the people. Consider interviewing them individually or in a group. Decide whether you will travel to their location or ask them to come to the school. Either videotape or audio tape the interviews. Take photographs of the people being interviewed and ask to borrow any photographs they might have from when they attended the one-room schoolhouse. Create a book that contains the stories and (scanned) photographs shared by the people. Share this book with the people you interviewed, when possible. Discuss the best part of making the book; what was the most difficult thing about it. What did you learn from this experience? Standard 3, Benchmark 2

Consider the similarities and the differences between the one-room school from this novel and your own school. Create a diagram that shows these similarities and differences. Standard 3, Benchmark 1

Read the picture book, One Room School written by Laurence Pringle and illustrated by Barbara Garrison, copyright 1998, published by Caroline House, Boyds Mills Press, Inc. A Highlights Company, 815 Church Street, Honesdale, Pennsylvania 18431. ISBN: 1563975831. This non-fiction book is the author’s account of the last year (Sept. 1944-June 1945) of a one-room schoolhouse. Read about how the students got to school, what they learned and what they played in a month-by-month account of that special school year. As a class, write an account of your own school year. Each month, spend some time writing down what you did and what you learned. Have students draw illustrations to go along with the words. Vote on the descriptions and the illustrations that best depict the events from each month. At the end of the year, put all of the selected descriptions and illustrations together to create a “yearbook” for your class. Obtain copies of the yearbooks for all students in the class. Standard 3, Benchmark 2

Write another chapter to the book, revisiting the characters of The Secret School in five or ten years. What do you think they do after leaving the secret school? Did they accomplish their dreams? This can be done as a whole class, in small groups or individually. Standard 5, Benchmark 1

FOR THE TEACHER: To learn more about the history of education in America, read Don’t Whistle in School: The History of America’s Public Schools by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, copyright 2001, published by Lerner Publications Company, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, 241 First Avenue North, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401. ISBN: 0822517450. This non-fiction book examines the path of education in American beginning with colonists in the 1600’s right up to modern schools complete with networked computers and GPS programs.

School Story
School Story. Andrew Clements; Simon & Schuster, 2001. 
Grade Level: 3 - 5
ISBN & Cost: 0689825943 $16.00

Synopsis: After twelve-year-old Natalie writes a wonderful novel, her friend Zoe helps her devise a scheme to get it accepted at the publishing house where Natalie's mother works as an editor.

General Review: A story within a story, Clements has created a world with likeable characters, situations the reader believes in and how much children love their parents. And it is also a school story, just what Natalie’s children’s publishing company editor is told to look for. When explaining how to know a good children’s manuscript from the thousands in the “slush” pile, Natalie’s mother says, "The good ones stand out like roses in a snowbank." That is what this book does.

Themes: Friendship; School Stories; Book Publishing; Family Life

Author Information: 

Something About the Author, Vol. 104, 21-26 pp.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
Do you believe it would be possible to for a twelve-year-old to get a book published? 
How were Natalie and Zoe able to fool the adults? Was this honest? 
How did Clements let the reader know who Natalie feel since her father had died? 
What is a “push-and-pull friendship?” What does it take to make it work? 
Should Zoe’s father and the English teacher have told Natalie’s mother what was going on?

Activity Suggestions: 
Look up Simon & Schuster’s web site for children’s books to see if there is information about unsolicited manuscripts. Find out the publishing companies of your favorite authors and see what their policies are. Standard 1, Benchmark 5

Create an outline of a story that you would want to tell. Standard 3, Benchmark 1

Find out why Theodor Geisel changed his name to Dr. Seuss. Standard 1, Benchmark 5

Love That Dog
Love That Dog. Sharon Creech; HarperCollins, 2001
Grade Level: 3 - 5
ISBN & Cost: 0060292873 $15.99

Synopsis: At the beginning of the school year, Jack makes it very clear to his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, that he does not enjoy poetry and he certainly can't write it! "September 13 / I don't want to / because boys / don’t write poetry./ Girls do. / September 21 / I tried. / Can't do it. / Brain's empty." However, as the year progresses, Jack finds his own voice as he writes in his journal about his growing appreciation of poetry and about his beloved yellow dog, Sky.

General Review: Creech, winner of the Newbery Medal for Walk Two Moons, has crafted a deceptively simple story about a boy, his dog and his school journal. This touching book, written in free verse from Jack's point of view, intertwines themes of insecurity, loss, love and the exhilaration of creative expression.

"Creech has created a poignant, funny picture of a child's encounter with the power of poetry. Readers may have a similar experience because all of the selections mentioned in the story are included at the end. This book is a tiny treasure." (Lee Bock, School Library Journal Review)

Author Information: 

Seventh Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators
Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
Jack writes about a poem by William Carlos Williams that "If that is a poem / about the red wheelbarrow / and the white chickens / then any words / can be a poem. / You've just got to / make / short / lines." What makes a poem a poem? Which poems in the book did you enjoy the most? 
During the school year, Jack grows in self confidence and understanding. Describe Jack -- would you want him for a friend or classmate? 
Jack writes the poem "Love That Dog" and notes that it was "Inspired by Walter Dean Myers". Who inspires you?

Activity Suggestions: 
The following web site from Scholastic Book Fairs offers "Poetry with a Twist" -- an activity based on the book that takes students through the process of writing a concrete poem. Standard 1, Benchmark 5

Read the entire "Love That Boy" in Walter Dean Myers book, Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse. What or who do you love? Write a poem, a story or a commercial expressing your feelings. Standard 4, Benchmark 2

At the urging of his teacher, Jack writes a hilarious letter to Walter Dean Myers. He imagines what the life of an author must be like: ". . . our teacher says / writers are very very very very / busy / trying to write their words / and the phone is ringing / and the fax is going / and the bills need paying / and sometimes they get sick /. . . / or their family gets sick / or their electricity goes off / or the car need fixing / or they have to go / to the grocery store / or do the laundry / or clean up messes. / I don’t know how / you find the time / to write your words." Choose a favorite author and research their life and writings. Many authors and publishers have informative and interactive websites. Standard 1, Benchmark 5

All the Way Home
All The Way Home. Patricia Reilly Giff; Delacorte, 2001
Grade Level: 3 - 5
ISBN & Cost: 0385322097 $15.95

Synopsis: It is 1941 and Mariel wants to find the truth about her mother. No one knows who she was or why she never came to claim her daughter from the Windy Hill hospital in which Mariel was treated for polio. Brick is supposed to stay with Mariel and the woman who adopted her but he wants to return to Windy Hill to help his neighbor save his apple orchard. The two children work together to get to Windy Hill and the solution to their problems. Brick is able to be of help and Mariel learns the truth about who her mother really is.

General Review: The problems facing the children in this book are different in details from those present day children face, but not in essence. Children want to know how the fit into their families and the wider world. The want to know that they can trust the people they meet and that they are trusted to do their part. The young readers will recognize themselves in these children and will enjoy the journey undertaken.

Author Information: 

SATA Vol. 33; Fifth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators;

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
What makes a parent? What makes a family? 
Should people be judged by the way they look? 
Do people some times misinterpret what others think? Do the other children dislike Mariel? If they do is it because of her legs or because they think she doesn’t like them?

Activity Suggestions: 
Make a model of an iron lung. Research the work of Sister Elizabeth Kenny from Australia. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
Make a diorama of the apple orchard. Standard 5, Benchmark 2
Make a poster about the Dodgers in 1941. Who was on the team at that time? How well did they do during the 1941 season? Standard 5, Benchmark 2

Ghost Sitter
Ghost Sitter. Peni R. Griffin; Dutton, 2001
Grade Level: 3 - 5
ISBN & Cost: 0525466762 $14.99

Synopsis: Susie and Charlotte are both taking care of Charlotte’s little brother Brandon. The only problem is that Susie died 50 years earlier and won’t or can’t understand that she is dead. This ghost story is seen from both Susie and Charlotte’s viewpoints.

General Review: The suburban setting and the ordinary activities in this story make it all the more eerie. It is a fun ghost story for the middle of summer.

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

Why is Susie waiting in the house? Who is she waiting for? Have you ever been left somewhere by yourself and wondered when your family was coming back to get you? 
How do you celebrate the 4th of July? How is Charlotte’s family planning to celebrate the holiday? 
Charlotte wanted to find out about a family that lived in her house many years ago. Where did she look for information and how did she find it? 
How did Susie and Gloria feel when they finally are together again? How did that meeting change both of the sisters?

Activity Suggestions: 
Look up the fireworks regulations in your area? Talk about safe ways to celebrate. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
Research your town or neighborhood’s history from 50 years ago. Look in newspaper articles or books about that time. What was your area like? Did your house exist? How has the area changed in 50 years? Standard 1, Benchmark 4
Do a unit on babysitting safety. Check with the Red Cross or a local hospital to see if they have babysitting clinics available. Make a list of babysitting tips and a fact sheet to fill out. Standard 1, Benchmark 4

The Girl with 500 Middle Names
Girl with 500 Middle Names. Margaret Peterson Haddix; Simon & Schuster, 2001
Grade Level: 3 – 5
ISBN & Cost: 0689841353 $15.00

Synopsis: Janie's parents move to the suburbs so she can go to a better school, but when she discovers that all the other students are richer than she is, she feels out of place--until she realizes that there are more important things than money.

General Review: Easy reading story with a sympathetic character the reader wants to be accepted. The author points out how hard parents are willing to work for their children to have better opportunities. In return for her mother’s hours of knitting and financial betrayal by a specialty shop owner, Janie in turn discovers a way to find a clientele for her mother’s sweaters. Not only is Janie able to help her family in a believable way, she begins to open up to another lonely classmate. Altogether, this is a satisfying story.

Themes: School Stories; Family Life; Friendship; Determination

Author Information: Something About the Author, Vol. 125, 90-95 pp.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

How does your school compare to the two grade schools Janie goes to? 
Do clothes tell what a person is like? If so what? If not, why not? 
Would you be willing to offer a coat to someone who obviously needs one? How would you go about doing it? 
Why did the specialty shop owner give Janie’s mother back the sweaters? Is it fair to do business in this way? Who actually benefits from this practice? 
How are the classmates in the two schools portrayed ?

Activity Suggestions: 
Find someone who knows how to knit and have the class learn basic knit and purl stitches. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
Find out how much a winter coat, that you would want, costs. How many hours would someone have to work for that coat if they earned minimum wage; a dollar more; two times more than minimum wage, etc? Standard 1, Benchmark 4
What countries do stores, such as Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Dillard’s or J.C. Penney’s buy their clothes from? How much is someone in those countries paid to make these clothes? Standard 1, Benchmark 5

Anna on the Farm
Anna on the Farm. Mary Downing Hahn; Clarion Books, 2001
Grade Level: 3 - 5
ISBN & Cost: 0-618-03605-9 $15

Synopsis: Nine-year-old Anna is happy to leave hot, sticky Baltimore for a week at her aunt and uncle’s farm in Beltsville, Maryland, but her summer fun is challenged by her uncle’s nephew Theodore who spurs her to prove she’s as clever and brave as he.

General Review: Set in the years before World War I, this book allows readers to experience life in a simpler time. Boys as well as girls will enjoy Anna’s adventures and appreciate her adversarial relationship with Theodore.

Themes: Farm Life, Friendship, Orphans, Maryland

Author Information: 

Something about the Author, Vol. 50 and Vol. 81; 
Sixth Book of Junior Authors;

Discussion questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
Theodore calls Anna a “city slicker” while she sees him as a “country bumpkin” when they first meet. Describe how and why their relationship changes. 
In what ways is the country different from the city in this book? 
List the activities Anna does while at the farm. Which would you like to do? 
What are some of the tricks Theodore plays on Anna? What are some of the tricks they play on others? 
Name some of the people Anna meets during her stay on the farm. 
“We thought we were surprising Anna, but it seems she’s surprised us”, says Father when he and Mother visit the farm. What does he mean? How has Anna changed in her week on the farm? 
Do you think Anna will visit the farm again? Why or why not?

Activity Suggestions: 
Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast Charlie and Theodore. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
Look up the locations in the book in an atlas. Then figure how far Anna travels from Baltimore to Beltsville and from Beltsville to Washington, D.C. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
Make a scrapbook about Anna’s trip to the farm. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
This story is based on the childhood of the author’s mother. Interview your mom, dad, or grandparents and see what stories they have about their childhood summers. You might want to record the interview(s) on cassette or videotape. Standard 7, Benchmark 1
If you want to know more about Anna’s life in the city, read the companion book Anna All Year Round (Clarion, 1999). Standard 5, Benchmark 1


Joshua’s Song
Joshua’s Song. Joan Hiatt Harlow; McElderry, 2001
Grade Level: 3 - 5
ISBN & Cost: 0689841191 $16.00

Synopsis: Joshua’s life has changed dramatically with the death of his father during the influenza pandemic of 1918 & 1919. He now needs to help support the family, which means he must stop being a schoolboy and become a man with a job. Joshua adapts to the changes in his life and when disaster strikes Boston, he proves that people can rely upon him.

General Review: The historical basis for this book is fascinating. Joan Hiatt Harlow has taken a real situation and placed into it very real fictional characters. Background information would be of interest as students realize how many people and events in the book actually existed.

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

Why didn’t Joshua want his mother to know that he was working as a paperboy? Should he have told her what he was doing? 
Why couldn’t Joshua sing at his father’s funeral? How can you help someone who is grieving? 
Children don’t need to find jobs to help their families anymore, but are there other ways they can be helpful? Do you help your family? How?

Activity Suggestions: 
Find a picture of the disaster online or locate a copy of the article in Yankee Magazine Jan ’65 or Smithsonian Nov ’83. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
Have the students place a small amount of molasses on their hands. After removing the molasses (was it difficult?) have them write about what it felt like, or how they would try to remove it when everything is covered with molasses. Standard 5, Benchmark 2
Work math problems using the facts about Joshua’s newspapers. Ex. Each paper costs $.01, Charlie gets $.01 for delivering the papers to Joshua, and the papers sold for $.03. If Joshua got a $.25 tip how many papers would he need to sell to make $1.00. For older students you can have them compare the cost of 6 apples ($.05) as a portion of Joshua’s daily income ($5.00) to the cost of 6 apples (have the students find price) as a portion of daily income at minimum salary. ($5.15/hr x 8hours/day) Standard 3, Benchmark 2
Have the students make a newspaper for the day after the disaster. What information would they want to include? Have the students look at a present day paper to see what a newspaper contains. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

Everything on a Waffle
Everything on a Waffle. Polly Horvath; Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001
Grade Level: 3 - 5
ISBN & Cost: 0374322368 $16.00

Synopsis: A tale of a (possibly) orphaned girl, Primrose, from a small Canadian fishing village who just won’t believe that her parents died in an ocean storm. She finds a restaurant called, The Girl on the Red Swing, where everything comes on a waffle --lasagna, fish, you name it and who’s owner takes her under her wing and teaches her how to cook.

General Review: School Library Journal, June 2002 - "Didn't you ever believe anything just because you knew it was true?" Eleven-year-old Primrose asks this question of the inhabitants of Coal Harbour, British Columbia whenever the topic of her parents' disappearance comes up. They were lost in a storm at sea, and she is the only one who believes they will return. Polly Horvath's Everything on a Waffle is Primrose's sweet and often quirky observations of the townspeople who help her cope with her loss. Moving from Miss Perfidy, the elderly babysitter, to Uncle Jack, her reluctant only relative, to foster parents Bert and Evie, with plenty of input from Miss Honeycut, the school counselor, and Miss Bowzer, the owner and operator of The Girl on the Red Swing, Primrose develops a philosophy of life that will satisfy young and old alike. This is a coming-of-age story of a child who believes with her heart while trying to make sense of the world around her.

Author Information:

Discussion questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
The names Primrose and Perfidy have other meanings. Look up the meanings in a dictionary (print or electronic). Why do you believe these names were chosen by the author? Does your name have another meaning? 
Primrose includes a recipe in each chapter of her story. Why do you think cooking is so important to her? 
Why do you think Primrose believes her parents are alive when everyone else in town is convinced they have died?

Activity Suggestions: 
What do you anticipate happening in the story by looking at the cover? Create a new cover for the book that would represent what you think is the main theme. Standard 5, Benchmark 1
Explain similes. Read the description of Primrose aloud. Have students write a similar paragraph about themselves. Standard 5, Benchmark 1
The second chapter begins with a bullying scene. Ask someone to read, beginning with the third paragraph. Have 3-6 students read the taunting lines while others portray Primrose. The first time they play the scene, have Primrose run away. Repeat the scene, but this time call “Freeze” before she runs away and ask students what Primrose might have done or said. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
Students pick one of the recipes in the book and with a family member cook and taste test it. Using a 3 ring binder students create a “family recipe” book of favorites. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
Compare and contrast waffle recipes. With a several students, cook and taste test several kinds of waffles. Write descriptions of the results. in the style of a restaurant critic. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

Any Small Goodness
Any Small Goodness. Tony Johnston; Scholastic, 2001
Grade Level: 3 – 5
ISBN & Cost: 0439189365 Cost: $15.00
Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Arturo Rodriguez struggles to adjust to life in the East Los Angeles barrio where he recently moved from Mexico. Surrounded by a loving family, good friends and strong traditions, Arturo must still face the frightening things that happen in his neighborhood. Cultural issues, gangs and even a drive by shooting force Arturo to make choices about how he wants to live his life.

General Review: This warm, hopeful book provides a look into the lives of a strong, if poor family of Mexican immigrants to the United States. The protagonist is an 11-year-old boy trying to figure out where he fits into this new society. An interesting note is the part where the Mexican-American students reclaim their names after their teacher had anglicized them (Arturo to Arthur back to Arturo, for example). Arturo is sometimes too insightful for his years and experience, and some characters are overly sentimentalized. Also, some students may struggle with the liberal use of Spanish words in the book. Even so, most readers will find hope and a sense of peace from reading this book.

Author Information:

Discussion questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
Before reading the book, discuss how places can acquire stereotypes. Discuss what the students know (or think they know) about Los Angeles. Make a list of what the kids think about Los Angeles. After reading the book, discuss whether the events and descriptions in the book support or refute the students’ notions. 
Discuss the positive things Arturo has going in his life. Discuss the positive things that are going on in your life. Discuss the negative things that happen to Arturo. Discuss how he deals with these negative issues. Discuss how you deal with negative issues in your life. 
After reading “The Lunch Box” chapter (pg. 89-103), discuss Arturo’s reaction to the drive-by shooting. Discuss the reactions of his family members. Discuss how you think you would respond to such a violent act. Predict what you think Arturo will do next. What do you think you would do? 
Read UP TO (but not past) page 111. Discuss what you think the Green Needle Gang is up to. Now read the rest of the chapter. Did you predict correctly? Why do you think the author made the activities of the Green Needle Gang seem sinister? 
Keep a list of “any small goodness” that take place in the book. Discuss the reason(s) behind the small goodness and the outcome of it. Make a list of “any small goodness” that has happened in your life. Discuss the way it made you feel.

Activity Suggestions
Research your own family origins. Select one culture from your family tree and find out more about it. Create a poster that depicts important information about this. Standard 1, Benchmark 1
Create your own “small goodnesses.” As a class or individually, develop a plan to help a person or group. Carry out the plan. Write about the process and how it made you feel to perform the “small goodness.” Standard 3, Benchmark 1
Keep a list of the Spanish words used in the book. Try to figure out the meaning of the words from the content of the sentences in which they are used. Look up the definitions to the words in a Spanish/English dictionary and see if you were accurate. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
Research immigration into the United States. Consider the history of immigration as well as current trends. Create a graph that depicts one aspect of US immigration (immigration statistics based on countries, immigration statistics based on decades/centuries, etc.) Standard 1, Benchmark 1, Standard 3, Benchmark 1
Interview a person who lived in another country but who now lives in the United States. This might be an immigrant, a foreign exchange student, a college student, a visitor, etc. As a class, make a list of questions to ask the person, then video tape the interview (perhaps elect one person from the class to ask the questions). Watch the videotaped interview as a class; discuss the process and the finished product. What did you learn from the person, what question do you now wish you had asked, etc. Standard 1, Benchmark 3

Belle Teal
Belle Teal. Ann M. Martin; Scholastic, 2001
Grade Level: 3 – 5
ISBN & Cost: 0439098238 $15.95
Synopsis: Fifth grader Belle Teal Harper is growing up out in the country with her mother and grandmother with little money but lots of love and friendship. She struggles as Gran’s memory is slipping away and her classmates deal with desegregation and grief.

General Review: This is an excellent book with a strong female character growing to understand more of the world around her and other people’s problems.

Author Information:

SATA Vol. 44;

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
Why is Vanessa bragging to her class so much? What is her secret? How do you think Vanessa is really feeling? 
Belle plans an innocent trick to teach Little Hoss a lesson. What is that lesson? Why does Belle’s Halloween trick add to Little Hoss’s problems with his father? Have you ever played a trick that you regretted? 
Belle is worried about her grandmother’s memory. What may be causing this? Why is this so frightening for Belle? What can she do to help the situation? 
Why is Darryl afraid to speak in front of the class? What can a class do to help a new student feel welcome?

Activity Suggestions
Research the Little Rock Nine and the story of Ruby Bridges. Compare these situations to the events at Coker Elementary School. How were they similar? How were they different? Standard 1, Benchmark 1
Talk about families and the different forms that families can take. Draw different types of family trees. Ask the students to interview family members and record some family stories to share with the class in either oral or written forms. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
Read about the brain and how memory functions. Play some memory games such as Concentration and record the results. Try different ways to improve memory and play the games again and chart the results of both games. Standard 1, Benchmark 1, Standard 3, Benchmark 1

Fair Weather
Fair Weather. Richard Peck; Dial Books, 2001. 
Grade level: 3 - 5
ISNB & Cost: 0803725167 $16.99
Synopsis: It’s 1893, and Rosie and members of her family are invited by Aunt Euterpe to travel from their farm to Chicago to visit the World’s Columbian Exposition. While at the Exposition they meet Buffalo Bill and Lillian Russell. Events take place which will mean life will never be the same for the Beckett family.

Themes: Country life, Family life

Author Information:

SATA vol. 55; 
Fifth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators;

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
Why didn’t Rosie’s mother want to go to Chicago? 
How were the manners of Rosie’s world different than those of today? 
How is city life in the 1893’s different than city life today?

Activity Suggestions:

Research the World Columbian Exposition and show how this fair is like and dislike County or State Fairs. Standard 2, Benchmark 1
List the methods of transportation Rosie and her family used in their country home, in Aunt Euterpe’s Chicago, and the way you travel. Standard 2, Benchmark 2
Read a biography of Buffalo Bill Cody. Standard 9, Benchmark 2

Secret in St. Something
Secret in St. Something. Barbara Brooks Wallace; Atheneum, 2001. 
Grade Level: 3 – 5
ISBN & Cost: 0689834640 $16.00
Synopsis: Robin has lost both his parents and life with his stepfather is brutal. Robin decides that he must run away and live on the street but he also must protect his baby brother. Robin becomes a shoeshine boy and discovers a secret which will change life for both of them forever.

General Review: Reminiscent of the books of Horatio Alger of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, this book finds Robin facing his troubles with courage, good will and intelligence. As a result, he not only succeeds but also triumphs.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

In this book Robin is shown as part of several families. Before the book begins he had his parents and at the end of the book he has a new family. What makes a family? Were the shoeshine boys a family when they lived in St. Something? 
Why didn’t the boys take money from the poor box? What is a poor box? 
There are some good people and some evil people in this book. Discuss the fact that neither good nor evil are always poor or rich. 
Robin had been afraid of the boys before he got to know them. Why do you think we fear people we don’t know? Is it important for people to get to know those who are different then them? 
Who did the boys think was the “landlord” of the church? Why? Do you think this was a good way to think about it? 
Robin was a shoeshine boy. What other ways did people in the book make their living? (Rent collector, pawnshop owner, sewer, landlord, janitor)

Activity Suggestions
Draw a picture of the tenement where Robin had to collect rent. Remember it was a single room in which seven or eight people lived. Standard 5, Benchmark 2
Write a newspaper story about the return of Jonathan Highcrofft’s son. What information was the family planning to keep secret? How were they planning to explain what happened? Standard 5, Benchmark 2
Robin traveled by carriage to St. Something to get Danny. Build a model of a horse drawn carriage. Standard 5, Benchmark 2
If you were Robin and planned to teach the street boys how to read, what would you do? Make a lesson using pencils and scraps of paper. Think about what words the boys would want to learn and how you would help them learn the meanings of the written words. Standard 3, Benchmark 4

Love, Ruby Lavender
Love, Ruby Lavender. Deborah Wiles; Harcourt, 2001. 
Grade Level: 3 – 5
ISBN & Cost: 0152023143 $16.00
Synopsis: Everything is fine in nine-year-old Ruby Garnet Lavender’s life until her Yoo-Hoo drinking, best friend grandmother decides to go visit her new grandbaby in Hawaii. Ruby is stuck in boring, old Halleluia, Mississippi. Miss Ruby Lavender fills her days writing letter after letter to her grandmother, but there is one secret she cannot write, not even to her grandmother.

General Review: Good Garden of Peas! Love, Ruby Lavender is a humorous story featuring Miss Eula Dapplevine and her granddaughter Miss Ruby Garnet Lavender, who share adventures, in the Mississippi town of Halleluia, including rescuing three chickens destined for the slaughterhouse.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

Grandpa Garnet told Ruby that people are like lemon drops, sour and sweet together. [p.18] What did he mean? What is sour and sweet about each of the main characters in this book-Ruby, Miss Eula, Melba Jane? 
Miss Mattie comforts Ruby by telling her, "This family is full of strong women who know how to laugh." [p.133] Explain how humor helps Ruby and Miss Eula deal with their sadness. How have you used humor to help you get through tough situations? 
Ruby looks to Miss Eula for comfort, security, and love. Why does Ruby send Miss Eula updates about the chickens even though she feels like her grandmother abandoned her for some new (smelly) baby? Has Miss Eula really abandoned Ruby?

Activity Suggestions: On her website about Ruby Lavender, Deborah Wiles has some wonderful activities to go along with the book. They can be found at 
Ruby drew a map of Halleluia. Along with landmarks like houses and stores, she included the silver maple tree and the spot where she and Miss Eula saved Ivy, Bemmie, and Bess. Why has Ruby drawn these places on her map? What would you include on a map of your town? Why? Standard 4, Benchmark 2
Ruby and Miss Eula have their own secret mailbox, and they send letters between Hawaii and Halleluia instead of calling each other on the phone. Why is letter-writing such an important activity to them? Send your own letter to someone of a different generation—it can be a relative, a friend of the family, or even a neighbor. What will you tell them? What will you ask them? Ruby sends Miss Eula photos of herself. What might you send along with your letters? Standard 4, Benchmark 2
Look at all the different covers done for various editions of Love, Ruby Lavender on the web page. What parts of the story do they show? What don't they show? Which cover do you like best, and why? Now, design a cover for the book yourself! You can draw, and collage, and paint—anything you like. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart
Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart. Vera B. Williams; Greenwillow Books, 2001. 
Grade level: 3 – 5
ISNB & Cost: 0060294604 $15.95
Synopsis: Two sisters help each other deal with life while their mother is working and their father has been sent to jail.

Themes: Sisters, Family life

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

What were each of the girl’s strength’s and weakness’? Tell why you feel this way? 
People are put into jail for various reasons. Imagine someone in your family being in jail. How would you react to their absence? 
Why did Essie cut her hair? Would you do the same for someone in your family?

Activity Suggestions: 
List the ways Wilson The Bear is important to both girls. Standard 3, Benchmark 2
Find a favorite happening in the book. Create a picture depicting the event. Standard 5, Benchmark 3. 
Read “Little House in the Big Woods”, or “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother” Standard 5, Benchmark 1

Grades 6-8

Gawgon and the Boy by Lloyd Alexander. Holly Engle
Seek by Paul Fleischman. Amy Brownlee
Witness by Karen Hesse. Beverley Buller
Down the Yukon by Will Hobbs. Janet Sauber
Boston Jane by Jennifer Holm. Jennifer Bergen
Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez. Beverley Buller
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen. Janet Sauber
A Step from Heaven by An Na. Amy Brownlee
Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson. Holly Engle
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. Carol Robison
The Land by Mildred Taylor. Beverley Buller
Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren. Beverley Buller
Memory Boy by Will Weaver. Betty Neal

Gawgon and the Boy
Gawgon and the Boy. Lloyd Alexander; Dutton, 2001
Grade Level: 6 - 8
ISBN & Cost: 0525466770 $17.99

Synopsis: After nearly dying from pneumonia, eleven year old David is unable to return to school. His formidable, elderly Aunt Annie volunteers to tutor him. David approaches his lessons warily since Aunt Annie has been dubbed "The Gawgon" -- a mispronunciation of "Gorgon" -- by another eccentric relative. However, the Gawgon recognizes that David -- or "The Boy" as she calls him -- possesses a creative imagination and an inquisitive intellect. Together they can go anywhere and do anything!

General Review: "In a change of pace from his usual fantasies, Alexander has written a funny, clever novel that's part family story, part portrait of a developing artist and writer . . . Effective humor in both the real and the invented parts of the protagonist's life, well-drawn secondary characters, and clever segues from David's lessons with his aunt to his latest tales are among the story's many strengths." (Beth Wright, School Library Journal Review)

Alexander deftly weaves realistic depictions of growing up in Depression-era Philadelphia with quirky flights of soaring imagination that feature Gawgon and the Boy in escapades with characters from mythology and fiction -- such as Perseus and Sherlock Holmes -- as well as historic figures.

Author Information: SATA vol. 49 and Third Book of Junior Authors

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Describe the interactions between David and his older sister Elise. Do you find their sibling relationship to be realistic? 
2. In his books, Alexander often features strong, feisty female characters. In what ways does that describe the Gawgon? Do you think she is aptly nicknamed? (In Greek mythology, a Gorgon is one of three sisters with snaky hair and a terrifying aspect. Their gaze could turn mortals into stone. The term gorgon can also refer to anything especially ugly or horrid.) 
3. David overhears the adults talking about momentous historical events but he does not really understand their significance: "Something had gone wrong with the stock market. I did not know what the stock market was, except my father found it intensely interesting. It had collapsed, crashed, or some such. I could get no mental picture of a market crashing, apart from shelves in the grocery store falling down and canned vegetables rolling around, so I could not follow the conversation." (p. 109) Give examples of how the Great War (World War I), the stock market crash and the Great Depression affects David's daily life.

Activity Suggestions:

1. David's family tree is listed in the front of the book. Many of the entries are followed by nicknames or fascinating comments such as "Rosie: Alarmed by microbes and the New Monia" or "Eustace: 'Mackerel Fat' happily sells tombstones". Construct a family tree of either your family or of a fictional family from a favorite book. Write brief observations about each family member. Standard 3, Benchmark 4
2. David's vivid imaginings of encounters with historical and fictional characters give the book much of its charm and fun. Who would you like to go back into history -- or into the pages of a book -- to meet? In what way would you "save the day" or make a difference in the outcome of events? Write about and/or illustrate your adventure. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
3. Devastating diseases -- such as measles, diphtheria and Spanish influenza -- and the resulting quarantines were common at the time. Research these diseases and their treatments. If possible, interview older family members or friends for their recollections on how their daily lives were impacted by these epidemics. Standard 2, Benchmark 4
4. Gawgon tells David that she wanted to teach him because he had the makings of a "good mind" and she wanted to give him a chance to make something of himself. Design your ideal school or learning situation. Standard 4, Benchmark 2

Seek. Paul Fleischman; Cricket Books, 2001
Grade Level: 6 - 8
ISBN & Cost: 0812649001 $16.95
Synopsis: As part of an autobiographical writing assignment, high school senior Rob Radkovitz examines his childhood and explores the years he spent searching the radio airwaves for the father he never met.

General Review: Written in the unique style of a reader’s theatre script, this book tells of Rob’s desperate search to find his absentee father, a radio DJ. This realistic story deals honestly with a young boy’s struggle to forge an identity without knowing his father. The author fills Rob’s life with a caring extended family and creative outlets, like his underground newspaper and radio hobby, to help him cope with his problems. Although some students may have difficulty following the different voices and shifts in time woven throughout the book, readers will identify with Rob and enjoy hearing his story.

Themes: Fathers and sons; Absentee fathers; Radio; Family; Stepfamilies.

Author Information: SATA vol. 39 and Fifth Book of Junior Authors

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Why do you think Rob so badly wants to get in contact with his father? 
2. If you were Rob’s friend, how would you help him deal with his frustration over not knowing his father? 
3. In what ways has Rob’s extended family (aunts, grandparents, etc.) tried to make up for the fact that Rob doesn’t have a father in his life? Were they successful? 
4. Do you think Rob’s mother was right to be brutally honest by telling Rob that his father didn’t want him to be born? 
5. Why do you think Rob’s father suddenly decided to contact him? 
6. Do you think Rob made the right decision in choosing not to have a relationship with his father? Why or why not? 
7. Why do you think the author chose to write the book in this unique format?

Activity Suggestions:

1. As suggested at the back of the book, students can rehearse and perform all or portions of the book as a reader’s theatre production. Students could also find other reader’s theatre scripts to perform or write their own reader’s theatre piece. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
2. Have students do research on how radio technology works. Find a radio enthusiast who can be a guest speaker and show students a short wave radio and answer questions about the hobby. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
3. Visit a radio station to learn about the inner workings of the industry, or have a radio station manager or DJ speak to your class about his/her career. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
4. Find a book, video, or person who can explain yoga to the class. Have students participate in a yoga class or exercise session. Standard 3, Benchmark 2

Witness. Karen Hesse; Scholastic, 2001
Grade Level: 6 – 8
ISBN & Cost: 0439271991 $16.95
Synopsis: The voices of eleven fictional characters in 1924 Vermont describe the effects of the Ku Klux Klan’s attempt to infiltrate their town.

General Review: By letting the characters literally speak for themselves, Hesse exposes the ugliness of the Klan members as well as the strength and goodness of the ordinary people of the town. Because of the unusual style and serious subjects it tackles, readers will benefit from rereading and discussing this book.

Themes: Prejudice, Ku Klux Klan, 1920’s

Author Information:
Author information also in SATA volumes 103 and 113. 
Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. Why is the Klan able to move into this town? Why does it leave? 
2. What role does Reynard Alexander serve in the book? 
3. List several acts committed by Klan members or sympathizers. List several acts of kindness committed in the book and the character responsible. 
4. What do the characters in this book witness? What does the title mean to you?

Activity suggestions:

1. The town is divided by the Klan. Make a T-chart and list the characters for and against the Klan. Standard 3, Benchmark 1, Standard 2, Benchmark 2
2. The author mentions many real personalities making news in 1924: Leopold & Loeb, Miriam Ferguson, Helen Keller, D. W. Griffith, John Philip Sousa, Clarence Darrow, Calvin Coolidge. Choose one and find out more about them. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
3. Kansas was one of the states mentioned by Reynard Alexander where “something has slipped”. Using the Kansas State Historical Society’s website ( discover what you can about the Ku Klux Klan’s presence in Kansas. Standard 1, Benchmark 5. Plot your results on a state map and share your findings with the class. Standard 9, Benchmark 1
4. William Allen White opposed the Klan coming to his Kansas town. Using the Kansas State Historical Society’s website ( find out who was he, in what town he lived, and how he expressed his opinion about the Klan. Standard 1, Benchmark 5. Choose a format (poster, report, electronic presentation etc.) to share your findings. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
5. If you liked the format of this book, read Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, first published in 1915. Standard 5, Benchmark 1

Down the Yukon
Down the Yukon. Will Hobbs; HarperCollins, 2001
Grade Level: 6 - 8
ISBN & Cost: 0060287381 $15.00
Synopsis: Will Hobbs continues the adventures of Jason Hawthorn, of Jason’s Gold fame. Upon hearing about beaches of gold further North, Jason dreams of heading to Nome, Alaska just like thousands of other prospectors. With the love of his life, Jaime Dunavant, back by his side, the two head out to win a 1,700 race, with Nome and $20,000 in prize money at the end. They must battle the land, the weather, exhaustion and two other particularly difficult racers along the way.

General Review: Reading Down the Yukon was like being on a Northern adventure but not leaving home. Hobbs tosses the reader down into the middle of Dawson City, a booming gold town in the Canadian Klondike, and then goes on a cross country trek with the two protagonists, Jason and Jaime. The reader will cheer for the good guys and boo the villain. Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the end of the book to help separate fact from fiction. Hobbs does an excellent job of describing the people and land that make the North a truly unique place while keeping the reader turning the page to see what happens next.

Author Information:

Discussion questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. In the first chapter of Down the Yukon, you meet most of the main characters. Discuss what you can figure out about each character as a result of their treatment of the stray dog. 
2. Discuss the different negative influences present in Dawson City. How do these negative influences affect the Hawthorn brothers? What are some of the positive aspects of the city? Discuss some of the negative and positive aspects of your community. 
3. Discuss Jaime’s and Jason’s financial situation when Jaime returns to Dawson City, and how it affects the decisions they make. Discuss a time your own financial situation influenced the decisions you made. 
4. Jason and Jaime face many hardships and delays during the race. Discuss each hardship and delay, and then discuss Jason’s and Jaime’s reaction to each setback. Talk about what their reactions tell about them. How do you think you would react to the different problems? What do you think your reactions would tell about you? 
5. Discuss the role of Burnt Paw through out the book. Discuss the change in Jason’s feelings toward the dog. How does Burnt Paw affect the outcome of the story? Discuss your own feelings about a pet. How do you think that pet affects your life?

Activity suggestions:

1. Learn more about the Alaska Gold Rush by accessing the Alaska Department of Education web site, This site contains many primary source materials exploring different aspects of the discovery of gold, traveling to the gold fields, gold mining and daily life. There are also many gold mining stories. An excellent teacher’s guide provides a mother lode of resources and suggestions for lessons and activities. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
2. Read another of Will Hobbs’ books (something other than Jason’s Gold). Find the similarities and differences between that book and Down the Yukon. Are there similar themes? Different settings? What about the characters, how are they alike or different from Jason Hawthorn and Jaime Dunavant? Create a graphic organizer that shows the similarities and the differences of the two books. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Learn more about the author, Will Hobbs, by accessing his excellent web site, At this site, you are invited to meet Will Hobbs, take a closer look at his different books, learn where his story ideas come from, read the answers to frequently asked questions and just have fun. There are also wonderful teacher/librarian ideas, activities and resources for many of Hobbs’ books, including Down the Yukon. Standard 5, Benchmark 1
4. Using a detailed map of Alaska, trace Jason and Jaime’s progress as they travel from Dawson City to Nome. Mark important points and keep a log of the events that happen at each point. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
5. Select a significant event from the book and draw an illustration. Be sure to include the page number(s) where the event takes place and write an original caption for the illustration. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

Boston Jane: An Adventure
Boston Jane: An Adventure. Jennifer L. Holm; HarperCollins, 2001
Grade Level: 6 - 8
ISBN & Cost: 0060287381 $16.95
Synopsis: In Philadelphia in 1849, Jane Peck is raised a tomboy by her father, a physician whom she assists during his medical procedures. After being taunted, she decides to attend a lady’s school, and at 16 she sets sail for the wilderness of Oregon to meet her betrothed, William. Jane learns to survive in the wilderness by slowly giving up her impractical ladylike manners and becoming a strong, independent woman who no longer needs William to save her.

General Review: Holm once again creates a lively and interesting heroine who will entice readers as she changes from a fun-loving girl, to a boring lady, to an independent and courageous woman. Her adventures in the wilderness expose Jane to lifestyles and cultures she never imagined. Despite prejudices and misunderstandings, Jane eventually grows to love the people around her – traders, sailors, Chinook women and men – and finds more to life in this isolated wilderness than she was able to discover in the city of Philadelphia.

Themes: Female independence; gender issues; historical social divides; Chinook culture; Pacific Northwest settlements; historical adventure

Author Information:; 
SATA vol.120 (brief entry);

Discussion questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. Review some of the lessons Jane is taught at Miss Hepplewhite’s academy, such as the lessons on listening (pg. 24), fainting (pg. 27) or “a woman’s peculiar calling” (pg. 44). How did these lessons change Jane’s way of life when she was in Philadelphia? How did they affect her in the wilderness? What do you think about these rules of behavior for women? 
2. Jane forms quick first impressions of people and places that are often proved wrong. For example, on page 77 Jane forms an impression of Jehu based on a rough scar on his cheek. Much later at the Fourth of July celebration, Jane finds out what really happened to Jehu (pg. 214). What other first impressions does Jane form, and how are they proved wrong? 
3. The first line of Boston Jane is, “Papa always said you make your own luck.” Jane returns to this idea of being lucky or unlucky throughout the book. Do you believe Jane created her own “good luck” or “bad luck”? What about other characters – do they create their own fortune or misfortune? Think of some specific decisions that might have led to unlucky situations such as Jane ending up alone in Oregon, or the destruction of Mr. Swan’s new home. Are there situations over which the characters had no control (perhaps the storm at sea or outbreak of small pox)?

Activity Suggestions: 

1. Use maps to trace the likely route of Jane’s ship. Look at a map of Oregon and try to find where Jane lived. Write to the Governor of Oregon for more information about the state’s history, landscape, current economy and industry. Compare adventures of the Pacific Northwest frontier to what you know about the Kansas frontier. Standard 3, Benchmark 2
2. Read the interesting Author’s Note in Boston Jane that mentions the real etiquette book on which The Young Lady’s Confidante is based. Compare current “etiquette” or manners expected of teens to the lessons Jane learned at Miss Hepplewhite’s Young Ladies Academy. Use books such as How Rude! by Alex Packer (1997) or Emily Post’s Teen Etiquette by Elizabeth Post and Joan Coles (1995). Role play a historical setting with “ladies” and “gentlemen” in conversation, and then discuss how students felt in that situation. (Boys could play the part of ladies and vise versa for a fun and enlightening switch.) Ask a local museum or theater group to bring some samples of 19th C. dresses, corsets, hats, etc. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Research the culture or history of the Chinook Indians. Rafe Martin’s picture book The Boy Who Lived With the Seals is a Chinook legend, and Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America by David Leeming and Jake Page includes “The Chinook Ship Monster” legend about the Chinook people watching a ship arrive and mistaking it to be a monster. A dictionary of Chinook Jargon is available at For further reading, Jennifer Holm’s first book Our Only May Amelia also includes interesting Chinook traditions and relationships, as does Boston Jane: Wilderness Days. Standard 5, Benchmark 2

Breaking Through
Breaking Through. Francisco Jimenez; Houghton Mifflin, 2001. 
Grade Level: 6 – 8
ISBN & Cost: 0618011730 $15.00

Synopsis: Having come from Mexico to California ten years earlier, fourteen-year-old Francisco is still working in the fields but fighting to improve his life and complete his education.

General Review: Drawing on his memories bolstered by research, Francisco Jimenez makes his junior high and high school years as a struggling immigrant come alive for the reader. Full of rich detail and interesting anecdotes, this inspiring book lends itself to group study, read-alouds, or even the most reluctant individual reader. Sequel to The Circuit.

Themes: Mexican Americans, Agricultural Laborers, self-reliance

Author information:

Contemporary Authors, Vol. 131

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. “I lived in constant fear for ten long years, from the time I was four until I was fourteen years old.”, the author states in the book’s first paragraph. What did he fear and why did the fearing finally end? 
2. Francisco works hard to improve his own life and that of his family. What are some of the things he does? 
3. Francisco Jimenez now holds a PhD and teaches at the same university he was about to attend at the end of the book. If he were asked who inspired him to pursue such an education and occupation, what people do you think he would mention? 
4. Explain how the title and the quotation which inspired it fit the book.


1. Francisco’s growing-up years were a series of ups and downs. Choose a graphic organizer format or create one to fit the subject matter and illustrate these good and bad events. Try to find at least five of each from the book. Standard 3, Benchmark 1 and Standard 3, Benchmark 4
2. Draw or trace a large butterfly (or use a template provided by your teacher). Using the wings and the thorax as a sort of Venn Diagram, compare and contrast your own life from age four to your current age with Francisco’s. Standard 3, Benchmark 1. This activity could also be done in small groups using life experiences common to the group. Standard 9, Benchmark 1
3. Francisco came to the U.S. from Mexico. What culture(s) are in your background? Using information sources of your own choosing, create a list of notable immigrants from the same country or culture as you. Standard 7, Benchmark 1
4. Using the card catalog from your school or public library, create a list of other fiction books about Hispanic Americans or immigrants in general which might interest you or your classmates. Standard 1, Benchmark 5 and Standard 3, Benchmark 1

Touching Spirit Bear
Touching Spirit Bear. Ben Mikaelsen; HarperCollins, 2001
Grades: 6 - 8
ISBN & Cost: 0380977443 $12.00

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Cole Matthews is an angry young man whose increasingly violent behavior has landed him on an isolated Alaskan island to find healing. Cole struggles against his own destructive behavior and the forces of nature including a giant white spirit bear as he comes to terms with his life and his responsibilities.

General Review: Touching Spirit Bear is another kind of adventure/survival story altogether. There were elements of the classic survival story with life threatening events, struggles against insurmountable odds, a near-death experience and eventual victory for the main character. Touching Spirit Bear, however, goes deeper than that. This is not just a story of physical survival, but survival of the heart and soul of a boy. The lessons to be learned from this book are valuable to all people: take responsibility for your own actions, forgiveness is necessary for healing, and helping others is the best way to help yourself. It could serve as an inspiration for those struggling with the anger and resentment that nearly consumed Cole Matthews.

Themes: Survival, Alaska, Personal Responsibility

Author Information:

Discussion questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Discuss the destructive and constructive decisions Cole Matthews makes throughout the book. Discuss the true reasons behind the decisions. Discuss a time you made a destructive or constructive decision and the outcome of that decision. 
2. Animals/nature play an important role in this book. Discuss the lessons Cole learns from various animals and how those lessons contribute to his recovery. Discuss how nature or an animal helped teach you a life lesson. 
3. Discuss the concept of Circle Justice and how it differs from traditional treatment of offenders. If you had been Cole Matthew’s which route would you have chosen? 
4. Discuss the symbolism of the circle in Touching Spirit Bear.

Activity suggestions:

1. Read Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet or Allen Eckert’s Incident at Hawk’s Hill. Talk about the selected book, then compare/contrast the selected book with Touching Spirit Bear. Standard 5, Benchmark 1
2. In groups, students create, write and present a mock “Circle Justice” meeting; then discuss the process and the potential outcome. Standard 9, Benchmark 1
3. Students carve or draw their own totems accompanied by a written explanation of the “life story” that is told in the symbols of their totem. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
4. Using a map of North America, trace Cole Matthew’s journey from Minnesota to Alaska. Research Alaska, its geography, the weather and the wildlife, as well as the different native groups. Standard 1, Benchmark 2
5. Read more about Ben Mikaelsen at his web site, Read another book written by Ben Mikaelsen and discuss any recurring themes in his writing. Standard 1, Benchmark 4, Standard 5, Benchmark 1

A Step from Heaven
A Step from Heaven. An Na; Front Street, 2001
Grade Level: 6 - 8
ISBN and Cost: 1886910588 $15.95
Synopsis: Young Ju’s parents emigrate to the U.S. from Korea in search of a better life for their family, but life in California is not as easy as they had anticipated. When Young Ju’s father resorts to alcoholism and domestic violence, Young Ju must find a way to survive.

General Review: The reader gets to see Young Ju grow from a scared four-year-old coming to America being thrust into a totally foreign culture to a young woman in a difficult family situation. This story is told in a realistic voice that draws the reader into the fear present in this unstable home. Wonderfully, the story ends with strength, dignity and hope for Young Ju, her younger brother Joon, and her mother Uhmma. The book’s depictions of abuse may not be appropriate for all readers.

Themes: Immigrants; Domestic Violence; Child Abuse; Korean Americans; Alcoholism

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Why doesn’t Young Ju’s family find the success and wealth they thought they would in America? 
2. Why does Uhmma refuse to press charges against her husband when he is arrested for domestic violence? Do you think she made the right decision? Remember to consider the differences between Korean and American culture. 
3. Where does Uhmma find the strength to remain in America when her husband decides to return to Korea? Did she make the right decision for herself and her children? Why or why not? 
4. If you had a friend in Young Ju’s situation who was being abused, what would you do? How do you think that would affect your friendship?

Activity Suggestions: 

1. Investigate the country of Korea. Learn about their customs, including religious beliefs, rituals, clothing and food. Standard 1, Benchmark 1
2. Have students research domestic violence, child abuse, or alcoholism in America. Cite statistics as well as agencies and organizations that provide help for victims. Have students write a letter to Young Ju giving her information that could help her overcome her situation. Standard 1, Benchmark 1, Standard 3, Benchmark 1
3. Visit a domestic violence shelter, or talk to someone who works at such a place. Allow students to ask questions. Standard 7, Benchmark 1
4. Read personal accounts of other immigrants and compare the struggles they have faced with the struggles of Young Ju’s family. If possible, ask an immigrant to speak to the class. Standard 3, Benchmark 2

Carver, A Life in Poems
Carver, A Life in Poems. Marilyn Nelson; Front Street, 2001
Grade Level: 6 - 8
ISBN & Cost: 1886910537 $16.95
Synopsis: Through her collection of poems, Marilyn Nelson offers a compelling and inspiring account of George Washington Carver and his place in history. The poems, told from the point of view of Carver and people who knew him, celebrate not only his scientific and artistic accomplishments but also emphasize his character and steadfast faith.

General Review: "By offering glimpses into George Washington Carver's life story through a series of lyrical poems, the structure of Nelson's book is as inspired as its occasional use of black-and-white photographs as illustrations. The poems are simple, sincere, and sometimes so beautiful they seem not works of artifice, but honest statements of pure, natural truths." (School Library Journal Review)

Discussion Questions: from the website: prepared by Marilyn Nelson and Pat Scales) Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Consider the point of view of each poem as they read it. How does changing the point of view round out the reader's knowledge of Carver's life? Contrast what others say about Carver to what Carver reveals about himself. 
2. Consider the pacifism of Carver and pacifism as a contemporary issue. 
3. Read “The Nervous System of the Beetle” (p. 28). Why is Carver laughing? What is an invertebrate? Why is Carver wiping away tears at the end of the poem? What do these tears tell us about Carver? 
4. Carver was the first black student and faculty member at Iowa State University. Discuss the courage it took for him to pursue his dream of becoming a scientist. How was his life the epitome of courage? 
5. Describe the prejudice that Carver experienced from his own race. What is the attitude of the narrator in "My People" (p. 34)? How does he deal with professional jealousy from his colleagues when he joins the faculty of Tuskegee Institute? What is his relationship with Booker T. Washington? How is the title "The New Rooster" (p. 64) an appropriate metaphor for Carver's relationship with George R. Bridgeforth?

Activity Suggestions: from the website: prepared by Marilyn Nelson and Pat Scales.

1. Brainstorm adjectives that best describe Carver as a boy, a man, a scientist, and an artist. Write a profile of Carver at one of these stages in his life. Standard 1, Benchmark 1
2. Use information gathered from Nelson's poetry and other sources to construct an illustrated timeline that represents the most important events in Carver's life. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
3. Carver is credited with creating over 325 peanut products. Identify some of these products and write an ad campaign for one of them. Much of Carver’s research on peanuts was later transferred to soybeans because many people are allergic to peanuts. Because Carver did not patent his processes, these products are not identified as having been invented by him. Have students go to a supermarket and identify products that are outgrowths of Carver’s experiments (soy cheese, tofu hotdogs, tofu ice cream, soy milk, rice milk, fruit rollups, chocolate and peanut candies, non-dairy creamer, etc.). Standard 1, Benchmark 4
4. Carver once said, “It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.” Discuss the meaning of service. Find out the many opportunities for service and plan a class service project dedicated to George Washington Carver. Standard 4, Benchmark 4

A Single Shard
A Single Shard. Linda Sue Park; Clarion, 2001
Grade level: 6 - 8. 
ISBN & Cost: 0395978270 $15.00
Synopsis: Set in 12th century Korea, this is the story of orphaned Tree-ear who lives under a bridge with his disabled friend Crane-Man. Tree-ear becomes fascinated with the potter’s craft. However, pottery is a trade passed on from father to son .

General Review: From Publishers Weekly, Park (Seesaw Girl) molds a moving tribute to perseverance and creativity in this finely etched novel set in mid- to late 12th-century Korea. In Ch'ul'po, a potter's village, Crane-man (so called because of one shriveled leg) raises 10-year-old orphan Tree Ear (named for a mushroom that grows "without benefit of "parent-seed"). Though the pair reside under a bridge, surviving on cast-off rubbish
and fallen grains of rice, they believe "stealing and begging... made a man no better than a dog." From afar, Tree Ear admires the work of the potters until he accidentally destroys a piece by Min, the most talented of the town's craftsmen, and pays his debt in servitude for nine days. Park convincingly conveys how a community of artists works (chopping wood for a communal kiln, cutting clay to be thrown, etc.) and effectively builds the relationships between characters through their actions (e.g., Tree Ear hides half his lunch each day for Crane-man, and Min's soft-hearted wife surreptitiously fills the bowl). She charts Tree Ear's transformation from apprentice to artist and portrays his selflessness during a pilgrimage to Songdo to show Min's work to the royal court he faithfully continues even after robbers shatter the work and he has only a single shard to show. Readers will not soon forget these characters or their sacrifices.

Author Information:

Discussion questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. What personal attributes did Tree-Ear exhibit? (persistence, loyalty, etc.) 
2. Compare the apprentice system to the formal education system. 
3. Compare homelessness today with Tree-Ear’s time.

Activities suggestions:

1. Summarizing may be done by having students describe briefly what was written. Brainstorm ideas about what they have read or discussed. Discard irrelevant or unnecessary information. Standard 3, Benchmark 2. Organize remaining content into a summary. To do this you may choose to use a “Web” organizing structure. Outline the concepts to identify relevent and irrelevant. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
2. Use a print or electronic dictionary to learn about the following words: Korea, jiggeh, oxidation, inlaid, kiln, glaze, perusal, shard, celadon, potter’s wheel, 
molding, Songdo, frenetically, suffused, eavesdropping. Why were they important to the story? Standard 1, Benchmark 4
3. Using print or electronic sources, explore information about Korean history. Keep a log of information in a notebook, using Timeliner or word processor. Remember to cite your sources. Standard 1, Benchmark 1
4. What other literature, music, TV or movies have taken place in Korea? Use the card catalog and on-line sources. Standard 1, Benchmark 4

The Land
The Land. Mildred Taylor; Penguin Putnam/Phyllis Fogelman, 2001. 
Grade Level: 6 - 8
ISBN and Cost: 0803719507 $17.99
Synopsis: Paul-Edward Logan, the son of a white plantation owner and a slave mother, works to achieve his dream of owning his own land in post-Civil War Mississippi.

General Review: Author Mildred Taylor establishes a goodly heritage for her popular Logan family characters in this prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry. Young readers should find this powerful tale of determination, prejudice, friendship, and hope to be riveting despite its 375 pages.

Themes: Race relations, Reconstruction (post-Civil War) South

Author Information:

SATA Vol. 70

Discussion questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. When does Paul-Edward first decide he wants to own his own land? Black landowners in the time in which this book is set were few. Why do you think it is so important to him to own land? 
2. How does the treatment Paul-Edward receives at the hands of his father prepare him for the experiences he has later in the book? 
3. The author writes in her “Note to the Reader”, “…I have used language that is painful…”. Do you agree with her choice? Why? 
4. What events in the book surprised you? Inspired you?


1. Construct a timeline of the major events in the story which move Paul-Edward closer to his dream of owning his own land. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
2. Using the library and/or internet, research race relations in the American South when this story is set (after the Civil War). What was the predominant attitude of whites towards blacks? Standard 1, Benchmark 5. Using this information, create a Venn Diagram and place characters in the book in the following categories: left side—those who reflect the attitudes about race relations of the time; right side—those who rise above the attitudes and are unprejudiced; center—those who don’t fit totally in either category or exhibit behaviors of both. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
3. The author has written eight other books about the Logan family and is working on another (Logan). What predictions can you make about the family, based on its beginnings in this book? Standard 3, Benchmark 2
4. The “Author’s Note” tells the reader of the family history which inspired The Land. Interview a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or parent to discover what stories they share of your own family. Standard 9, Benchmark 2

Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps
Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps. Andrea Warren; HarperCollins, 2001. 
Grade level: 6 - 8
ISBN & Cost: 0688174973 $16.99
Synopsis: The story of Jack Mendelbaum’s childhood in Poland, young adulthood in the Nazi concentration camps, and new life in Kansas City following his liberation from the camps constructed from interviews with him and those who know him.

General Review: Mendelbaum’s story is simply yet thoroughly told, making it an ideal introduction to Holocaust survivor stories for young readers. The author’s background information on concentration camps, multimedia recommendations, and index which follow Mendelbaum’s story make it useful as a resource as well.

Themes: Holocaust, World War II, Jewish religion

Author information: 

SATA Vol. 98;

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. Describe Jack’s life in Gdynia before he moved to Grandfather’s. 
2. Life changed for Jack and the Jewish community when the Nazis conquered Poland in September 1939. What things could he no longer do? 
3. What vow did Jack make on his first night in Blechhammer concentration camp? 
4. The advice given to Jack by other prisoners keeps him alive. What were some of the “rules” he followed? 
5. Name some of the things Jack has done since he moved to America.

Activity Suggestions: 

1. Mr. Mendelbaum told the author, “I speak hoping I can make a difference.” Write a letter to him and share your thoughts and feelings after reading the book. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
2. Make a timeline of the important events in Jack’s life, starting with life in Gdynia in 1939 and ending with his trip to Poland with Uncle Sig in 1999. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
3. Visit the website of the organization Jack co-founded in Overland Park, KS, Standard 1, Benchmark 4
4. Read one of the books recommended for your age group in the back of the book. Standard 5, Benchmark 1

Memory Boy
Memory Boy. Will Weaver; HarperCollins, 2001. 
Grade Level: 6 - 8
ISBN & Cost: 0060288116 $15.95
Synopsis: Volcanoes have erupted all around the ring of fire. The resultant air pollution has changed life for everyone. Food is scarce because there isn’t enough sunlight. People have lost their jobs because plants have closed and travel is severely limited. Miles and his family decide to travel to their summer home to be safer. The problem is how to get there safely and what to do once they arrive.

General Review: Miles hated the assignment; he had to interview a resident of the local nursing home. He had no way of knowing that what he learned in this assignment would be required to keep his family alive. Miles becomes the memory boy, the one who knows how to travel through dangerous situations to get to a safer place and how to live in the wild if they make it. Now Miles is the one in charge and the one responsible for his family. Can he remember what he learned? This is enjoyable post apocalyptic science fiction. The people in this book are believable and the reader learns to care about them as they travel through a strange new world.

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. What items would you miss most if there was no electricity? Why? What would you use as a replacement? (How could you cook, heat, light?) 
2. Why did Miles and his father decide they did want to take a gun with them when they left their summer home? Was this a valid reason? 
3. Is it important that each of us try to be careful of the environment? Many scientists believe that a change in the environment explains the extinction of the dinosaurs. What other animals have become extinct?

Activity Suggestions: 

1. Arrange to have a senior citizen visit the classroom to talk with the students after they have read the book. Have the students decide on some quest ions they would like to ask. Standard 7, Benchmark 1
2. Build a model of the machine Miles constructed to carry the family to safety. What details does the book give? Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Research what items you would not have if there were no long distance transportation. Where does the food you eat come from? Check the labels of your clothes, where were they made? How about your hobbies? Do you need items from far away to do what you enjoy? Standard 2, Benchmark 4