Curriculum Guides



Grades 3-5

Byars, Betsy. Keeper of the Doves. (by Julie Linneman) 

Cooney, Doug. The Beloved Dearly. (by Theresa Love) 

Creech, Sharon. Ruby Holler. (by Lou Brewer) 

Fuqua, Jonathan Scott. Darby. (by Lou Brewer) 

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Pictures of Hollis Woods(by Julie Linneman) 

Hopkinson, Deborah. Pioneer Summer. (by Arlene Wiler) 

Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie. Lumber Camp Library. (by Jennifer Bergen) 

Kochenderfer, Lee. The Victory Garden. (by Marj Lloyd) 

Levy, Constance. Splash! Poems of Our Watery World. (by Judy Druse) 

Lisle, Janet Taylor. How I Became a Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive(by Lou Brewer) 

Pretlusky, Jack. Scranimals. (by Jennifer Bergen) 

Ryan, Pam Munoz. When Marian Sang. (By Marj Lloyd)

Spinelli, Jerry. Loser. (by Natalie Lindsay) 

Whipple, Laura. If the Shoe Fits: Voices From Cinderella. (by Julie Tomlianovich) 

Keeper of the Doves

Keeper of the Doves. Betsy Byars
Gr. 3-6
ISBN: 0-670-03576-9
COST: $14.99 

Amie McBee, a budding poet and word-lover, is told by her older twin sisters that Mr. Tominski, a Polish immigrant and recluse who lives in the chapel behind their home, is a monster to be feared and avoided. Amie learns, however, that Mr. Tominski, who saved her father's life, is a master dove keeper and trainer who is afraid of people and dogs. When their family dog turns up dead, the twins blame Mr. Tominski, and Amie must decide if he is truly harmless or a murderer.

Set in the 1890s, this novel is narrated by Amie (Amen) McBee and primarily focuses upon her eighth year, when the family is graced with the birth of a son and the death of their beloved dog, Scout. The cause of the dog's death remains ambiguous, but Amie must decide whether Scout's death is murder or accident. Throughout her life, Amie is torn between the warnings of her sisters, the Bellas, about the sinister nature of Mr. Tominski, and her father's compassion for this non-English speaking hermit who saved his life. When the accusations of murder by the Bellas become shrill and demanding, Mr. Tominski overhears their words and runs away. His death while hopping a train is left purposely ambiguous as to whether it was accident or suicide, but Amie concludes that the words spoken by the twins led to his death. 

Betsy Byars creates a character in Amie who has a gentle, poetic sensitivity and who does not quickly jump to conclusions in spite of what she sees and hears. Amie's interest in words is reflected in the chapter titles, which follow the letters of the alphabet, and which chapter titles are then mirrored in the first line of the chapter. The story is laced with snippets of poetry and Amie's hunger for more words to be able to better express her depth of feeling. There is a homespun feel to the novel, and it captures well the atmosphere of the Victorian era. The story will stimulate discussion on accepting people who are different, even those whose lives are outside the range of normal behavior. In addition, the fact that Amie learns after his death about Mr. Tominski's fugitive status, and the admission by her father that he may have kicked the dog which resulted in the dog's death, will challenge readers to accept the idea that even those who are "good" may do bad things, and those who are "bad" may have good qualities-ulimately showing us that people are complex and cannot be labeled as wholly good or bad.

Acceptance; Differences; Fear; Responsibility for others; Death; Kindness; Poetry

. Something About the Author, vol. 80, pp. 29-36. 
. Something About the Author, "Autobiography Feature," vol. 108, pp. 23-39. 
. Third Book of Junior Authors, p. 55. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: (3 TO 5) Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. How would you describe Mr. Tominski? On page 115, Amie notes that Mr. Tominski has been called a hero, a drifter, a friend, a hobo, a dove magician, and a harmless old man and asks if a person can be all these things, to which her father answers, "All these things and more." What do you think he meant by that? 
2. Why does Amie believe that the words spoken by the Bellas ("Mr. Tominski is a murderer!"-p. 101) caused Mr. Tominski's death? What effect does fear have on a person? What things do you believe Mr. Tominski feared? 
3. In chapter 14, Aunt Pauline tells her nightmare before breakfast, which she believes causes nightmares to come true. Later in the story, someone dies, just as she dreamed would happen. What are superstitions? How easy is it to find a cause-and-effect relationship between two unrelated events? At the beginning of chapter 14, several of Aunt Pauline's superstitions are shared. Can you name any other superstitions people believe today? 
4. At the beginning of chapter 17, the girls get cameras. Amie says, "The camera.gave me a feeling of power. It was the way pen and paper made me feel." What kind of power does creativity give a person? What things does Amie do in this novel to develop her own creativity? Are there any similarities between photography and poetry? 
5. On page 29, Amie states, "We were girls waiting for something to happen, girls whose lives were about to be changed in a way we could not imagine." In what way is Amie's life changed in this novel? What lessons does she learn from her experiences with Mr. Tominski? Can you think of ways that these lessons might help her in the future?

1. Word Play: The A to Z of Poetry (Standard 5, Benchmark 3) 
Have students try using the alphabet in their poetry in one of the following ways: 
(a) Write a 26-line poem such that each line begins with a different letter of the alphabet. 
(b) Write an anacrostic poem, in which the first letters of each line spell out a word vertically. 
(c) Have each student take a different letter of the alphabet and write a poem in which that letter features prominently, then combine all the poems into a book. 
(d) In the same way that Augusta recites a list of flowers which each begin with a different letter of the alphabet, see if students can create their own "category list" of 26 items, one for each letter of the alphabet, that are related by a particular category (color names, games, tools, places, animals). Books like Alison's Zinnia and Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet may give inspiration. 
2. First Impressions: Every Picture Tells a Story (Standard 6, Benchmark 1) 
Find two photographs which show people engaged in an activity which could be interpreted in different ways (for example, a person who is hiding in a doorway and a person who is laughing and pointing). Then, begin by describing to students a very bad, very scary person and then describe a very nice, good person. After you have set the stage, show them the two photographs and ask them to decide which of the two persons you described belongs with which photograph. Then allow students time to write about what is happening in each picture. After they write their stories, see if the students were more likely to describe the actions taken by their "bad" character in a negative way and the actions taken by their "good" character in a positive way. Discuss with students how our words can color someone's perception of someone else before they have even met that person, much as the Bella's warnings about Mr. Tominski predisposed Amie to fear him. 
3. Camera Work: In the Eye of the Creator (Standard 5, Benchmark 3) 
The grandmother gave each of her granddaughters a camera so that they could learn to view their world in new ways. Amie chose to take pictures of her sister's grave and Mr. Tominski. If students have individual access to a camera, ask them to take a picture of something that is important or meaningful to them and bring the photo to share with the class what they chose to shoot and why. If students need to share a camera, use a disposal camera or a digital camera and allow each student in turn to shoot a specific number of frames, followed by a discussion after the film is developed of what each picture shows and what it means to the student who shot it.

The Beloved Dearly

The Beloved Dearly. Doug Cooney;  
Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2002. 
Grade Level: 3-5
ISBN & Cost: 0-689-83127-7 $16.00 

Synopsis: Ernie, a twelve-year-old entrepreneur, has money on his mind. Although Ernie is used to going it on his own - his most lucrative money making scheme (a pet funeral business) involves employees. This proves to cause a few disagreements as Ernie learns that money isn't everything. 

General Review: Doug Cooney is an accomplished playwright. His story The Beloved Dearly is a play that was adapted as a novel for Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers. This story is an easy read that has likeable characters. Ernie's "used car salesman" tactics are a little quirky, but kids will enjoy the light humor.

Themes: pets, death, funerals, moneymaking scams, friendship

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Why were the neighborhood kids leery of Cat Lady? Was Ernie brave in going to see her? What did Cat Lady think about Ernie? Did Cat Lady help Ernie? If so, how? 
2. How did Swimming Pool feel about her brother Rick? Describe their relationship. 
3. What would you have done if you were Swimming Pool and Ernie did not give you the raise he promised? Do you think that Swimming Pool deserved a raise? Did Ernie make a good business decision? Why or why not? 
4. Dusty was a neutral friend of Ernie and Swimming Pool. Is there anything that he could have done differently to help the relationship between the two? Do you think that Ernie treated Dusty fair for his share of work in the in the business? Why or why not? 
5. Was Ernie a good businessman or does he take advantage of people? Explain.

Activity Suggestions:

1. Design your own theme for a pet funeral. Plan entire funeral including schedule, program, and any props to enhance your theme. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
2. Write an obituary for a pet. Standard 5, Benchmark 2
3. Write an advertisement for one of the jobs in the story. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
4. Choose a character and write a persuasive letter asking your boss for a raise. Standard 5, Benchmark 2
5. Research salaries of interesting jobs. Standard 4, Benchmark 1
6. Create a 3D tombstone for one of the pet funerals. Research to find out what information is included on a tombstone. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

Ruby Holler

Ruby Holler, Sharon Creech; HarperCollins, 2002. 
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number and Cost: 0060277327; $16.99

Synopsis: Dallas and Florida have been dubbed the "trouble twins." They have been shuffled between foster families and orphanages all their lives, longing only for a loving place to call home, though mistrustful that one exists for the likes of them. Tiller and Sairy are an eccentric, older couple whose children are grown and long gone, and they're each restless for one more big adventure while their bodies are still spry enough to paddle a river or climb a mountain. Ruby Holler is the beautiful, mysterious place that changes all of their lives forever. When Tiller and Sairy invite Dallas and Florida to stay with them and keep them company on their adventures, the magic of the Holler takes over, and the two kids begin to think that maybe, just maybe the old folks aren't so bad.... Filled with humor, poignancy, cookies, and treasure maps, Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech's Ruby Holler is a delightful book about a special place where it's never too late to be love. 
General Review: Orphaned twins Dallas and Florida have resigned themselves to living within the confines of the Boxton Creek Home for Children. It's a loveless existence. The Trepids, owners and "rule enforcers" of the home, target the brother and sister at every opportunity and all of the prospective adoptive parents have returned them to the orphanage. Eventually the children are sent to act as temporary companions to an eccentric older couple who live in Ruby Holler, and there they find love and acceptance. While the plot is predictable, the story weaves in an interesting mix of mystery, adventure, and humor, along with age-old and modern problems. Creech does a fine job of developing the unique personalities and the sibling relationship, and the children's defense mechanisms (Dallas's dreamy escapism and Florida's aggression) figure prominently in the interplay among the characters. The text is lively and descriptive with an authentic, if somewhat mystical, rural ambience. This entertaining read from a first-rate author will not disappoint Creech's many fans. From School Library Journal

Themes: Orphans, Tall tales, Family

Discussion Questions: Standard 9, Benchmark 1
1. Write these lines from Ruby Holler on the board and invite students to comment on them. What do these quotations suggest about the story? the author? 
. A silver bird, Dallas thought. A magical silver bird. 
. "We've got some amazing secret recipes," Sairy said. "Beat-the-blues broccoli and anti-cranky crumpets and ---" 
. "You are now entering Ruby Holler, the one and only Ruby Holler! Your lives are never going to be the same---"

2. Do you think the author has a good sense of humor? Why? How would you describe the author's imagination? What examples from the novel can you give? 
3. There are a lot of descriptions of a holler in the novel. Have a class discussion about what a holler is and in what part of the country they might be found. Ask students if they'd like to live in a holler; why or why not?


1. Knowing that family stories were the inspiration for Sharon Creech when she wrote Ruby Holler (check Creech's web site, have students write short stories based on their own family stories. Standard 4 Benchmark 2
2. As students read the novel, have them use their notebooks to make predictions about how the characters will develop and unfold. Standard 3 Benchmark 3
3. Have students draw a picture of what they think the holler looks like or have them draw a map of all the places in the holler that Dallas and Florida visit. Standard 5 Benchmark 3


Darby. Jonathon Scott Fuqua; Candlewick Press, 2002. 
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0744590566; $15.99

Synopsis: Darby Carmichael thinks her best friend is probably the smartest person she knows, even though, as Mama says, Evette's school uses worn-out books and crumbly chalk. Whenever they can, Darby and Evette shoot off into the woods beyond the farm to play at being fancy ladies and schoolteachers. One thing Darby has never dreamed of being - not until Evette suggests it - is a newspaper girl who writes down the truth for all to read. In no time, and with more than a little assistance from Evette, Darby and her column in the Bennettsville Times are famous in town and beyond. But is Marlboro County, South Carolina, circa 1926, ready for the racial firestorm its youngest reporter unintentionally creates? 

General Review:  
From School Library Journal: In a small town in Marlboro County, SC, in 1926, nine-year-old Darby Carmichael, the daughter of a white farmer and storekeeper, loves to play out in the woods with her friend Evette Robinson, the daughter of a black sharecropper. When Evette declares her ambition to write newspaper articles, she inspires Darby to follow suit. At first, the girl's efforts merely amuse the readers of the Bennettsville Times, but after lots of editorial help from Evette, Darby writes observant, thought-provoking columns. However, when the girl responds to a racially motivated murder by writing an article urging whites to treat blacks as equals, her family becomes the target of hatred and violence. The author's research, drawn from oral interviews, provides a balanced portrayal of an early-20th-century Southern community. Darby's first-person narration conveys self-awareness uncanny for a nine-year-old, and evokes the mood of a memoir. Darby's friends are not as fully developed as some of the adults, such as the newspaper editor and her parents, who, despite their apprehensions, ultimately make courageous choices. Darby herself is an admirable heroine who radiates confidence while maintaining humility.

Themes: Racism, Discrimination, Journalism, Friendship, Education

Discussion Questions: Standard 9 Benchmark 1

1. Jonathon Scott Fuqua had a rough time in school, according to his biographical info. It was only after he was in college that he found out he suffered from dyslexia. Discuss Fuqua's life with your students and how it must have been difficult for him in school and even later on as a writer.  
2. Set in the late 1920s in the American South when the Ku Klux Klan was forming this book has a strong story line that captures the reader's attention and allows them to experience life within a society where racism and discrimination are accepted. Discuss with students how Darby and Evette lived in such a society where this racism and discrimination were accepted ways of life. Would this way of life be "accepted" today in the community in which your students live? 

1. After being told by Evette that newspaper writers always write the truth, Darby writes a simple little essay on the truth about frogs - that they don't give you warts. Have students write a similar essay based on a truth that they have have uncovered. Standard 5 Benchmark 3
2. According to the Author's Note at the end of the book, Fuqua has been involved in an oral history project in Marlboro County, interviewing retired members of the community. Have students interview a retired member of their community or family about his/her childhood and events that he/she remembers that made an impact on his/her life. Students can share the information they learn through a short story or an oral report to their class. Standard 5 Benchmark 3
3. Darby was a nine-year-old girl who made a difference in her community. Have students research real-life young people who have made a difference in their community or state. Standard 1 Benchmark 4

Web Sites: - author web site

Pictures of Hollis Woods

Pictures of Hollis Woods
Patricia Reilly Giff
Gr. 5-7
ISBN: 0-385-32655-6
COST: $15.95 

Hollis Woods is an orphan who desperately wishes she could live in a family. After a tragic accident ruins her chance to be happy with the only family she has ever had, she lands in the home of Josie Cahill, a woman whose needs change Hollis's life forever.

Hollis Woods was orphaned at birth and has spent years in foster care. She doesn't get along with her teachers, her foster parents, or her social workers, and wants nothing more than to fit in with a family. When she is placed with the Regan family at the age of 12, it seems that Hollis has finally realized her greatest dream. That dream is shattered, however, in one afternoon. When Hollis runs away, she is placed in the care of Josie, an elderly woman who is becoming more and more forgetful. Hollis and Josie share a love of art. As Josie becomes increasingly frail and forgetful, Hollis learns what it means to care for someone else, and what she must do to protect Josie-and help herself.

The novel has been written in an unusual style, with chapters alternating between the past and the present. Hollis's past is encapsulated in chapters of italicized text describing the pictures she has drawn over the years which represent the memories of her life, in particular the time she spent with the Regans. Hollis's present is shared in chapters titled "The Time with Josie," her current foster mother. The author incorporates suspense into the story by alluding to a terrible accident that caused her to leave the Regan family, but without giving details until near the end of the book. Although not a long book, there is a great deal of growth which happens in Hollis during the course of the story. Characters are well drawn and the novel creates a strong sense of place, from the oceans of Long Island to the Delaware River bank. 

THEMES: Foster care/orphans; Family/belonging; Drawing; Aging/dementia; Running away

. Something About the Author, vol. 70, pp. 71-72. 
. Fifth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, pp. 132-133. 
. Publisher's Weekly, April 18, 1994, pp. 26-27.  

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: (3 TO 5) Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. If Hollis Woods wants a family as much as she does, why does she decide to run away from the Regans, the first real family she's ever had? What causes her to decide to go back with them? 
2. What is Hollis's first impression of Josie? How does that impression change as she gets to know her? What makes Hollis want to stay with Josie? Does knowing Josie cause Hollis to change her behavior? If so, how and why does she change? 
3. What is it that makes Hollis such a "mountain of trouble?" Does Hollis's anger help her in any way?  
4. Would you say that Hollis did a good job of taking care of Josie and planning for their time away? Why or why not? 
5. After the truck accident, Hollis tells the Old Man that she is to blame for the crash, and Steven says it's his fault? Who is right? 
6. According to Beatrice, "Drawing is what you see of the world, truly see..and sometimes what you see is so deep in your head you're not even sure of what you're seeing." Have you ever seen a picture that shows you more each time you look at it? Have you ever drawn a picture and showed it to someone else who noticed something in it that you hadn't noticed yourself? What does Hollis finally see in the pictures she has drawn of the Regans that she didn't realize she had drawn? 

1. Learning about Alzheimer's (Standard 1, Benchmark 5) 
Have students study Alzheimer's and senile dementia to learn more about how aging affects memory. Some possible resources include: 
- Check, William. Alzheimer's Disease. Chelsea, 1989. 
- Hinnefeld, Joyce. Everything You Need to Know When Someone You Love Has Alzheimer's Disease. Rosen, 1994. 
- Landau, Elaine. Alzheimer's Disease. Watts, 1996. 
- Weitzman, Elizabeth. Let's Talk about When Someone You Love Has Alzheimer's Disease. Rosen, 1996. 
- Wilkinson, Beth. Coping When a Grandmother Has Alzheimer's Disease. Rosen, 1992. 
Fictional portrayals: 
- Bauer, Joan. An Early Winter. Clarion, 1999. 
- Shawver, Margaret. What's Wrong with Grandma? Prometheus Books, 1996. 
- Whitelaw, Nancy. A Beautiful Pearl. A. Whitman, 1991. 
- Kids Health: Alzheimer's Disease
- Neuroscience for Kids: Alzheimer's Disease
As a part of this study, it may be helpful to invite a health professional from a  
county health department or a local senior center to talk with students about Alzheimer's Disease and how to help someone who has the disease.

2. Essay: What Is a Family Like? (Standard 5, Benchmark 3) 
Several times in the book, Steven alludes to the fact that Hollis doesn't yet know about how families are because she's never had one. Have students write an essay about what they have learned about families by being a part of one. If someone were to join their family, what would that person need to know and what would they learn over time as they got to know family life. 

3. Re-create Hollis's Pictures Using Her Descriptions (Standard 5, Benchmark 3) 
In alternating chapters (the italicized ones), Hollis Woods shares descriptions of the pictures that she has drawn and kept and remembered throughout her life. Have students select one of these pictures and recreate it using colored pencils (Hollis Woods's favorite choice of media). Have plenty of blues and greens available, including Hollis's very favorite color, French Blue.

4. Oceans or Rivers: Which is Best? (Standard 1, Benchmark 5) 
Have students compare and contrast the river environment that Hollis is so fond of with the ocean environment that Josie loves. If students are so inclined, have them select which one they prefer (or another physical environment-mountains, deserts--that they are drawn to) and write a poem about the beauties of that place. What emotions do students associate with their chosen environment? Be sure to have them include how their environment makes them feel. 

Pioneer Summer

Pioneer Summer
Deborah Hopkinson, Publisher Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002
Grade level: 3-5
ISBN 068984350X  

Synopsis: This is the first book of a trilogy telling the story of eight year old Charlie Keller and his abolitionist family as they move to the Kansas Territory in 1855. This book covers the initial trip by railroad, steamboat and wagon to a plot of prairie near Lawrence. 

General Review: This beginning chapter book gives a glimpse of life as a New England immigrant to Kansas during this difficult period in our state history. Charlie doesn't want to leave Massachusetts, his grandfather and his old dog Danny. During this trip Charlie slowly changes his perspective as he meets some Southerners, sees some slaves, warns his family of a prairie fire and finds a new dog. As Charlie learns more about the slavery issue and the struggle of creating a new farm on the prairie the reader gains an understanding of that time.

Themes: Frontier life, Kansas, family 

Author information: Deborah Hopkinson was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. She is the author of picture books such as Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt and Birdie's Lighthouse, nonfiction Pearl Harbor and historical fiction such as this trilogy. She is the Director for Development for Whitman College and is married with two children. 
SATA 108; e-mail

Discussion Questions: Standard 3 Benchmark 3
a. What would it mean to leave everything you know and go to a new place? What would you miss the most? What would you want to find in your new home? 

b. What is an abolitionist? How could moving to the new territory support this belief? What else might an abolitionist do to support their cause?

c. What did Charlie learn during the trip to Kansas that he didn't know before?

d. Why is a prairie fire so dangerous? How did starting another fire help stop the prairie fire? What would be others ways of fighting a prairie fire? 

Suggested Activities:  
a. Look at an historic map of the United States and a current map of the United States to trace Charlie's journey to Kansas. If you were moving from Massachusetts to Kansas now how much of your journey would be similar to Charlie's and how much would be different. Standard 5 Benchmark 2

b. Charlie started a nature journal to record the insects, birds, flowers and animals he saw in Kansas in 1855. Start your own journal to record the wildlife and plants that you see in Kansas now. Standard 3 Benchmark 4

c. Make a model of Charlie's new home in Kansas. Include Spring Creek, the new cabin his father is building, the prairie and timber surrounding the new home and other details from the story. Standard 5 Benchmark 3

Lumber Camp Library

Lumber Camp Library  
Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
HarperCollins, 2002.

In 1920's northern Vermont, Ruby Sawyer is the first born of 11 children who live with their Ma and Pa on a lumber camp. Ruby follows her Pa everywhere, dreaming of being a lumberjack herself someday, until her parents decide it is time for her to attend school. When Pa dies tragically in a logjam as he saves his co-worker Jim Reilly, the family is forced to move to town. Ruby, who now must stay home with the youngest children, is befriended by an elderly blind woman, Mrs. Graham, who shares her love for books. In the evenings, Ruby teaches Jim and other loggers how to read. Eventually, Jim tells Ruby that he would like to marry her Ma, but Ruby steals the engagement ring in hopes of keeping Jim from taking her pa's place. Ruby's mother becomes ill and the family moves in with Mrs. Graham. When a bird mysteriously shows up with the missing wedding ring, Ruby knows she must return it to Jim and make things right. 

General Review:  
Natalie Kinsey-Warnock packs a lot into this short novel. Ruby Sawyer is a spunky tomboy who readers will admire for her ability to balance on logs just like a lumberjack as well as teach a group of grown men how to read and write. Ruby's first real trial is the shocking news that her father has drowned in a logging accident. Ruby's courage and determination in the face of sorrow and loneliness lead her to a special friendship with Mrs. Graham, who lends Ruby books, and a job as a night teacher at the lumber camp. Readers may be upset with Ruby's poor judgment when she decides to steal Jim's ring, but they will understand and sympathize with her as she struggles with a guilty conscience and finally owns up to her dishonesty. Crazy exploits performed by Ruby's 10 younger siblings add humor and lighten the heaviness of the plot. Lumberjack lore, such as the superstitious belief that moosebird jays are "the souls of dead lumberjacks," adds a mystical aspect to the story that children will find awe-inspiring.

lumber camp life; death of a parent; female independence; historical social divides; teaching; books and reading; adult literacy; blindness; rural Vermont; single parent families; stealing/lying; poverty; large families.

Author Information:; SATA vol. 116 and 71; 

1. Emotions: Discuss the many feelings Ruby experiences throughout this story: happiness, sorrow, grief, determination, jealousy, excitement, anger, joy, loneliness, regret, pride, worry, confidence, trust, etc. With students divided into pairs or small groups, assign each group 1-2 emotions and ask them to locate places in the book when Ruby feels that way. Ask students how they felt about Ruby when she was in those situations. Experiment with facial expressions - whisper an emotion to a child and have them make a face to go with it. Let other students guess the emotion. Students can make an "emotions" scrapbook by cutting out pictures from magazines or drawing pictures that illustrate certain emotions. They can make up stories or tell about their own experiences to go with each emotion. Standard 5, Benchmark 1.

2. Blindness: When Ruby sees Mrs. Graham for the first time on page 38, she forms a first impression that is quickly proved wrong. What does she think about the woman and her "big fancy house"? What does Ruby discover about Mrs. Graham? What do you think it would be like to be blind? Pair students and allow them to take turns blindfolding each other. Discuss issues of trust and ask students to lead their blindfolded partners around the room or gym. Look at a Braille book and discuss why this system of reading is important. If someone in your school or community is blind, ask if they would be willing to visit class and talk about things that are the same for them and things that are different. If possible, discuss stereotypes or misconceptions people have about blindness. Standard 3, Benchmark 2.

3. Books: Work with your school librarian on a project to increase your library's collection. One option is for your class to host a bake sale at a school event. Advertise ahead of time that book donations (or monetary donations for the library) will be accepted in exchange for the baked goods. Make signs similar to Ruby's: "Trade your old books for fresh raspberry pie!" Standard 5, Benchmark 3. 
(If your librarian would rather choose the books that the school needs, you can create an "Adopt a Book" project. This option also works for public libraries. Post a wish list of titles and the cost of each book. Parents or students can "adopt" a specific book by donating that amount to the library. To recognize donors, allow them to have their name, or the person of their choice, listed on a bookplate inside the book cover when it is added to the collection. ) 

Discussion questions: 
1. How would you feel if you didn't know how to read? Some of the men at the lumber camp were never taught how to read. Why do you think Ruby went there to teach them? How would you feel about teaching people who were much older than you? Discuss the different things children or adults need to be able to read besides books, such as signs, newspapers, warning labels, instructions, etc. Read Patricia Polacco's Pink and Say or Aunt Chip and the Triple Creek Dam Affair to add to your discussion of the importance of literacy.

2. On page 58, Ruby overhears Mrs. Graham tell her mother that Jim likes her. Ruby is alarmed, and when Jim shows her the engagement ring he wants to give to Ma, Ruby vows to herself that she won't let it happen. What does Ruby do to stop Jim from marrying her mother? How do you feel about her actions? Do you think Ruby is sorry for stealing the ring? How does Ruby get the ring back? Do you think she is glad to have the chance to make things right?

3. The logging industry is often looked down on in our current society because of the environmental hazards of cutting down our forests. Before your discussion on logging, you may want to read a book such as Kathryn Lasky's Marven of the Great North Woods or William Jasperoshn's Timber! to give students a visual sense of the setting. Ask students to list things they use that are made of wood. Then ask what they have heard about cutting down trees or saving the wilderness. Let them come up with ideas for ways to reduce the use of trees, such as recycling, planting new trees, or using other kinds of materials in place of wood. Students interested in this topic may enjoy Jean Craighead George's book There's an Owl in the Shower. 

Victory Garden

The Victory Garden.  
Lee Kochenderfer;  
Delacorte, 2003. 
Grade Level: 3-5
ISBN 0385327889  

Synopsis: Teresa Marks lives in small town Kansas during World War II. Her brother is a bomber pilot. She plants a victory garden and joins in the town contest to grow the biggest and best tomato. When her neighbor is ill, she rallies her friends to keep his garden growing.

General Review: "This studiously sunny first novel offers a slice of WWII Americana in relating the trials and triumphs of its 11-year-old narrator." (Publishers Weekly) "Told in a child's voice with lively dialogue and occasional letters, this novel offers a fresh picture of the home front. Budding gardeners will find lots of information and tips, while airplane enthusiasts will appreciate the brief history of aviation and military aircraft presented in one of Jeff's school papers that his sister finds in his room." (School Library Journal)

Author Information:

Lee grew up in Kansas, graduated from Wichita State and moved to California. She is retired from teaching elementary school and community college. This is her first novel.

Discussion Questions: (Standard 1, Benchmark 1)

1. What were some activities of Teresa and her friends in support of the war effort? 
2. What might happen in a sequel to this book? 
3. Read some passages from non-fiction books on World War II and do a comparison of the narrative and expository texts. 


1. Draw a plan for a victory garden. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4) 
2. Make a map of Teresa's town. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3) 
3. Write a newspaper article detailing the work Teresa and her friends did for her neighbor. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3) 
4. Do some research on airplanes used in World War II.(Standard 1, Benchmark 1)


SPLASH!: Poems of Our Watery World
Constance Levy; Orchard Books, 2002
Grade Level: 3-5
ISBN & cost: 0439293189 $16.95

Synopsis: Award-winning poet Constance Levy invites young readers to splash through our watery world in thirty-four poems that celebrate the mystery and magic of water in all its various forms. In a variety of voices and moods, the poems explore our most precious natural resource and encourage young readers to see the wonder of the everyday world through new lenses.

General Review: Levy uses simple words, short lines, repetition, and line breaks to great effect. She effectively uses ordinary language to create vivid images. The strength of this collection lies in the wide range of water-related subject matter and the use of kid-friendly poetic styles.

Themes: Water, Nature

Author Information:  
. SATA Vol. 140

Discussion Questions: 
. Ask students to think about water using all of their senses - sight, taste, smell, hearing, and touch. How does it look on the outside? How does it look on the inside? What does it feel like? How does it smell? What does it taste like? Poets use sensory details to appeal to the senses. Ask the students to find sensory details in the poems that help them experience it for themselves. Which sensory details do you find most effective? Why?  
. How did the poem make you feel? Explain how the poem made you see something in a different way. What words helped you to see pictures in your mind? What part of the poem surprised you? Explain why you liked or disliked a part of the poem. 
. Review alliteration, consonance, assonance, and onomatopoeia, the sound effects of poetry. Ask students to find examples of these sound effects in the poems that they particularly like. Ask students to explain why they chose each. How do the sound effects influence the mood of the poem? 
. Explain that in personification an animal, object, or idea speaks or acts as if it were a person; it is given human qualities. Using "Iceberg" on page 13 and "Bathwater Remembers" on page 34, ask what words in the poems give a quality of a person. 
. Using "To a Salmon at the Falls" on page 28, ask, "What impression do you form of the salmon?"

Suggested Activities: 
. A list poem is made up of a list of items or events, can be of any length, and may be rhymed or unrhymed. Ask students to list words associated with the sound of water, such as splash, gurgle, ripple, etc. Using the words suggested, work with the class to write a list poem together. Use "Water Wizard" on page 27 or "The Sound of Water" by Mary O'Neill as models. Ask students to list words associated with a different state of water, such as ice or mist, and write a list poem of their own. Standard 5, Indicator 3
. Ask students to imagine dipping their finger into a basin of water and bringing a small glistening drop out of the water. Ask them to imagine where that drop of water has been. What changes has it undergone and what work has it been doing during all the long ages water has lain on the face of the earth? Ask the students to write a haiku about the travels of this drop of water. Standard 5, Indicator 3
. A Drop of Water: a Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick is an excellent companion book to Splash! Photographs stop the action and magnify it so that all the amazing states of water can be observed molecule by molecule. Ask students to write a poem influenced by one of the photographs in A Drop of Water. Standard 5, Indicator 2

How I Became A Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive

How I Became a Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive. Janet Taylor Lisle; Philomel, 2002. 
Grade Level: 3rd -5th
ISBN Number & Cost: : 0399233946; $16.99 

As sixth-grader Archie and his six-year-old brother Oggie shuttle back and forth between their separated parents' two homes, Archie tries desperately to take care of Oggie and to pretend that everything is normal. Anyone anywhere near Garden Street knows to stay away from the Night Riders, and Archie is no different. He and his little brother, Oggie, know the gang is up to no good. When they steal Oggie's prized red wallet and his entire life savings ($50 is a lot for a six-year-old), Archie has to get it back. After all, Archie has been looking out for his little brother ever since their parents separated. But the only way the Night Riders will give the wallet back is if Archie joins the gang to retrieve it. Archie is afraid that he's headed for trouble, but can he really turn back now? It's going to take all of Archie's courage-and creativity-to come out on top.

General Review:  
Archie's life has become more difficult since he and his six-year-old brother, Oggie, have been switching between his parents' apartments. They call it going from Saturn to Jupiter, because their homes are so different that they might as well be on separate planets. The possibility of a new baby at Dad's disturbs the boys, as do their Mom's struggles to work and care for them. In addition, the neighborhood between the two homes is scary: a gang called the Night Riders threatens the boys' safety. Archie is a writer and uses his "mole people" adventures to help Oggie cope, and to process his own experiences. One day, on a mundane errand, the sixth grader experiences an inexplicable moment of bravery when he trips a thief and uses the hold-up gun to keep him there until the police arrive. The Night Riders decide they can use him and despite his innocence, Archie becomes involved in their crimes. It's a tribute to Lisle's powers as a writer that this frightening scenario never overpowers the real essence of the book, which is about how fiction and life are different and equally useful to one another. Such great truths are stated simply and shown in the action at the same time. In this fast-paced, adventure-filled title, readers may be surprised to find Archie's observations about life with divorced parents and helpful hints about writing stories as memorable as Oggie's chance to do some actual driving in the final scenes. From School Library Journal

Themes: Brothers, Family problems, Divorce, Gangs, Authorship

Discussion Questions: Standard 9 Benchmark 1

1. When Archie tries to retrieve his brother's wallet from the Night Riders gang, he is forced to join the gang in order to get it back. Discuss with students the pros and cons of Archie's decision. 
2. Archie's creation of the Mysterious Mole People is supposed to be a distraction for Oggie. Several reviewers have stated that this fantasy story detracted from the overall novel. Do students feel that the storyline about the Mole People adds or detracts from the overall novel?  
3. Janet Taylor Lisle writes that as a young child she wrote her first stories in a notebook much as Archie does and that she was too shy to share them with anyone else, even her family. Discuss with students the kinds of writing that they like to do and are they willing to share their stories with others. Why or why not?

1. Throughout the novel, Archie gives a number of helpful hints for anyone who wants to become a writer. Make a list of these hints and then create a poster to hang in the classroom that emphasizes these hints. Standard 5 Benchmark 3
2. Archie showed a lot of courage and bravery when he tripped the thief and used the hold-up gun to keep him there until the police arrived. Write about a time in your life when you or someone you know showed a great deal of courage and bravery. Standard 3 Benchmark 4

Web Site: - official author site


Jack Prelutsky  
Illustrator: Peter Sis  
Greenwillow, 2002.

Prelutsky's 19 imaginative poems explore the results of combining 2 things, often an animal with a fruit or vegetable, for humorous and bizarre results. Illustrations by Peter Sis give life to these strange concepts with crosshatch pen and ink drawings highlighted with watercolors. The two children traveling by scooter through "Scranimal Island" are fearless tourists, taking everything in before landing on the beach at home again. 

General Review:  
Prelutsky's original and creative poems will keep kids laughing, and Sis' detailed illustrations will increase their curiousity. 

Themes: imagination; poetry; animals; fruits; vegetables; traveling; humor

Author Information:  
SATA, vol. 118, 66 & 22 - Jack Prelutsky (This site includes a sound recording of Prelutsky reading a poem, an interview, and hints for writing poetry.) (Jack Prelutsky Bio) 
Worlds of Childhood ed. by William Zinsser (includes "In Search of the Addlepated Paddlepuss" by Jack Prelutsky) 
SATA, vol. 106, 67 - Peter Sis
Talking With Artists, Vol. 3 by Pat Cummings (features Peter Sis) (Illustrator Peter Sis' home page) (interview with Peter Sis) (Peter Sis Bio)

1. Divide students into small groups and assign a particular poem. Ask them to find information about both parts of the new creature - for example, the Rhinocerose would require information on rhinoceroses and roses. Use encyclopedias, dictionaries, and books from your library's nonfiction collection. Standard 1, Benchmark 4, 5.

2. Create your own veggie animals. You might want to also look at picture books by Saxton Freymann, which have photos of vegetables and fruit that have been given faces and expressions. Spread cream cheese on a small tortilla or other surface for each child. Bring a variety of chopped or whole vegetables, edible seeds, rice, etc. Ask children to create their own creature from Scranimal Island, give it a name and explain what it can do. Standard 5, Benchmark 3. 

3. Examine the illustrations for each poem. What do children notice about the creatures? the 2 children? the landscape? Allow time for children to sketch their own pictures, using Sis' style of crosshatch and tiny lines. Look at other illustrations by Peter Sis, as well as Maurice Sendak, and discuss the similarities and differences between the books. Standard 5, Benchmark 2.

4. In reference books or online, look up some real animals that seem to combine the features of several different animals, such as the platypus or red panda. Divide students into pairs or small groups and assign each an animal. Give them time to study the animal and present it to the class, explaining its features and how they combine to make this strange but interesting animal. Standard 3, Benchmark 2.

5. Read more poetry by Jack Prelutsky, or other similar authors such as Shel Silverstein and James Stevenson. Discuss how some poems rhyme and some do not. Ask children to choose a favorite poem and read/perform it for the class. Bring in a high schooler or adult who is active in theater and let them show children how to use expression when reading poetry. Listen to Prelutsky or another author read their poetry on CD or tape. Standard 3, Benchmark 2.

Discussion questions: 
1. Before reading Scranimals, discuss the format of the book. Ask children what they think the book will be like after: looking at the cover, looking over the contents page, discussing the call number (poetry). You may want to talk about your "nonfiction" area and discuss why poetry is not with "fiction."

2. Ask students how they think Prelutsky came up with ideas for his poems. Discuss the process Sis might have used to create his illustrations. Why is important to use your imagination and creativity? Is everyone's imagination different?

3. Which Scranimal creature do you like the most? Which do you like the least? Are any of the creatures scary? Do any of them seem happy or sad? Would you like to have one for a pet? What noises do you think they make? 

4. Focus on one poem to discuss which words rhyme and listen closely for the rhythm of the poem. Discuss the meanings of any words that might be unknown to the children. What makes a poem? How do poets come up with words that rhyme? Why do poets need a large vocabulary? What is your favorite line from this poem?

When Marian Sang

When Marian Sang.  
Pam Munoz Ryan.  
Illus. by Brian Selznick.  
Scholastic, 2003. 
Grade Level: 3-5
ISBN 0439269679  

A picture-book biography of African-American singer Marian Anderson illustrated with sepia drawings in the form of an opera by Brian Selznick. Lyrics to gospel songs punctuate the text describing Marian's encounters with prejudice, success in Europe, and eventual recognition in her home country. Additional notes, a timeline, and a discography are in the appendix.

General Review:  
"Ryan's simple, metered text (punctuated frequently by lyrics) captures the quiet drama of Anderson's story, and kids will especially identify with the confusion and frustration of young Marian."( ".he interweaving of the spirituals Anderson sang, which express her trouble and her strength, is exceptionally moving." (Booklist starred review)

Author Information: 

Discussion Questions: Standard 1, Benchmark 1

1. Look at the format in the style of an opera theater. Is this appropriate for the book? How could it have been done differently? 
2. Why do you think Marian was such a success in Europe and shunned in the United States? What do you know about race relations in the United States during her life?

Activity Suggestions:

1. Ask the music teacher for music to some of the gospel songs in the text and learn to sing them. (Standard 7, Benchmark 1) 
2. See the website to learn about other famous African-American musicians. (Standard 8, Benchmark 3) 
3. See the website for photos and more information about Marian Anderson. (Standard 8, Benchmark 3) 
4. Find some recordings of Marian Anderson singing. (Standard 1, Benchmark 4) 
5. Take a map of Europe and mark the cities and countries where Marian sang. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)


Loser. Spinelli, Jerry; Harper Collins, 2002. 
Grade level: 4-6
ISNB & Cost: 0060004835 $15.99

Beginning in first grade, Daniel Zinkoff's offbeat, zany behavior causes classmates to consider him strange and eventually they label him a loser. However, with the support of a loving family along with his optimism and exuberance he does not allow himself to believe what others think of him.

General Review:  
Loser is written by Newbery Medal Award winning author, Jerry Spinelli, whose main character, Daniel Zinkoff, is not like other kids. Loser is a touching book about the human spirit, the importance of failure, and how any name can be replaced with "hero."

Themes: Misfits, Bullying, School

Author Information: 

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. What are some of Daniel's personality traits that set his behavior apart from other students his age? 
2. How does Daniel's personality and behaviors make him a target for teasing at school? 
3. How does Daniel react when other students tease him and call him names? Do you think his reactions help him or hurt him? Why?

Activity Suggestions:

1. Select an event from the book and retell it from Daniel's point of view (first person). How does changing the perception to first person change the story? Standard 5, Benchmark 1. 
2. Fold a sheet of paper in two and Illustrate two events from the story in which Daniel demonstrated compassion for others. Standard 3, Benchmark 1. 
3. Pretend that Daniel is your friend; write him a letter giving advice on how to handle being teased. Standard 3, Benchmark 1. 
4. Other books to read about misfits: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom by Louis Sachar, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Standard 5, Benchmark 1.

If the Shoe Fits: Voices From Cinderella

If the Shoe Fits: Voices from Cinderella
Whipple, Laura
Illus: Beingessner, Laura
Simon and Schuster
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN 0-689-840070-5

Synopsis: This book takes a fresh look at an old and favorite story. In thirty-three poems it brings to life not only the voices of well-loved characters, but also voices of characters not usually heard from -- including the glass slipper, without which the story would not have a happy ending.

General Review: ".This fresh, engaging presentation of the Cinderella story unfolds like a lyric opera. Loaded with wit." Publishers Weekly

".The smooth writing has a relaxed, conversational flow. Luminous gouache paintings use soft, clear colors and flowing lines to present scenes in an attractive and traditional way. This book has excellent potential for classroom use, both for creative-writing activities and for reading aloud." School Library Journal

".The story unfolds just as it always does, but the multiple points of view--from Cinderella's to the prince's to the rat's to the queen's-- enlarge and enrich the familiar tale to win a more sophisticated audience." Booklist

Themes: Poetry; Fairy Tales; Family

Author Information: Not in Something About the Author

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. After reading "Cinderella's Coda" did she live happily-ever-after? Is that important? What would be happily-ever-after? 
2. How does the poetry make the fairy tale different from other versions? Or does it? 
3. Where does the author add humor? What do these characters add to the story? What about the cat? How are his poems different than the others. 
4. Cinderella's father's spirit is close by, why?

1. Choose another fairy-tale, list the characters and major objects. Would the tale you choose, be able to be told in poetry? Try your hand in telling the story with poetry. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
2. Act out the story using these poems as the dialogue. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Bring an extra pair of shoes. Have students exchange one of their shoes with another student. Then write a story about the shoe and how it feels to be left alone. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

Grades 6-8

Avi. Crispin: the Cross of Lead. (by Terry Hime) 

Bauer, Joan. Stand Tall. (by Retta Eiland) 

Bruchac, Joseph. The Winter People(by Chris Odell) 

Carey, Janet Lee. Wenny Has Wings. (by Lesa Dierking) 

Draper, Sharon M. Double Dutch. (by Barb Bahm) 

Ferris, Jean. Once Upon a Marigold. (by Lesa Dierking) 

Fleischman, John. Phineas Gage(by Amy Brownlea) 

Gantos, Jack. What Would Joey Do? (by Amy Brownlea) 

George, Kristine O'Connell. Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems. (by Judy Druse) 

Hiaasen, Carl. Hoot. (by Tabitha L. Hogan) 

Hobbs, Will. Wild Man Island. (by Chris Odell) 

Martin, Ann M. A Corner of the Universe. (by Jackie Lakin) 

Mikaelsen, Ben. Red Midnight. (by Marcy Warren) 

Paterson, Katherine. The Same Stuff as Stars. (by Amy Brownlea) 

Seely, Debra. Grasslands. (by Arlene Wiler) 

Seidler, Tor. Brothers Below Zero. (by Jackie Lakin) 

Tolan, Stephanie S. Surviving the Applewhites. (by Mary Evans) 

Crispin, Cross of Lead

Crispin, Cross of Lead
Hyperion Books for Children, 2002
Grade Level: 6-8
ISBN 0786826479  

In this novel set in medieval England, an illiterate teenage boy is left to fend for himself after his mother dies. To further complicate matters, the boy who is known only as "Asta's son," is falsely accused of a murder and must be on the run until he can clear his name. 

General Review:  
"The power of a name is apparent in this novel set in 14th-century England. "Asta's son" is all the destitute, illiterate hero has ever been called, but after his mother dies, he learns that his given name is Crispin, and that he is in mortal danger. The local priest is murdered before he can tell him more about his background, and Aycliffe, the evil village steward for Lord Furnival, declares that the boy is a "wolfs head," less than human, and that he should be killed on sight. On the run, with nothing to sustain him but his faith in God, Crispin meets "Bear," a roving entertainer who has ties to an underground movement to improve living conditions for the common people. They make their way to Great Wexley, where Bear has clandestine meetings, and Crispin hopes to escape from Aycliffe and his soldiers, who stalk him at every turn. Suspense heightens when the boy learns that the recently deceased Lord Furnival was his father and that Aycliffe is dead set on preventing him from claiming his title. To trap his prey, the villain captures Bear, and Crispin risks his life to save him. Avi has done an excellent job of integrating background and historical information, of pacing the plot so that the book is a page-turner from beginning to end, and of creating characters for who readers will have great empathy. The result is a meticulously crafted story, full of adventure, action, and mystery." (Cheri Estes, School Library Journal)

Themes: Orphans, Identity, and Middle Ages in England

Author Information:
Contemporary Authors Online, Gale 2003

Discussion Questions: (from the website prepared by Dr. Susan Shafer, Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Bear tells Crispin that if you can read, you are treated as a priest and "common law does not allow priests to be hanged." Ask students why this might have been true in the Middle Ages. 
2. Discuss modern attitudes toward education with your class. Ask them if we feel the same way today and people did in Crispin's day. Discuss how different countries hold education in a different regard than we do here in the U.S. and why this is so. 
3. The middle Ages were a superstitious time. Have students find evidence that illustrates this from the book. Ask your students to brainstorm superstitions we have today and try to determine the origins of these superstitions. 
4. Crispin risks everything to save Bear. Why might he do this? Would you be willing to sacrifice everything for someone? What does this gesture tell us about Crispin? How does this gesture demonstrate the changes in Crispin over the course of the book? 
5. Chapters 24 & 25 are pivotal points in the story. Bear gives much advice that young Crispin has to struggle to comprehend. Bear tells Crispin, "it is better to live by question," but then also says, "It is a mistake to know everything." He also cautions him, "Those who bring remorse are shunned, but wit and laughter, why no one ever has enough. Lose your sorrows and you'll find your freedom." Another piece of advice is, "he who knows a bit of everything, know nothing. But he who knows a little bit well, knows much of all." What does each of these statements mean? Do you agree or disagree?

Activity Suggestions:

1. After reading pages 16-19, make a map of Crispin's village. Compare Crispin's village in 14th century England to the town you live in today. Compare maps of medieval England and modern England. How would that be different if we were looking at maps of your hometown today and 200 years ago? Standard 3, Benchmark 1  
2. Research what life was like in the Middle Ages. Many useful sites can be found at . Make costumes, plan a medieval banquet, or put on a Middle Ages fair depicting the roles of different people in that time. Make a graphic organizer depicting the social hierarchy of England in the Middle Ages. Standard 3, Benchmark 2
3. Listen to music from the Middle Ages - . Look at lyrics to medieval music - . Look at instruments from medieval time, especially the recorder - . After researching these topics online or in print using the card catalog write your own lyrics for a medieval song. Write a simple tune to go with your lyrics. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
4. Read the Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman. Compare the life of a medical apprentice to a minstrel's apprentice. Research what life was like for an apprentice in medieval times. Prepare a poster, graphic organizer, web site, or power point depicting these comparisons. Standard 3, Benchmark 2

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Stand Tall

Stand Tall.  
Joan Bauer  
Grade Level: 6-9
ISBN 039923473X  

Tree is the tallest 12-year-old anyone in his town has ever known. His parents have recently divorced and his grandfather has just had part of his leg amputated from an old Vietnam War injury. Tree splits his time between his Mom's new house and his old home with his father and grandfather, and tries to come to grips with his new, divided life. 

General Review: From School Library Journal
"Bauer utilizes Tree's relationships to help him find his voice and to teach him that being a "tree" may have benefits. The constant encouraging words from his grandfather help him see that while life is not always fair, it is best to give it your all. In the end, a disastrous flood that almost destroys his father's house as well as many others rallies the town, and the story ends with a realistic scene of courage and bravery. The depictions of Tree and his colorful family are candid and endearing, and much of the writing is leavened with the author's special brand of humor, albeit bittersweet in this case. The story moves fluidly as the author reminds readers of the small towns that stand tall and of the veterans that fought in a war that not even they understood." 
Delia Fritz, Mercersburg Academy, PA

Themes: Divorce, Grandfathers, Size, Self-esteem, Vietnam War

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: 
1. Describe how each of Bauer's characters is an overcomer. 
2. Tree has earned his nickname because he is already 6'3" and not very good at sports. His peers give him a hard time. Give examples of times in your life that you were picked on by your peers. 
3. Sometimes life hits us with things we aren't prepared to handle. 
"It's tough around here now, I know. We've all lost a piece of ourselves. War does that-it blows things up and leaves an empty place where something important used to be." 
"Is that how you feel about your leg, Grandpa?' 
"Yep, Is that how you feel about your Mom and Dad?" 
Tree looked down. " Kind of." 
"I'll tell you something about empty places. They doesn't get filled in right away. You've got to look at them straight on, see what's still standing. Concentrate on what you've got as much as you can." " (Stand Tall by Joan Bauer). 
Describe some things that happened in your life that were not planned on. What empty places did they leave in you?

Activity suggestions: 
1. Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast Tree's home with Mom and his home with Dad. Standard 3, Benchmark 1
2. Interview your mom, dad, or grandparents and see what stories they have about the Vietnam War. You might want to record the interview(s) on cassette or videotape. Standard 7, Benchmark 1
3. 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
4. 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

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The Winter People

The Winter People 

Joseph Bruchac 

Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN 0-8037-2694-5 $16.99


Saxso is fourteen when British soldiers attack his Abenaki / French Catholic village during the French and Indian War, slaughtering many and taking Saxso's mother and sisters captive. Saxso tracks one group of soldiers to rescue his family.

REVIEW: Joseph Bruchac takes an historical event, the British attack on the Abenaki village of St. Francis in 1759 during the French and Indian War, and relates it from the perspective of the Abenaki creating an exciting adventure story. This is one of his best, helping us to understand and empathize with people of another time and culture.

N ative Americans, French and Indian War, Courage, Survival


Joseph Bruchac, III," in Contemporary Authors. (A profile of the author's life and works) access on the Literature Resource Center Database with a Kansas Library Card

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Standard 3, Benchmark3 

1. Saxso grew up hearing the story of the Kiwakwe, the winter people. Why was this story told to children? What new meaning did Saxso come to find in the tale?

2. What does it mean to be "civilized?" Use events from The Winter People show how the Abenaki and Bostoniak were civilized and/or uncivilized/

3. Saxso remembers his Uncle Pierre had once told him "Most battles are lost before the fighting ever begins." (page 85) What do you think this means in the context of the book? What could this mean today? Do you think it is true?

4. Worrier's good spirit told him "if you go with one purpose, you will succeed," (page 87) Did Saxso follow this advice? How did it make his rescue attempt different from the other men's? How does this advice apply today?


1. Watch the movie Northwest Passage (1940, Warner Studios.) Compare the Hollywood depiction of the destruction of St. Francis (Odanak) and massacre of the Abenaki with the fictional account from a different perspective in The Winter People. (Standard 2, Benchmark 2; Standard 2, Benchmark 3; Standard 3, Benchmark 3; Standard 7; Benchmark 1)

2. Research the Abenaki. Why are they not considered a tribe by the United States government? What event in the book supports the reason they are not recognized? What steps can they take or are they taking to gain recognition? (Standard 2, Benchmark 2; Standard 3, Benchmark 2, Standard 9, Benchmark 3) This is one site where you can find information about the Abenaki:

3. Locate an Abenaki legend or, since the Abenaki were one of the five Wabanaki tribes, a Wabanaki legend. Learn the legend and tell it to a group. (Standard 7, Benchmark 1)

4. Research to find out about the Wabanaki Confederation. What tribes were involved? Why did they form a Confederacy? What experiences did each tribe have with the French? With the English? Where are they today? (Standard 1, Benchmark 5; Standard 2, Benchmark 4)

5. Interview a Native American who is knowledgeable about the history of his/her tribe. What experiences did their ancestors have with Europeans and or white settlers? Alternately, invite a Native American to speak to the class. (Standard 1, Benchmark 3, Standard 1, Benchmark 4) 

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Wenny Has Wings

Wenny has Wings
Carey, Janet Lee
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN 0-689-84294-5  

Having had a near-death experience in the accident that killed his younger sister Wenny, eleven year-old Will tries to cope with the situation by writing her letters, that are in turn humorous, informative, angry and finally an honest realization of life's twists and turns.

General Review: ".despite the many books on death, this one stands apart--for its particularly good job of illuminating the sibling relationship and its unique capturing of the phenomenon of heading into the light." Booklist

"The ending is hopeful, with the entire family enrolled in counseling. This book is a useful meditation on death and guilt, particularly for letting children know that adults may have difficulty in dealing with their emotions." School Library Journal

Themes: Family; Death; Letter Writing; Afterlife; Brothers and Sisters

Author Information: Not in Something About the Author

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. From what Will writes to Wenny, what kind of person do you think she was? How do her parents remember her?Are these memories changed because Wenny is dead? Why do Will's parents become so upset when he wants to make Wenny a birthday cake or is in her room? 
2. When Will tries to tell the adults about the light and tunnel, how do they react? Why do you think they did and said the things they did to Will? If you had a friend who had a near death experience, what do you think you would say to them? 
3. Do you believe that near death experiences really happen? If a situation similar to this were to happen to you, would you tell anyone? Why or why not?

1. Visit the author's website, click on "Teachers and Librarians," read Carey's description of the Child Hero. Use the website questions to explore Will's situation. Standard 1, Benchmark 1
2. Choose either a book character that has died or even a real person and keep a journal of letters to this character or person. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Have a tarantula as a class pet or bring in an expert to show and discuss its care. 
Standard 7, Benchmark 1

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Double Dutch

Double Dutch. Sharon M. Drapper, 2002

Grade level: 6-8 

ISBN & Cost: 0689842309 $16.00 (HC) 

0689842317 $4.99 (PB)

Synopsis : Three eight- grade friends, preparing for the International Double Dutch Championship jump rope competition in their home town of Cincinnati, Ohio, cope with Randy's missing father, and Yo Yo's encounter with the class bullies, and a secret Delia is too embarassed to share. Subjects: Contests, learning disabilities, friendship, Afro-Americans. (Source: Book)

General Review : Eighth-grader Delia may be a star on a Cincinnati Double Dutch team, but she can't read. Thanks to friends, her excellent memory, and unwritten, extra-credit projects, she's managed to conceal her secret. Her sweet, thoughtful classmate Randy also has a secret--his father has disappeared, and Randy has been on his own for weeks. Twin students suspected of plotting against the school pose another worry. With so much going on in this novel, there are plenty of unanswered questions, and several dramatic contrivances wrap things up. But the exciting rope-jumping action is constant, and each story line explores a different side of fear. Draper raises provocative questions about mass hysteria and prejudice, especially in the students' reactions to the angry twins. And she sharply articulates how anxiety seeps in and overpowers "like smoke." Teens will like the high-spirited, authentic dialogue (including lots of "your mama" jokes), the honest look at tough issues, and the team workout scenes that show how sports can transform young lives. (Source: Gillian Engberg School Library Journal Review)

Author Information :;; Young Adult Writers (St. James Press, 1999); Lives & Works: Young Adult Authors: vol. 3 (Grolier, 1999).

Discussion Question: Standard 3, Benchmark 3 

  .  Yolanda is a humorous character because she tells tall tales and exaggerates. Basically, she is a liar. Discuss, by using other characters in the story, how lies and deception can have serious consequences. 

.  Many of the characters are hiding secrets. Tell how each of the characters listed below have secrets that they are hiding from others and explain how these secrets caused problems 

.  Titan & Tabue 

.  Delia 

.  Randy 

.  Yolanda 

.  Delia's Parents 

.  A powerful friendship can often make a difference in the lives of young people. Discuss how Delia's friendship with Yolanda and with Randy make a difference in her life. What might have happened if Yolanda and Randy had not been real friends to Delia?

4. What predictions can you make about the following? 

.  Delia and the test 

.  Delia and Randy 

.  Tabu and Titan at school 

.  Yolanda and the twins 

.  Randy and his father

Activity Suggestions:

.  Write a poem about one of the following topics: 

.  Secrets and lies 

.  Fear of the Unknown 

.  Forever Friends 

.  Joy of the Jump 

.  Storms and Destruction 

.  Dance of Divorce 

(Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

.  Investigate more about the sport of Double Dutch. Learn the rules and regulations and learn the steps required. Have a Double Dutch tournament at your school. (Standard 3, Benchmark 2)

.  Pretend you are a TV reporter at the scene of either the tornado or the Double Dutch tournament. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

.  Create a skit that acts out the reunion of the characters in ten years. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

(Questions and activities like these and more can be found at  

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Once Upon a Marigold

Once Upon a Marigold. Jean Ferris; Harcourt, 2002. 
Grade Level: 6-8
ISBN & Cost: 0152167919 $17.00

A boy lost in the forest and raised by a troll finds love, danger, and secrets when he gets a job in the castle across the river.

General Review:  
Christian is a strong-willed boy of six years, who has run away from home, to live on his own. A troll who lives in the forest, Edric, finds him and takes him in but cannot make him go back home. Chris ends up living and growing up with Ed and his dogs as his family. Chris is an inventor, who makes things from found articles in the forest. He also watches the princess through his telescope in the castle across the river. She is a headstrong young lady but very lonely, finding happiness only with reading, her father, King Swithbert, and her three dogs. When Chris contacts her via carrier pigeon (or p-mail), they become friends. Chris decides to leave his forest home to take a job in the castle. Thus, Chris, a commoner, cannot tell Marigold who he is. Chris is heartsick as he can only stand by and watch as she is to be married to a suitor brought to her by her overbearing and demanding mother, Queen Olympia. When Chris learns that Marigold's life is actually in danger, he must find a way to save her. 

Author Information:

Themes: Fairy tales-fiction; Princesses-fiction; Kings, Queens, Rulers-fiction; Family life-fiction; Trolls-fiction; Humorous-fiction.

Discussion Questions (Standard 3, Benchmark 3) 
1. Why did Christian, at the young age of 6, runaway from home, and insist his family never be found? 
2. Why didn't Ed follow through with finding Christian's family? What would you have done if you were in Ed's position? Why? 
3. Compare and contrast Christian's relationship with Ed, and Marigold's relationship with King Swithbert and Queen Olympia. 
4. What was Christian's motives to form a relationship with Marigold? What was Magnus' motives in his relationship with Marigold? 
5. Predict the outcome if Queen Olympia could have kept Christian away from Marigold. 
6. Suppose you could sense peoples' feelings or thoughts when you touched them as Marigold was able to do. What would you do? How would you handle it?

Activities Suggestions: 
1. Christian and Marigold P-mail each other prior to meeting, in order to get to know one another better. Research the real use of carrier pigeons over time, how the birds are trained, how they know where to go, etc., and e-mail the findings to the teacher. (Standard 1, Benchmark 4) 
2. Magnus was a mapmaker and Christian enjoyed inventing things. Create a map or a diorama depicting King Swithbert's castle, Marigold's terrace, the river, and Ed's cave and forest area. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1) 
3. Contact an adoption or foster care agency for information, or access information on the internet regarding adoption or foster care. Design a promotional poster, or create a radio or television PSA (public service announcement) about the importance of becoming adoptive or foster parents. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3) 
4. As a small group, write another chapter, in play form, to the epilogue in the book. In this chapter, tell what happens regarding the woman who was fished out of the river one year ago, who recently regained her memory after suffering from amnesia. 

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Phineas Gage: a Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science

Phineas Gage. John Fleischman; Houghton Mifflin, 2002. 
Grade level: 6-8
ISBN & Cost: 0618052526 $16.00

This amazing true story tells of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who survived a horrible brain injury but developed a new personality as a result. The author explains the influence that Gage's case had on the study of brain science, brain damage, and personality disorders.

General Review: 
This well-written non-fiction book is a fascinating look at "the construction foreman who survived for 10 years after a 13-pound iron rod shot through his brain" (from book description). Scientific explanations are clear and easy to understand, and photos and diagrams aid the reader's understanding. It is interesting to note the medical advances that have been made since 1848 when the story begins. Overall, this book is an easy-to-read and interesting story of how Gage's life was changed by his accident and the way scientific knowledge was improved by studying his rare and unusual case.

Themes: Science; Brain injury or damage; Personality disorders; Medical history and developments; Biography.

Author Information: 
A brief biography on the Houghton Mifflin site
Another brief bio from Orange Frazer Press


Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. Do you see any problems with the medical treatment Gage received at the time of his injury? How would the treatment be different if he was injured today? 
2. Some would say Gage was "lucky" to have survived such an injury. Was he lucky? Why or why not? 
3. Pretend that you could go back in time to the day of Gage's accident and have the opportunity to warn him to keep the accident from happening. Would you choose to warn him to save him from injury, even if it meant that medical science could not gain important knowledge from his injury? Explain your answer. 
4. Modern medicine has the ability to extend a person's life even in the case of catastrophic injury and disability. Is this always a good thing? How do you decide when a life should or should not be extended? 
5. Image a close friend or relative has gone through a brain trauma similar to Gage's resulting in a change in personality. How would you deal with it? 


Activity Suggestions: 
1. Research the history of medicine throughout different periods in history. Discuss specific practices, such as bloodletting. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
2. Research people who made significant medical breakthroughs, such as Louis Pasteur, and explain how they changed medical practices and how this breakthrough changed medicine for the better. Standard 2, Benchmark 4; Standard 3, Benchmark 3
3. Do further study of brain science. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
4. Do a personality study. Have students take personality tests. Write about or discuss the results. Do you think the test accurately describes you? What surprised you about the results? Standard 3, Benchmark 3

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What Would Joey Do?

What Would Joey Do? Jack Gantos; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2002. 
Grade level: 6-8
ISBN 0374399867 $16.00

Joey tries to keep his life from degenerating into total chaos when his mother sends him to be home-schooled with a hostile blind girl, his divorced parents cannot stop fighting, and his grandmother is dying of emphysema.

General Review: 
In this final installment of the Joey Pigza trilogy (Joey Pigza Swallows the Key, Joey Pigza Loses Control), loveable Joey is finally able to live with his ADHD but struggles with family problems as his crazy parents cause upheaval in his life with their wild fights and his grandmother's health deteriorates. As with the other Joey Pigza books, the reader oscillates between moments of hilarity and poignancy. Overall, Joey shows us that even if there are events in your life beyond your control, you can still find peace with yourself and your family.

Themes: ADHD; Family problems; Home schooling; Death and dying.

Author Information: 
Child Lit's Jack Gantos site

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. Was Joey's mother right to pull him out of public school and put him in a home schooling situation? Why or why not? 
2. Joey tries to be nice to Olivia, his blind home schooling partner, but she is always mean. Why do you think she acts this way? Is her behavior justified? 
3. Joey's grandmother encourages him to make friends. What advice would you give Joey on how to make friends? 
4. What does Joey do to try to cope with the crazy behavior of his parents? What help or advice would you give a friend whose parents are fighting like Joey's parents?

Activity Suggestions: 
1. Research communication skills such as conflict resolution and mediation techniques that could be used to help Joey's parents or anyone else with communication problems. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
2. Joey is dealing with the death of his grandmother. Research the grieving process and find coping strategies. Prepare an informal presentation that details how you would suggest these coping strategies to someone dealing with a tragedy. Standard 3, Benchmark 3
3. Olivia, Joey's home schooling partner, is blind. Research to find out about things that blind people use to help them function in a seeing world, such as seeing-eye dogs and Braille. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
4. Research home schooling. What guidelines do parents have to follow when home schooling their children? How many people in Kansas are home schooled? In the U.S.? Why do people choose home schooling over public school? What are the advantages and disadvantages of home schooling? Present your findings using a visual aid such as a graphic organizer, chart, graph, poster, or multimedia presentation. Standard 1, Benchmark 5; Standard 5, Benchmark 3

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Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems

Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems
Kristine O'Connell George; Clarion Books, 2002
Grade Level: 6-8
ISBN & cost: 0618152504 $14.00

Synopsis: Award-winning poet Kristine O'Connell George narrates, through the voice of a middle-school girl, sixty-five poems that capture the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the middle school experience. The poems highlight many questions important to middle graders: Where do I fit in? Am I up to the challenge? How can I make it through the year?

General Review: The selections are short and in a variety of forms: rhymes, free verse, haiku, and even an acrostic. The author perceptively and humorously uses the voice of the angst-ridden narrator to describe her first year in middle school. The emotions and experiences will resonate with pre-teens and help them to find their own place in the middle-school wilderness.

Themes: Middle school, Self-esteem

Author Information: 
. SATA Vol. 110
. Contemporary Authors Vol. 180

Discussion Questions: 
. Which of the poems do you find most meaningful? Why? 
. In "Changing Classes" on page 15, the writer says she feels as if she is "swimming upstream." What do you think she means by this? Give examples from the poems that illustrate your point of view. What words does the poet use to describe the girl's feelings? Describe a time when you felt that you were "swimming upstream." 
. Poets use sensory details to appeal to the senses - sight, taste, smell, hearing, and touch. Think about your school. What does it look like? How does it taste and smell? What does it sound like? What does it feel like? What sensory details can you find in the poems that helped the narrator experience middle school? 
. A discussion guide is available free of charge from 

Suggested Activities: 
. A list poem (like "Yearbook" on page 77) is made up of a list of items or events, can be of any length, and may be rhymed or unrhymed. Ask students to make a list of items in their locker or backpack. Select and organize entries to construct a your own list poem. Standard 5, Indicator 3
. "SNOB" on page 41 is an acrostic. The acrostic is an ancient Greek poetic form in which the first letter of each line spells a word or phrase, most often the title or subject of the poem. Ask students to write the letters of their name down the left-hand edge of a piece of paper. Beside each letter write a characteristic of yourself - a physical feature, likes and dislikes, something you treasure, your dreams - to make your own acrostic. Standard 5, Indicator 3
. Divide students into small groups and assign each group to research a famous girl in history, e.g. Joan of Arc, Helen Keller, Anne Frank, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, and write a poem about this famous girl. (See "Joan of Arc" on page 59) Standard 3, Indicator 4
. A companion guide is available free of charge from

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Hoot. Carl Hiaasen; Knopf, 2002. 

Grade Level: 6-8 

Library ISBN: 0375921818 $17.99  
Hardback ISBN: 0375821813 $15.95  
Paperback ISBN: 0375829164 (from Knopf available May 11, 2004) $8.95 

Synopsis: Roy, who is new to his small Florida community, becomes involved in another boy's secret attempt to save a colony of burrowing owls from a proposed construction site. 

General Review: ( From the Bulletin For the Center of the Book) Roy's quiet life quickly somersaults out of control: one day he's a reluctant new Floridian, then suddenly he's the target of bully Dana Matherson, reluctant ally of tough soccer-player Beatrice Leep, defender of Beatrice's snake-handling runaway stepbrother, sometimes intentional confounder of the local police, and a protector of burrowing owls (threatened by the planned building of a Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House on their nesting site). The pedigree of this transition is, as you might expect, complicated, but it's also elaborately enjoyable, as mild-mannered middle-schooler Roy increasingly becomes a participant in the quirky world he's found himself submerged in. At the same time, the book effectively twists together what initially appears to be two plot strands, Roy's experiences and the repeated vandalism of a building site, as it becomes clear that it's Beatrice's stepbrother performing the vandalism in defense of the endangered owls, a defense that gradually draws in not only Roy but his parents, Beatrice's soccer team, and Mother Paula herself. The darker undertones (such as Beatrice's stepbrother's rejection by his mother) add weight and sharpness to the story without undermining its considerable humor, and they're balanced by a goodly helping of benevolence, especially in the characters of Roy's parents, who break from literary convention by being smart, understanding, and supportive; the final building-site showdown may be more predictable than the book's offbeat opening, but it's a satisfying conclusion. 

Themes: Environmental Advocacy, Friendship, Corporate Wrongdoing, Families, and the Power of Few. 

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: 

.  On the surface, a new pancake house in town sounded pretty good, even Roy 's mother was excited about a "Mother Paula's coming to town". Are there other instances in the book where things/people are not as they seem? 

.  Discuss the ways in which the pancake house executives tried to deceive the people of Coconut Grove. What reasons could the executives have for insisting that the pancake house be located on that particular spot? 

.  Like the pancake house executives, Roy also deliberately misleads others. Is Roy justified, and why? How is his deceit morally different than the pancake house executives? What would you have done? 

.  Officer Delinko, after the unfortunate spray paint incident, struggles to regain his boss's respect. If you were his boss, would you have fired him, why or why not? In the end, do you think he regains respect from his police unit? 

.  Jump forward 15 years; what is Napoleon Bridger, a.k.a. Mullet Fingers doing today? What career might he have? What about Beatrice, Roy, and Dana? 

Suggested Activities: 

.  Find out more about burrowing owls at Kid's Planet, an ALSC site: . Research the relationship between burrowing owls and another declining species in Kansas , the prairie dog. Standard 2, Benchmark 4; Standard 5, Benchmark 3.

.  Place the students in Coconut Grove as citizens; each should write an editorial to the "Coconut Grove Tribune" about the environmental impact of the proposed site for Mother Paula's Pancake House. Standard 3, Benchmark; Standard 6, Benchmark 2; Standard 8, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 1. 

.  Uncover Kansas Law. Find a local instance of an environmental impact statement, whether from road construction, lake site, or a new business. Find out how the E.I.S was used. Was it released to the public and how? Discuss or write about its implications on your community. Standard 9, Benchmark 3.

.  Recreate a crime scene from the story. Have the student's write a police report from the perspective of Officer Delinko, documenting evidence and testimony from witnesses when applicable. Standard 9, Benchmark 3 & 4; Standard 2, Benchmark 3; Standard 5, Benchmark 2. 

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Wild Man Island

Wild Man Island . 

Will Hobbs 

HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-029810-3. $15.89 

HarperTrophy, ISBN 0-380-73310-2. $5.99 

Recorded Books; Unabridged edition ISBN: 1402522746 $37.00


Fourteen-year-old Andy sneaks away from his group on an Alaskan sea-kayaking trip in an attempt to visit the spot where his archeologist father died nine years previously. A fierce storm blows him off-course, leaving him stranded and forced to survive with no supplies. He encounters grizzly bears, is poisoned by the mussels he eats, and discovers a wild man living on the island.


Will Hobbs is a master of the wilderness survival story. This book should keep students reading although some may be confused about Andy's hallucinations after food poisoning. Several moral dilemmas beginning with whether he should break the rules and leave the group to make a personal pilgrimage to the site of his father's death, to whether he should expose the wild man will be strong discussion-starters.

Themes: Alaska , survival, archeology, wildlife conservation


Contemporary Authors- access on the Literature Resource Center Database with a 

Kansas Library Card

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: (Standard 3, Benchmark 3) 

1. How did Andy's decision to leave the group to visit the place where his father died affect other people? What would have happened to the wild man if Andy had not been stranded on the island?

2. In the book, what evidence was related about the possibility of people living in the Americas before the Ice Age?

3. Why did Andy try to hide the fact that he knew the wild man from Shayla Matlock, the wildlife biologist from the U.S. Fish and wildlife Service?


1. Use the internet to research Alaska adventure trips comparable to the trip Andy was with. What are the qualifications to go on the trip? How much would it cost? How long would it last? Are there any trips where you might see whales and/ or bears? Do any of the trips include Admiralty, Baranof, or Chichagof Islands ? If several students work on this activity make a chart to compare and contrast the trips researched and Andy's trip. (Standard 1, Benchmark 5; Standard 3, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 2

2. Make a timeline of events in the book. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

3. Research wilderness survival. What three items (besides a sea kayak) would have been most helpful to Andy after he was stranded? Support your choices. (Standard 3, Benchmark 3; Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

4. Research bear attacks, especially in Alaska. What is recommended if you should encounter a bear? Make a poster that might be displayed in wilderness areas to show people how to protect themselves or videotape a public service announcement about protecting yourself from bears. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

5. Create a Wild Man Island game. Include the positive events the happened to Andy and the events that caused setbacks. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 3; Standard 6, Benchmark 1) 

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A Corner of the Universe

A Corner of the Universe
Ann M. Martin
Grade Level: 5-8
ISBN: 0-439-38880-5

In the summer of 1960, Hattie turns twelve and for the first time she meets the childlike uncle who was a family secret. Now that Uncle Adam's "school" - an institution for the mentally disabled - is closing, Hattie's grandparents are at a loss on how to deal with their son. Hattie takes her uncle under her wing during her summer vacation. Also, Hattie becomes friends with a girl who works at the carnival that comes to her small town. 

Hattie Owen was looking forward to a typical summer of helping her mother run their boarding house, painting alongside her artist father and reading "piles" of books. Hattie's grandparents are wealthy townspeople who turn up their noses at the lifestyle chosen by her mother and artist father who run a boarding house in order to stay independent. Then Uncle Adam comes home and everything becomes different. Hattie's mother says that Uncle Adam has "mental problems." Hattie discovers her world, including her grandparents as well as her friends, are not understanding or accepting of Adam and his Lucille Ball-quoting, calendar-savant babbling. As Hattie comes to understand what Uncle Adam means when he speaks of being able to lift the corners of our universe, she appreciates his fondness for her, his enthusiasm for life, and his bravery in facing society's denial of his existence. One summer night, Hattie encourages Adam to sneak out to join her for a night of fun at a carnival. Instead, a tragic accident occurs. Martin delivers wonderfully real characters and an engrossing plot through the viewpoint of a girl who tries so earnestly to connect with those around her. Hattie's narration is pleasing. Her memories of the smallest of behaviors reveal how each family member felt both love and pain for her Uncle Adam, which they could not express.

Family Life, Mental Disabilities, Friendship

The following websites have biographical information on Ann M. Martin: 
Kidsreads share thoughtful book reviews, compelling features, in-depth author profiles and interviews, excerpts of the hottest new releases, literary games and contests, and more with readers every week.

Author Studies Homepage by Scholastic authorID=57&collateralID=5225&displayName=Biography

1. What are the similarities and differences in how mental health is treated by society, institutions and families in the 1940's and 1950's as compared to today? (This question is based on Categories of Instructional Strategies That Affect Student Achievement from Classroom Instruction That Works by Robert J. Marzano, Jane E. Pollack, and Debra J. Pickering.)  
Standard 2, Benchmark 3, Indicator MS
2. How would you describe Uncle Adam's behaviors using modern terminology? Standard 2, Benchmark 3, Indicator MS

3. What characteristics made Hattie, Uncle Adam and Hattie's friend Leila resilient when faced with adversity such as rejection by peers or the community? Standard 9, Benchmark 2, Indicator MS

4. How does Uncle Adam's view of his corner of the universe enrich the lives of others in his family and community? (Does Adam have to change to please others or can those in his life grow and accept him for who is?) Standard 9, Benchmark 2, Indicator MS

Standard 2, Benchmark 1, Indicator: MS

Activity #1: On p. 31 of the book, Hattie's father and mother talk to her about Uncle Adam's condition. They use terms like schizophrenic or autistic to describe his behavior. After researching these two terms, use a graphic organizer to show how schizophrenia and autism are similar or different. Then, looking at other symptoms exhibited by Adam, discuss if this is an accurate description of his condition.

Activity #2: Leila lives with Fred Carmel's Funtime Carnival that has a midway, prizes, sideshow and food from many nations. Create a map that shows how you think the carnival is laid out. Then, check your map against the map of a real life carnival. How were your maps similar? Different? Do carnival maps have a pattern? Information can be presented in pictorial or graphical manner. 

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Red Midnight

Red Midnight
Ben Mikaelsen
Grades 5-8
ISBN 0380977451  

After guerrilla soldiers kill their family, twelve-year-old Santiago and his four-year-old sister, Angelina, flee the Central American country of Guatemala. With only a map, a machete and a small amount of food, they set sail in a cayuco, a type of kayak, attempting to reach the safety of Florida in the United States.

THEMES: Guatemala, Kayaks and kayaking, Survival, Emigration and immigration


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Standard 1, Benchmark 3; Standard 2, Benchmark 1
What is the time period for the setting of this book? 
What more can you determine about the social and political events occurring in Guatemala during this time period? 
(search Guatemala to find Country and Culture Facts at SIRS Discoverer through the Kansas Library Card 
or even more recently? 
Guatemala's Lynch-Mob Justice - Christian Science Monitor - December 1, 2000
(accessible through SIRS Discoverer at

Why does Uncle Ramos tell Santiago to "keep the morning sun on your right and the evening sun on your left"? (page 17) 
Locate the North Star as Santiago was taught to do by his uncle and tell what constellation it belongs to. 
Why would it be important to know how to find the North Star (Polaris) when sailing the ocean?

Locate Lake Izabal on a map of Guatemala. [] 
(if needed, change printer to landscape versus portrait to view printout of the entire country) 
(also check SIRS Discoverer through the Kansas Library Card - Guatemala - Country and Culture Facts) Determine the distance from Lake Izabal to the coast of Florida. Calculate the average number of miles per day that Santiago and his sister traveled from Lake Izabal until they reached Florida. Estimate the size of Guatemala in square miles. Which state in the U.S. is comparable in size to Guatemala? Standard 1, Benchmark 3

Santiago is continuously trying to make his journey with Angela into some sort of game so time will pass more easily for her. Compile a list of games, including rules, which could be played in their situation, being on a boat for days. Choose from a variety of presentation formats for the compilation - brochure, poster, power point, spiral bound publication, etc., along with a teacher designed grading rubric. Standard 5, Benchmark 3 Work can be done independently, with a partner or in small groups. If students work with others, then equal contributions need to be made by all group members and assessed by the instructor. Standard 9, Benchmark 1; Standard 9, Benchmark 2 The final product will be shared with other members of the class and/or school. After all presentations are made, the original groups reconvene to evaluate their own product based on the known grading rubric. Standard 9, Benchmark 4 

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The Same Stuff as Stars

The Same Stuff as Stars. Katherine Paterson; Clarion Books, 2002. 
Grade level: 6-8
ISBN & Cost: 0618247440 $15.00

When Angel's self-absorbed mother leaves her and her younger brother with their poor great-grandmother, the eleven-year-old girl worries not only about her mother and brother, her imprisoned father, and the frail old woman, but also about a mysterious man who begins sharing with her the wonder of the stars.

General Review: 
This book is the poignant story of Angel, an eleven-year-old girl fighting to hold her family together while the adults in her life are tearing it apart. With her father in jail, a mother who deserted Angel and her younger brother, and a grandmother too old and frail to care for them, Angel becomes the caretaker of the family and finds other adults to provide her with guidance and strength. Town librarian Miss Liza proves to be a trustworthy friend, and the mysterious star man teaches her about astronomy and also about the incredible value of human life. The story is honest, heart-breaking and realistic without being overly sentimental. Overall, this is an outstanding look at a young girl who fights to pull her family together in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

Themes: Family problems; Child abandonment and welfare; Death; Astronomy.

Author Information: 
Katherine Paterson's official website 
Katherine Paterson Teacher Resource File

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3
1. The first time Angel meets the star man and looks at the stars through his telescope, she feels frightened to think of herself and the whole Earth as being so small. What does the star man mean when he says, "Yeah, we're small, but we aren't nothing" (pg. 73)? 
2. Explain the meaning of the book's title. Include an explanation of the "glory" Miss Liza talks about (pgs. 172-173). 
3. At first, Bernie and Angel are uncomfortable around Miss Liza the librarian because of her odd appearance. What does Miss Liza do that helps them feel more comfortable? 
4. Angel has to take over the care of herself and her brother because her great-grandmother is too old and frail to take care of them. What kind of emotional effect do you think this will have on Angel? What kind of character traits is it building in her? Will it help or hinder her later in life? 
5. Why does Angel decide not to go away with her father when he shows up at the farm to pick her up?

Activity Suggestions: 
1. Research stars, constellations and stories/myths about how constellations were formed. Students could create their own constellations and write a story about how they were formed. Standard 1, Benchmark 5; Standard 5, Benchmark 3
2. Angel has to get by on the money from Grandma's Social Security checks. Find out what Social Security is and how it works. Is it a workable system? Will it still be around when you become eligible to receive benefits? Standard 3, Benchmark 3
3. There is not much money around the Morgan household, so Angel must budget carefully. Create a budgeting activity for students. Give students a budget, such as $50, and have them make a shopping list of food they would buy to last for one week. Students can get prices from a teacher-prepared list, grocery store circulars or by going to a grocery store. Standard 3, Benchmark 3

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Debra Seely,  
Holiday House, 2002
Grade Level - 6-8
ISBN 082341731X  

Thirteen year old Thomas leaves his Virginia home with his grandparents to join his father and new stepfamily on the Kansas prairie in the 1880's. He soon finds that this is not the West he has dreamed of but one of hard work, struggle and danger.

General Review:  
A good adventure with a mix of humor and hardship that is an effective first-person narrative. The problems of a stepfamily are added to the struggles of living on the prairie creating a good look at the 1880's and the universal challenges of blending a family.

Themes: Kansas, Pioneer life, stepfamilies, moving

Author information:  
Grasslands is Debra Seely's first book. She grew up in Kansas and loved her grandparents farm outside Wichita. She was inspired by the Little House on the Prairie series. A sequel to this story, The Last of the Roundup Boys, is scheduled for publication in 2004. The authors website is, her publishers address is Debra Seeley c/o Holiday House, 425 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017, e-mail

Discussion Questions:

a. Thomas's false image of the West was based on stories he had read. How was the real experience different from his dreams of the West? What things have you read about that didn't turn out to be like they were described? Standard 2 Benchmark 3
b. How did Thomas's relationship with his stepmother change during this story? What caused this change? Have you ever changed your opinion about someone? Standard 2 Benchmark 2
c. What was the Code of the West? Do you think it was a real concept or a fictional one? How did the real cowboys behavior surprise Thomas? How were Thomas's actions more honorable? Standard 2 Benchmark 1
d. How did the Kansas of the 1880's differ from 21st century Kansas? What would have been fun to experience? What are you glad has changed? Standard 1 Benchmark 5

Suggested Activities:  
e. Look at your family tree and find out when your family came to Kansas and from where they came. See if you can find out where your family lived in 1880 and as much as possible about them. Standard 4 Benchmark 1
f. Look into the history of barbed wire. Find pictures of some of the types of wire and create a poster about this new part of prairie life to show how the use of barbed wire and the fencing of the prairie affected both farmers and ranchers. Standard 5 Benchmark 3
g. Make a model of Kansas prairie showing several different types of dwellings. Include a model sod house, a dugout, and a log cabin. Standard 5 Benchmark 3

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Brothers Below Zero

Brothers Below Zero  
Tor Seidler  
Grades 5-8
ISBN: 006029180X  

Tim Tuttle cannot begin to compete with his younger brother John Henry -- not in school, not in sports, not in anything. Things change when Tim's eccentric great-aunt Winifred teaches him to paint, and he is a gifted artist. One snowy Christmas Eve, John Henry's jealousy his brother leads to a scheme to undermine Tim's new success. The sinister scheme succeeds beyond John Henry's expectations leading to a subzero adventure that will change both boys forever.

Middle schooler Tim Tuttle lives in the shadow of John Henry his taller and more athletic younger brother. Tim finds his true calling as he takes painting lessons from his beloved Great Aunt Winifred. When she dies, Tim looses his emotional and physical refuge. He decides to paint a picture of each of his family members for Christmas, but John Henry is jealous of the attention Tim is receiving from his art. John Henry ruins the parents' portrait by applying warts to his father's nose and adding a mustache on his mother's upper lip. Tim blamed by his parents, runs away to Great Aunt Winifred unoccupied home during the frigid Vermont weather. John Henry's sets out to find Tim and both boys have to be rescued by the police. The boys' actions are typical of adolescent behavior but their sibling rivalry and its repercussions make this book one that middle-school readers will identify with as Tim and John Henry reconcile their differences. 

Family Life, Sibling Rivalry, Art, Sports

The following websites have biographical information on Tor Seidler: 
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Standard 9, Benchmark 2, Indicator MS

1. What are the differences between Tim and John Henry that promote their sibling rivalry? 

2. What role do the Tuttle parents play in promoting the differences between the two brothers?

(Questions 1 & 2 are based on Categories of Instructional Strategies That Affect Student Achievement from Classroom Instruction That Works by Robert J. Marzano, Jane E. Pollack, and Debra J. Pickering.) 

3. How can relatives such as great-aunt Winifred help with difficult time is a family?

4. How long did it take for the brothers feel the effects of the below zero weather? Did the weather describe the brothers' emotional states? 


Standard 4, Benchmark 1, Indicator MS

Activity #1: Individually or in groups, use a graphic organizer to show Tim's career interests, health matters and recreational pursuits. Do the same for John Henry. Write a brief paragraph summarizing similarities and differences. Using the same graphic organizer, each student writes down his or hers career interests, health matters and recreational pursuits. After completing the graphic organizer, each student writes a brief paragraph on how his or hers interests are similar or different than the main characters.

Standard 9, Benchmark 2, Indicator MS

Activity #2: Respecting different ideas starts at home with family members. Starting with the term sibling rivalry, ask student to generate a list individually or in group that than verbally explains how ideas and information could be accepted among various groups. Example might include:

? Sibling rivalry /family togetherness
? Musicians/mathematicians
? Captain/private

After generating a list, ask students how these different groups can acknowledge the contributions of each other. How do the private and the captain respect each other's ideas and background and acknowledge each other's contributions?

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Surviving the Applewhites

Surviving the Applewhites
Stephanie S. Tolan
HarperCollins, 2002. 
Grade Level: 6th - 8th  
ISBN 0-06-623602-9  
Awards: Newbery Honor Book 2003

Thirteen-year-old Jake Semple's parents are in jail and he has been expelled from one school after another. The eccentric Applewhite family agrees to let him live with them and attend their Creative Academy, a totally unstructured home school. Twelve-year-old E.D. is the only non-artistic member of the outrageous Applewhite clan, and the lone member of her family with organizational skills. She and Jake both discover their special gifts when they are drawn into the family's off-the-wall production of The Sound of Music. 

General Review:  
The offbeat humor and outrageous characters will appeal to middle school readers. Told from the alternating perspectives of the two main characters, the story makes a terrific read-aloud for two voices.

Themes: Creativity, Eccentrics, Theater, Family Life, North Carolina, Home Schools

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: Standard 3 Benchmark 3

1. This story is told in alternating chapters from the points of view of the two main characters, E.D. Applewhite and Jake Semple. Discuss how different backgrounds and life experiences can influence an individual's point of view. 
2. Jake learned the power of words at an early age, and knew how to use them to affect people adversely. Create a list of words that he might use to attain a favorable response instead. 
3. Jake used his hair to make a statement and force people to notice him. In what way do you assert your individuality?


1. Working in groups of two or three, assign each student a character in a short pre-written scenario, then have them write a response to the situation presented in the scenario from the point of view of their assigned character. Standard 2, Benchmark 2  
2. E.D. and Jake were not the only characters in the story to exhibit new talents. Govindaswami abandoned his fast and introduced the Applewhites to Indian cuisine. Do some research and discover what curries, yogurt, chutneys, and flatbreads are and how they are made. Standard 1, Benchmark 1  
3. Emulate E.D.'s Butterfly Project with butterflies that are local to your area. Standard 3, Benchmark 1