Curriculum Guides



Grades 3-5

Buchanan, Jane. The Berry-Picking Man. (by Julie Tomlianovich) 

Clark, Clara Gillow. Hill Hawk Hattie. (by Jane Burton) 

Coddell, Esme RajiSahara Special. (Mature Reading/Language)

Dowell, Francis O'Roark. Where I'd Like To Be. (by Marj Lloyd) 

Farris, Christine King. My Brother Martin; A Sister Remembers Growing Up With Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. (by Retta Eiland) 

Fleming, Candace. Boxes for Katje. (by Angie Price) 

Gordon, Amy. The Gorillas of Gill Park. (by Chris O'Dell) 

Hicks, Betty. Animal House and Iz. (by Arlene Wiler) 

Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie. Gifts From the Sea. (by Roberta Kobbe) 

Krull, Kathleen. Harvesting Hope; The Story of Cesar Chavez. (by Judy Druse) 

Kurtz, Jane. Bicycle Madness. (by Julie Tomlianovich) 

Love, D. Anne.The Puppeteers Apprentice. (By Tabitha Hogan)

O'Connor, Barbara. Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia. (by Chris O'Dell) 

Patterson, Nancy Ruth. A Simple Gift. (By Beverly Buller)  

Stauffacher, Sue. Donuthead. CAUTION: LANGUAGE (by Arlene Wiler) 

The Berry- Picking Man


Jane Buchanan; Leslie Bowerman, illus. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2003
Gr. 3rd-5th
ISBN 0-374-40610-3 $15.00

Synopsis: Nine-year-old Meggie is not able to understand why her mother involves Old Sam, a smelly, berry-picking man, who talks to himself, with their family. When the other children tease and say cruel things about Old Sam, Meggie joins in even though she knows, he thinks of her as one of his few favorite people. When a series of added misfortunes happen to Old Sam and he has nowhere to spend Christmas, Meggie must learn the value and necessity of empathy and charity.

General Review: Booklist *Starred Review* …”The simple, eloquent narrative stays true to Meggie's seething viewpoint, which is also beautifully expressed in full-page, realistic, gray-shaded watercolors. Bowman uses body language to show the connections and the spaces between people as well as Meggie's efforts to avoid Old Sam, who appears on the edge of her vision. Buchanan writes without sentimentality…”

Themes: Mental Illness; Family Life; Teasing; Caring


Not in Something About the Author

Discussion Questions:

Standard 9; Benchmark 1

How would you feel about having someone like Old Sam come to your home for Christmas Day?

Would you be able to tell your friends that your mother buys berries from Old Sam and he rides in your car? If no, why not? What do you imagine your friends would say? If yes, does it matter what your friends say?

How do Meggie’s sisters treat her? What is the attitude of the father?

Why did Meggie receive the camera she wanted?

What other ways could a family show empathy toward others? Does an act of compassion only need to be shown during the holiday season?

Do you think people are more likely to help victims of a natural disaster than those who need everyday help in their own community?

Activity Suggestions:

Find out what organizations in your community help those who need help. Standard 1, Benchmark 5

Choose an organization that your class could help. Why that one? What can be done as a group and what could an individual student do? Standard 2, Benchmark 1

Have each student write down the type of person that is teased, made fun of, and left out of social activities. Imagine how that person feels. This should not be shared using people’s names. Standard 3, Benchmark 3

Hill Hawk Hattie

Hill Hawk Hattie. Clark, Clara Gillow; Candlewick Press, 2003. 
Grade Level: 3 - 5
ISBN & Cost: 0-7636-1963-9 $12.00

Synopsis: Hattie Belle Basket is not very skilled at being a frontier girl. She burns biscuits and her stews are not always the best. She doesn't even try to bake pies. Hattie's Mama was the one who could bake wonderful pies and was the center of their small family. It was Hattie's Mama who made Pa smile and who kept everyone happy. Now Mama is dead, and everything is confusing. Before Hattie fully knows what is happening, she finds herself dressed in overalls and masquerading as a boy. What is worse is that her silent, cold and distant father seems to want this state of affairs. Is Hattie going to have to be a boy forever?

Author Information:

Discussion questions: Standard 2, Benchmark 2

Discuss what you know about the logging industry in the 1800’s. Would you like to live the life of a logger? Why or why not? Is the life portrayed by Hattie realistic to the lives of loggers?

Discuss what you know about the lives of the female population in the 1800’s. How were women viewed? How were women treated? What facts are relayed in the book? What point of views are made by the author? How do these facts and points of view work to create the story?

Activity: Find information on the logging industry in the early years. Would it be possible for the story described to occur?

Discussion questions: Standard 2, Benchmark 2

What type of literature is Hill Hawk Hattie? What is the theme of the book?

Activity: Standard 2, Benchmark 2

Create a book talk on tape that could be presented to the local residents of an Assisted Living center.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

Do you believe it would be possible for a girl to pretend to be a boy and work alongside her father?

How was it possible to fool the people met on the journey? Do you think it was necessary for Hattie to keep her true identity hidden? Why or why not?

Why had Hattie had no contact with her mother’s family? Was this unusual for the time? Was this fair?

Compare Hattie’s family situation to your own family. How are they similar? How are they different?

When Hattie’s mother died, her father showed grief in ways that were hard for Hattie to understand. What are other ways people show their grief?

Activity Suggestions: Compare

Research the stages of grief. Find suggested methods of showing grief.

Sahara Special

Sahara Special
Hyperion, 2003
Gr. 3-5
ISBN: 0-7868-0793-8
COST: $15.99

SYNOPSIS: Sahara’s father left her and her mother when Sahara was in third grade. Following years in special ed, Sahara’s repeating fifth grade in a regular ed classroom with a gifted but untraditional teacher who does her best to make her realize her potential.

GENERAL REVIEW: Sahara’s situation, the kooky but competent “Miss Pointy”, and the satisfying conclusion give this book appeal for many student readers. Note: Sahara is a spirited child and her language (b****) reflects it. Starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Winner of the IRA Children’s Book Award.

THEMES: School, Special Education, single parent families

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Esme Codell has been a teacher, school librarian and bookseller. She now runs the children’s literature website Planet Esme Sahara Special is her first fiction book.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Standard 3 Benchmark 3

See websites below

Frequently asked questions about the book:


Visit the following websites for many activities for this book:


Teacher’s Guide:


Teacher’s Guide from author’s own website: 

Where I'd Like to Be

Where I’d Like to be, Frances O’Roark Dowell
ISBN 0-689-84420-4
Cost: $15.95


Maddie lives in the East Tennessee Children’s Home. Ricky Ray, 6, is her special friend. Then, Murphy, a new girl, comes to the home telling wonderful stories about her previous life. Maddie doesn’t know whether to believe them but enjoys them anyway. Maddie makes scrapbooks of houses, houses cut from magazines, houses where she’d like to live. They build a fort with the help and in the yard of Logan, who has a home and a family. The children make scrapbooks and weave stories about how they would like their life to be.


Frances Dowell creates interesting characters in this story. Maddie, who says a ghost saved her life when she was a baby. Ricky Ray is a 6-year-old imp. Murphy is 12, says she knows how to fly and has traveled all over the world. Logan is a lonely boy who befriends the children at the Home. Interesting adult characters are Mr. Potter and Maddie’s granny. This unusual group of children forms a bond with scrapbooks and building a fort in Logan’s yard.


Adoption, Orphans and Foster Children, Friendship, Imagination.


Frances O’Roark Dowell is the author of former WAW winner Dovey Coe. She is the editor and cofounder of Dream/Girl Magazine and has been a poet-in-residence. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and sons.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: (Standard 2, Benchmark 1 and Standard 3, Benchmark 3)

  1. Why do you think Murphy tells such stories about herself?
  2. Do you think Penny Korda will adopt Maddie and Ricky?
  3. Why did Maddie bury the books? What was the symbolism?
  4. Maddie was judging the other children by her first impressions? Why can that sometimes be wrong?
  5. How did Logan’s mother change during the story?


  1. Start a scrapbook of your favorite things—faces, clothes, toys, etc.
  2. Draw a map of what you think the fort looks like. Where are the doors, windows, furniture? (Geography standard, Benchmark 1)
  3. Maddie collects pictures of houses to decide which one she wants for herself. What would your ideal home be like? Draw a picture or write a description. (Standard 2, Benchmark 9)
  4. Read some other books about foster children, such as Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff, Pinballs by Betsy Byars, and The Same Stuff as Stars, By Katherine Paterson. How are they alike and different? (Standard 1, Benchmark 4)

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remember Growing Up With Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Farris, Christine King. My brother Martin; A Sister Remembers Growing Up With Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. New York, Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2003.
Hardback ISBN: 0689843879 $17.95
Paperback planned January, 2006
Grade Level 3-5

Author information: Interview with Christine King Farris

Illustrator’s web site:

Related web sites:

Subject Areas: Biography, African Americans, Christine King Farris, King Family, Race Relations

Synopsis: Looks at the early life of Martin Luther King, Jr., as seen through the eyes of his older sister.

Review From School Library Journal

Grade 2-4-In the straightforward style of a master storyteller, Farris recalls the birth of her two younger brothers and relates anecdotes that demonstrate both the mischievous exploits of the siblings and the love and understanding that permeated the close-knit multigenerational family in which they grew up. Using plain language, she describes conditions in the South during her childhood that separated blacks and whites- "Because they just don't understand that everyone is the same, but someday, it will be better." From their father's church sermons and his actions when confronting the hatred and bigotry, the children learned the importance of standing up for justice and equality. The warmth of the text is exquisitely echoed in Soentpiet's realistic, light-filled watercolor portraits set in the King home, in their Atlanta neighborhood, and at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The simple directness of this short biography will help young children understand the concept of segregation and the importance of Dr. King's message. An appended poem by Mildred D. Johnson reflects Farris's own message: "-it is important for young people to realize the potential that lies within each of them-." This outstanding book belongs in every collection.

Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH

Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Discussion Questions:

What was young M.L.’s response when his mother told him about the world and the way some people believed?

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s father was a ________.

This book was written by his ________.

We know this story about Martin is true because____.

Why did Martin and others want to end the laws that made life different for black people than for white people?

What makes a hero?

What did Dr. King want to change in the United States?

What can we do today to help make the world a better place?

Activity Suggestions:

1. Begin your lesson on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., by assessing your students' prior knowledge using a K-W-L chart. List on a chart the facts that your students know about King. Next, ask them to tell you what they want to know about him. After reading the book, have students tell you what they have learned about him. (Standard 1,Benchmark 3)

2.Research events of Dr. King's life and times and perform a classroom skit or play based on the information gathered. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

3. As a class project, publish a "little book" on the life of Martin Luther King. (Standard 3, Benchmark 2)

4.Have students work in cooperative groups of two or three to make a timeline called "The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr." Each group should use an 18" x 24" sheet of paper to depict one part of Dr. King's life and accomplishments.(Standard 9, Benchmark 1)

5. Have students write a newspaper account of the march on Selma, Alabama, or any other significant event in the life of Dr. King. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

6. Discuss the significance of the Nobel Peace Prize. Award each of your students a "Peace Prize" for their work toward getting along well with others or finding peaceful solutions to conflicts. (Standard 9, Benchmark 1)

7. Get an outline of his silhouette. Cut it out of black paper. Let the students glue it onto white paper and then list the peaceful ways that the students handle their problems.

For example: To get along better with others I can..... I can get along with my friends at school by..... If someone treats me unfairly I can..... To help a friend who is sad I could.....(Standard 3, Benchmark 2)

8.Point out to students that cities such as Atlanta, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; and Washington, D.C. figured prominently in the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Ask: What other places can you think of that are closely associated with Martin Luther King? Write the name of each important location on the chalkboard. Challenge students to research a variety of print and online resources to find information about each of those places. Tell students that as they locate each place of importance on a blank map, they should write a sentence or two of explanation about the importance of that place in Dr. King's life. When students complete their maps, provide a time for them to display their maps and share what they learned with their classmates. (Standard 5, Benchmark 2)

9. Take a virtual tour of King's boyhood home via the official website.

Activity ideas selected from .

Boxes For Katje

Boxes for Katje. By Candice Fleming (Stacey Dressen-McQueen, Illustrator); Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003.
Grade Level:  (3-5) 
ISBN and cost: 0374309221; $16.00.

Author Information:

Synopsis: After a young Dutch girl writes to her new American friend in thanks for the care package sent after World War II, she begins to receive increasingly larger boxes.

General review:  This story is based on the author’s mother’s experience with the Children’s Relief fund after WWII. In the story exchange of letters and relief packages are sent to the Holland town of Olst from Mayfield, Indiana. The young Dutch child, Katje, generously shares her gifts with the other very needy townspeople and in turn sends letters expressing her sincere thanks to Rosie in America. Adults get involved and soon the whole town of Mayfield is sending more and more packages to Olst. A final heartwarming package of tulip bulbs in sent as thanks to the generous citizens of Mayfield at the end of the story.

Discussion Questions: What were the needs of the citizens of Olst? Why did they have these needs? What needs would you guess the children of Iraq might have today?...Of the cities destroyed by the tsunami in recent months?

What let you know how the people of Olst felt about the boxes when they arrived?

How would you characterize Katje? Rosie?

How were the towns alike and different?

What could your hometown send as a “thank-you” gift if you were the recipients of Mayfield’s generous gifts?

Themes:Goodwill, Kindness, Neighbors, Generosity, Sharing, Friendship, Pen pals, War (World War II), Motivation, and Multicultural Studies ( Netherlands)

Activity Suggestions:  

Social Studies:

1. Research the history of your town or city. Did your town ever have a sister city or an exchange with another community in a helpful way? (4:2)

2. Are there any stories in you local newspapers about outstanding children in your community? What did they do for others? (2:4 & 4:1)

3. Locate each of the girls’ homes on a map. Figure the miles between the two cities using the map key. (7:1)

4. Use an almanac to find out facts about either of the cities. (2:2)

5. Use an almanac and an encyclopedia to find out facts about World War II. Compare and contrast the relevant information from each source. (5:2, 2:1.)

6. Older students may be able to discuss and in small groups create a thinking map (Graphic Organizer) comparing the wants and needs of the people of Olst, Holland. (9:1, 9:2, 9:3)

7. Research the "Children's Aid Society". Were there other organizations that also helped families abroad after the war? What were they called and what did they do? (2:4, 1:3, 1:5, 4:1, 7:1)

8. Study the postal system and find out how so many packages could best be sent to another country today. (Math skills that could be included: Weight; cost; distance; reading mileage charts.) (1:3, 1:4, 1:5. 8:3)

9. Holland is known by another name today, see if your students can find what the new name is and where it is locate on the map. Have them find current facts about Olst. (1:4, 5:2)


Grow some tulips. Research the planting and growing procedure for tulips . (1:3, 1:4, 1:5)

Compare and contrast the growing of tulip bulbs and seed potatoes. (9:1)

Plant them on your school grounds or in a nearby park or at a nursing home. (9:3, 9:4)

Study the tulip flower with a hand lens. Draw and label it’s parts. (Fourth graders often have to learn the parts of a flower.) (5:3)

Language Arts:

Research the pen pal process. Find a reliable source of names. (Maybe you know a teacher of a similar grade level in a school far from yours) and write to them regularly. (Web cams could be tied to this project as well.) (1:5, 3:4, 9:1, 9:2, 9:3, 9:4)

Write a paragraph about what you would like to receive in a care package if you had nothing to eat or wear this winter. (3:2)

Read and follow a recipe for cooking cabbage or potatoes. You may only add other ingredients that you feel they may have had on hand after Rosie's gift packages arrived and compare to cooked plain cabbage or potatoes with no other ingredients. (7:1, 9:2)


See #8 above under Social Studies.


* How many boxes to ship 200 cakes of soap if the box holds x number of cakes? How much would 200 cakes of soap weigh? Cost? Call a store to find out typical size of box and amount inside. (2:1, 3:4, 9:3)

*How many tulip bulbs in a pound? (Buy some or bring some in from a volunteer's garden) Then weigh them to see who estimated the closest. (2:1, 3:4, 9:3)

The Gorillas of Gill Park

The Gorillas of Gill Park. Amy Gordon; Holiday House, c2003. Scholastic, c2003.
Grade Level: 3-5
Holiday House 0-823-41751-4, $16.00 Scholastic 0-439-64312-0, $3.99
Author Information can be found:
Contemporary Authors v. 186
Something About the Author v. 115

Synopsis: Willy Wilson is invited to spend the summer with his eccentric aunt, who is in the process of making 30 gorilla costumes. Up until now Willy’s life has been very ordinary, even, as he says, to his name. However, all of this changes as he explores the nearby Gill Park. Live music is broadcast over the park by the owner, a mysterious millionaire who owns the park but is planning to sell it to a developer. Willy teams up with a feisty orphan and others to try to save the park.

Review: Willy is the narrator of this story that includes a cast of eccentric characters whose lives are linked to Gill Park. These include an orphan, Liesl, who goes about life like Pippi Longstocking with a wild temper, and the owner of the park, Otto Pettingill, who amplifies his music over the park. Music, and its effect on people, is a theme that reoccurs throughout the book as Willy spends the summer before seventh grade finding the courage to risk trying new experiences. Willy and his friends do manage to save the park, but not until we are treated to the scene of Willy and Liesl racing across the park wearing gorilla suits and riding a bicycle. Amy Gordon ties things up a little too neatly in the last part of the book – even having Willy inherit the ownership of the park. In spite of this, The Gorillas of Gill Park is a good, almost “squeaky-clean” read.

Themes: Music, Parks, Self-concept, Art

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the benefits of a mall vs. a park? Relate this to a park the students are familiar with. What would be lost if it was turned into a mall? This could be used as an activity, having the students research the merits of each and then holding a debate whether parks or malls are better. (Standard 1, Benchmark 2, Standard 3, Benchmark 1

2. Each chapter is prefaced by a quote from one of the characters. What can you infer about the person from their quote?

3. What difference does music make? Relate some ways that music can change how you feel.


1. Make a map of Gill Park. (Standard 5: Benchmark 3)

2. Research Central Park. Compare and contrast Central Park to Gill Park. (Standard 3: Benchmark 1)

3. Locate samples of the music mentioned in this book. Listen to the music. What kind of a mood are you in after you listen to it? Pachelbel’s Canon, Mozart’s Sonata, The Marriage of Figaro, and classical and ragtime music in general. (Standard 5: Benchmark 2)

4. Do you know of any teachers who use background music in their classroom? Interview them to find out about the music they use and if they think it makes a difference. If you don’t know of any teachers using music then research how music can be used to help learning. Report your findings to the class. (Standard 9: Benchmark 1)

Animal House and Iz

Animal House and Iz, Betty Hicks
Roaring Brook Press, 2003
Gr. 3-5
ISBN: 0-7613-2746-0
COST: $15.95

SYNOPSIS: Iz is living in a household with her father, three stepbrothers, her stepmother, lots of caged critters and general chaos which she loves. The only thing missing is a dog and the kids are trying to correct that problem. Iz loves her mother but would rather live with her father and his new family. How does she deal with the guilt she feels because she really doesn’t want to live with her mother?

GENERAL REVIEW: This is a fun, detailed glimpse at a 11-year-old girl’s life after her parents divorce when she lives with her father, stepmother and three stepbrothers. Her efficiency expert mother calls her Elizabeth, her casual relaxed father calls her Liz and her stepbrothers call her Iz. Which name is most accurate?. The main conflicts in the book involve the kids plan to add a dog to the household of insects, reptiles and birds and the opportunity Iz has to move in with her mother full time when her mother changes jobs and stops traveling. The plan to talk their parents into allowing a dog into the household is involved and has some unforeseen consequences when a hedgehog dies and one of her stepbrothers catches a serious illness from the parrot. Her mother’s attention increases Iz’s guilt since she really wants to stay with her new family. It is a welcome change from the wicked stepmother image and a good book to look at blended families.

THEMES: Family life, stepfamilies, pets

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Betty Hicks is the author of I Smell Like Ham, another book on family blending. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with her husband, where their now-grown blended family grew up. She is not listed in Something About the Author nor has a web page.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Standard 3 Benchmark 3

Why did the get-a-dog plan go so wrong? Is there anything they could have done to prevent the disasters?

Elizabeth or Liz or Iz – why do different people call her different names? Do you have any nicknames?

What dangers can be involved in adopting a pet? What can you do to become aware of potential problems?

Divorce and remarriage can lead to a variety of family structures. What forms of families are you familiar with in your school or community?


Research the food and housing requirements for a variety of caged insects, reptiles and birds. Which ones should not be together? Which ones have very special requirements? Standard 1 Benchmark 5

Take a pet survey in your class and see what types of pets and how many pets are part of your households. Standard 9 Benchmark 3

3. Research psittacosis. What causes it? How dangerous is it? How does it spread? What is the best treatment and how can it be prevented? Standard 4 Benchmark 1

Gifts From The Sea  

GIFTS FROM THE SEA. Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
Gr. 3-5
ISBN: 0-375-82257-7
Cost: $14.95

Natalie Kinsey-Warnock grew up on a dairy farm in a Vermont. She currently still lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont region. She is married and spends her spare time in a variety of outdoor activities. She enjoys running, hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, roller blading, swimming, windsurfing, kayaking and canoeing, rock climbing, and playing tennis.  Other less strenuous activities include astronomy, bird watching, and painting. She belongs to the Catamount Pipe Band, a bagpipe-playing musical group. Natalie Kinsey Warnock and her husband live in the country and have several dogs, cats and horses.

Synopsis: On a lighthouse island in Maine, Quila tries to deal with loneliness of the island since her mother’s death. After a shipwreck, Quila rescues a baby girl and it is decided that they will keep her and raise her. But when a woman arrives on the island looking for her sister who was killed in a shipwreck, Quila and her father must make a decision about the fate of the baby.

Review from School Library Journal: Quila MacFarlane's father tends the lighthouse on Devil's Rock, a remote island off the coast of Maine, and when her mother dies, the lonely 12-year-old assumes the role of cook and housekeeper. One day, after a ship goes down, she finds two small mattresses tied together. Inside is a baby. Now the girl has more work than ever, but Celia brings new life to the island, even giving some joy to Quila's grieving father. But then a woman arrives, wanting to say good-bye to her sister who died in a shipwreck, and Quila and Papa realize that she is Celia's aunt. Quila is torn between hating this stranger who threatens to take the child away, and loving her for the friendship she brings. Similar in theme and style to Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall (HarperCollins, 1985), this is a lovingly drawn portrait of a girl and her father struggling to cope with a devastating loss. Quila's ever-shifting feelings of resentment, guilt, and love toward her father, Celia, and Celia's aunt are perfectly captured and believable, as are her conflicting desires to be responsible and to be free to enjoy her childhood. Interspersed throughout the novel are details of the lonely, difficult life as a lighthouse keeper in 1858. Pedersen's stylized, almost folksy pencil drawings appear throughout the text. This is a compelling novel, with small suspenseful moments to draw readers in, and a brave and thoughtful heroine.
Ashley Larsen, Woodside Library, CA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Discussion Questions:

Mama taught Quila everything she knew. What handicap does Quila have in teaching Celia?

Papa rescued a woman from a ship wrecked during a storm. Who do you think
”Mary” was?

What color were Mama’s eyes? What color were Margaret’s eyes?

Why had Quila never seen a square room?

Why did Quila feel she had to leave the island with Celia?

Quila liked Margaret, but why did she resent her?

Activity Suggestions:

Search the web for a lighthouse site. Visit some lighthouses on-line. (Standard 2, Benchmark 1)

Draw a picture or map of the island. Remember there are no trees. Color the sea surrounding the island and add aquatic details. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

Research and write about the fowl and sea life that would live in the region of Devils Rock Lighthouse. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

Draw something that you have never seen, but would like to. (Standard 4, Benchmark 1)

Write 2 questions you would like to ask Quila if you had a chance to visit with her. (Standard 1, Benchmark 3)

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. Kathleen Krull; Harcourt Children’s Books, 2003
Grade Level: 3-5
ISBN and cost: 0152014373 $17.00

Author Information:

SATA Vol. 149

Contemporary Authors Vol. 106

Synopsis: This inspiring biography of the civil rights leader focuses on the influences of his early years while living on the family’s ranch in Arizona and the inhuman working conditions he and his family suffered as migrant farm workers in California. In his early twenties Cesar decided to organize the farm workers and protest – nonviolently – against the landowners’ treatment of them.

General review: Krull focuses on three main events in the life of Cesar Chavez – his boyhood on the family ranch in Arizona, his back-breaking life as a migrant farm worker, and the march he organized to protest the working conditions of migrant laborers. Young readers will be inspired by the courage and dedication of Chavez to fight for change. The artist Yuyi Morales uses the bright pinks, golds, and oranges of Mexican folk art in contrast to the dark browns and greens of the fields and the somber words of the text.

Discussion Questions:

The author says that every summer night of Cesar’s youth was “like a fiesta.” What do you think she means by this? Are their times when your family gets together “like a fiesta?” At the end of the book the author uses the word “fiesta” again. What English words does the author use to describe the “giant fiesta?”

What does the Spanish word “fiesta” mean? What other Spanish words can you find in the book? What do they mean?

When the Chavez family moved from Arizona to California their new home was very different from their old home. How were the two homes different? Have you ever moved from one home to another? How were your homes different? How many different schools did Cesar attend? Do you think Cesar liked going to school? Why?

Cesar’s mother encouraged her son to use his mind and mouth to work out conflicts. What do you think she means by this?

Can you find passages in the book that describe how the landowners treated their farm workers? Have you ever felt you were treated unjustly?

Cesar Chavez was a courageous fighter, but he did not believe in violence. What nonviolent acts did Cesar use to bring about change?

More discussion questions can be found at

Activity Suggestions:

Ask students to write letters to Cesar Chavez describing the connections they made to his life and their reactions to the book. Standard 5. Benchmark 3.

Ask students to conduct further research on the life of Cesar Chavez or the Migrant Farm Workers of America. Standard 1. Benchmark 5.

Ask students to compare and contrast the life of Cesar Chavez with another civil rights leader, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Standard 3. Benchmark 2.

A teacher’s guide and activity sheets are available free of charge from .

The California Department of Education has provided a model curriculum and resources for teachers for Cesar Chavez Day at .

Check out for resources and ideas for using biographies in the classroom.

Bicycle Madness

Jane Kurtz; Beth Peck, illus. Holt, 2003 Gr. 3rd-5th
ISBN: 0-8050-6981-X $15.95

Synopsis: After Lillie’s mother dies, she and her father and brother move across town, where Lillie’s life changes even more. Their neighbor, turns out to be Frances Willard, a woman who fights for women’s rights, child labor laws and the ability to ride a bicycle. Lillie wants to win the spelling bee and have a friend. The two turn out to be made of strong stuff during the changing mores of the late nineteenth century.

General Review:

"Kurtz packs a surprising amount of history and drama into this agreeable, easily read story." --The Horn Book

“…Told in Lillie's distinctive voice, the novel is sprinkled liberally with details of life at the turn of the 19th century, and chapters begin with quotes from writings of the time, including Willard's own words. Black-and-white, full-page illustrations and small line drawings enhance the period flavor of the text…” School Library Journal

Themes: Bicycles; Women in History; Francis Willard 1839-1898; Voting Rights; Family Life-1800’s; Historical Fiction

Author information:

Not in Something About the Author

Discussion Questions: Standard 9; Benchmark 1

Research to find out why September 28th is Frances Willard Day -- what significance does the day have? (

Do you remember how you felt the first time you rode a bicycle without help from anyone? How was it? Where did you go?

Why is it so important for Frances Willard to learn to ride the bicycle?

Are there social beliefs or laws that are not considered “fair and equal” to all? If so what are they?

Activity Suggestions:

Each of the fifty states in the United States were invited to submit a statue of two people notable in their state's history. A list of these statues/people is available on the Architect of the Capitol website. Find out who represents YOUR state and then locate information about those people. ( Standard 1, Benchmark 5

In the book bloomers are mentioned several times. Research the history of bloomers -- who are they named after and how did they influence the women's right's movement? ( Standard 1, Benchmark 5

May is Bicycle Month but the suggestions offered on the official bike week site -- see what other communities are doing to promote the benefits of bicycle riding. Download brochures and cycling activity suggestions. ( Standard 1, Benchmark 5

The Puppeteers's Apprentice

The Puppeteer’s Apprentice, D. Anne Love; Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2003.
Grade Level: 3-5
Library ISBN: 0689844247 $16.95
Paperback ISBN: 0689844255 $4.99

Synopsis: A medieval orphan girl called Mouse gains the courage she needs to follow her dreams of becoming a puppeteer’s apprentice.

General Review: (From School Library Journal, May 2003) Gr 4-6-Abandoned at Dunston Manor as a baby, Mouse was raised as a scullery maid and brutally treated for years. When Cook slashes her face with a meat hook in anger, the child takes to the road. She meets some kindly travelers, but is reminded again and again that she is on her own. Then she happens upon a puppet show, and is completely mesmerized. She asks to become the puppeteer's apprentice, but is flatly turned down. Despite the rejection, she stows away on top of the wagon, and again begs the performer to teach her how to make the puppets come alive. This time, she is grudgingly accepted. As they travel the countryside, Mouse cooks and cleans and, in return, learns the art and craft of a puppeteer. She is a quick study, whether bargaining with vendors, carving wooden figures, or manipulating puppet strings. But a dark figure lurks around the edges of the story, and the puppet theaters. Ordin makes Mouse edgy, although she doesn't know why, and readers will feel the suspense begin to build. The puppeteer, who Mouse learns is a woman traveling in disguise, is slow to reveal anything personal about her past. As the story reaches a sinister climax, she learns the puppeteer's secrets, which prove deadly. Searching throughout the story for her own identity, Mouse ultimately receives a name and experiences great sorrow on her way to fulfilling her dreams. Set in England in the Middle Ages, this wonderfully written tale holds mystery, suspense, and the realism that comes with a battle fought and won. Kit Vaughan, Chesterfield County Public Schools, VA

Discussion Questions:

Simon Swan said, “a man’s soul must be fed as well as his belly.” What does Simon mean by “feeding a soul”? Do you think that this is true, why or why not? What kinds of things feed your soul…music, a good book, a visit with a friend?

Names or the lack thereof are very important to this story. Mouse does not know her real name. What does her nickname say about her? Does her name reflect her personality? We also don’t know the puppeteers name. What reasons might she have for keeping it secret?

What is an apprentice? If you could be an apprentice, where would you work, what would you do?

Many of the plays the puppeteer performed were historical tales like Noah’s Ark, King Arthur, and the story of St. George and the Dragon. These tales were well known to the audience, but they enjoyed hearing them again and again. Why do you think these stories were so popular? Can you think of stories that you like to hear over and over?

Why did Mouse (Sabine) decide to leave the kind duke and his family to follow in her mentor’s footsteps as a puppeteer?

Activity Suggestions

Essay: Have students’ research and write about the meaning of their names. They could interview parents/relatives to find out why they were such named. Focus on positive self-discovery in having them detail how their own names reflect who they are or who they want to be. (Standard 6, Benchmark 1; Standard 4, Benchmark 1)

One of the plays that mouse performs is the story of King Arthur. Research the tale of King Arthur. Retell the story in class or show an educational film. Have students visit the library and create bibliography cards for a set amount of resources containing information on this subject. (Standard 1, Benchmark 2; Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

Make an imaginary map of the townships, woods, and castles that Mouse visits. For fun, “age” the paper using vinegar water and tearing techniques. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

Separate students into groups and instruct them to write and put on a puppet play. It can be helpful to give them some guidance on a story, for example: rewrite a favorite folktale or fairytale. (Standard 9, Benchmark 4; Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

Students can make puppets and design a stage.

Students can be the puppets, using jerky puppet like movements, while team members speak for them.

If available, use real string puppets to demonstrate the art of puppetry movement.

Fame and Glory In Freedom, Georgia

Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia. Barbara O’Connor; 
Grade Level: (3-5) 
ISBN and cost: 0-374-322589 $16.00

Author Information:

Something About the Author v. 154

Contemporary Authors v. 229

Synopsis: Bird (Burdette Weaver) needs a friend so when Harlem moves to town she knows she has to make friends with him before “somebody poisons his mind” against her. When the state spelling bee is announced Bird might be able to reach her goals – to become famous and to go to Disney World – but she needs a partner. She and Harlem work together to become the spelling champions.

General review: This short book gives us a good look at small-town poverty. Bird shops for bargains at the Have-to-Have-It Shop, Harlem lives above a tattoo parlor, his father collects cans for a living, and Harlem is afraid to tell him he needs glasses because they can’t afford them. In reading this book more affluent students will get a window on the culture of poverty while others will identify with Bird and Harlem and how the problems they face. This is a very believable story that could take place in any small town.

Themes: Friendship, Spelling Bees, Popularity, Poverty

Discussion Questions:

1. How can you be a friend? What could you do to help Bird if she was in our class? If Harlem moved to our school what could you do to make him feel welcome?

2. If you were going to be in a spelling bee what are some ways to study words? What ways did they use in the book?

3. Bird wanted people to see her true self. However, she makes assumptions about Harlem that turn out not to be true. What did she believe about him? What are some other assumptions made about characters in this book?

Activity Suggestions:

1. Make a flyer for the spelling bee including the rules and prizes. (Standard 5: Benchmark 3)

2. How could someone get glasses if they couldn’t afford them? Invite the school counselor to talk to the class about helping the less fortunate. Brainstorm ideas the class could carry out to help such as helping at a soup kitchen or collecting food for a food bank. (Standard 3: Benchmark 3)

3. Locate Valdosta, Georgia on a map. Although Freedom, Georgia is an imaginary town authors sometimes set their story in a real down but change the name. Select and research a town that might have been used as a model for Freedom. Make an informational brochure for this town. Be prepared to explain why you think this town might be Freedom, Georgia. (Standard 5: Benchmark 3)

A Simple Gift

A Simple Gift, Nancy Ruth Patterson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003
ISBN: 0-374-36924-0
COST; $16.00

Synopsis: Bitten by the acting bug, 10-year-old Carrie O’Connor auditions for a play based on a children’s book written by her mother. As the New York City girl visiting her mother’s hometown in rural North Carolina, Carrie tries to impress the locals but winds up becoming the problem instead. By the end of the novel, Carrie learns the real-life identities of the major characters in her mother’s books and absolves herself of wrongdoing by modeling positive problem-solving skills.


General Review: After experiencing success as Madame Molar in the school play, 10-year-old Carrie O’Connor feels ready for bigger venues. When her mother, a renowned children’s author, is invited back to her hometown in the hills of North Carolina for the summer stock production of one of her famous Mike Madigan books, Carrie pictures herself as the star of the show. To her credit, but also disappointment, she lands a minor role on her own merit. However, Nancy Patterson casts Carrie in a major role in the dynamics of cast relationships. After eavesdropping on the director, Carrie tries to impress hometown snob Liza Barrett (that’s two r’s, two t’s) by sharing her “scoop.” The resulting humiliation to Storm Sellers, a poor but talented boy cast in the title role of Mike Madigan, creates a plethora of conflicts. Carrie is faced with making ethical decisions about honesty, integrity, commitment, and friendship. All are themes relevant to the classroom dynamics of 8-10-year-olds. However, Patterson has left her protagonist transparent and predictable throughout this part of the novel. A chance for Carrie to show her maturity is provided by her mother, who tells a poignant story explaining the real-life models for Mike Madigan and Louis the Loser. In the end Carrie’s decisions demonstrate that she is a star performer, and like Mike, does something noble. Unfortunately, for students who are caught up in the Lemony Snicket craze, exposure to this book might have to come as a read-aloud by an adult. Fortunately, this would also provide ample opportunity to discuss the novel’s moral issues.


Themes: Theater Fiction, Authorship Fiction, Conduct of Life, Friendship, Problem-solving,



Author Information: Nancy Ruth Patterson is a playwright and retired educator who has written two other novels for children, The Christmas Cup and The Shiniest Rock of All. Both of these have also been professionally produced as plays, and like A Simple Gift, both reflect the values of the author’s childhood experiences. Nancy Ruth Patterson lives in Roanoke, Virginia with her poodle Newby.


Discussion Questions:


  1. The title of this novel is A Simple Gift. While you are reading, consider who the gift givers and the gift recipients are in this story. What is “a simple gift” in this novel? What are gifts that you may have given or received that might compare to any gifts given in this book? Standard 2, Benchmark 1
  2. What is eavesdropping? Are there situations when this would this be appropriate? Discuss. Standard 3, Benchmark 3
  3. When is it appropriate to “own up” to mistakes? On page 93, director Ben Sanders says, “The truth will come out sooner or later.” Would it be better for Carrie to tell Ben about her mistake right away or wait and see if it works itself out? Use an experience of your own as an example. Standard 3, Benchmark 3
  4. On page 41, assistant director Kelly reminds the cast, “There’s an old saying around the theater that there are no small roles, just small actors.” What does she mean by this? How is this true in school as well as in the theater? Standard 9, Benchmark 1


Suggested Activities:


  1. Write a class play on an ethical issue that students feel they would like to teach others about. Perform the play for peers. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
  2. Role play choices appropriate for third and fourth graders based on student or teacher generated social dilemmas. Standard 5, Benchmark 2
  3. Compare and contrast geography, school life, and social life for children in New York City and Brownsville, North Carolina. Standard 2, Benchmarks 2,4
  4. In the story, Kate McCarrity has modeled the characters in her Mike Madigan books from real people and events from her childhood. Think of an event that involves a friend or family member whom you would like to write about. You can change the names like Kate did to make the characters fictional. Standard 4, Benchmark 2


Donuthead, Sue Stauffacher
Alfred A. Knopf, 2003
ISBN: 0-375-92468-X
COST; $15.95


SYNOPSIS: Franklin Delano Donuthead is cursed with a name that’s an insult, a fear of germs and anything unhealthy, the schools worst bully and a mother who eats junk food. When he meets the new girl, Sarah Kervick, a rough and tumble, opposite force an unlikely friendship develops.

GENERAL REVIEW: Franklin is afraid of everything, Sarah is afraid of nothing. They couldn’t be more opposite but they may just be good for each other. Franklin is a very bright, very cautious boy who sees the world as full of danger and disease. He is on a first name basis with the chief statistician of the national safety board and he is sure that he is handicapped because one leg and one arm are slightly longer that the other. When Sarah Kervick enters Franklin’s life she turns everything upside down and challenges his view of the world. She is struggling to be “normal” even though she has trouble reading, lives with her father in a old, rusty trailer and has no money for clothes or even enough food. The adventures they encounter are interesting and Franklin’s perspective gives everything a special twist. It is a fun read and an entertaining look at an unlikely friendship.

THEMES: Friendship, Courage, Fear, Single parent families

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Sue Stauffacher lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband and two sons. Her web site is

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Standard 3 Benchmark 3

What does it mean when someone quotes the phrase “All you have to fear is fear itself?”

How many of the dangers that concern Franklin are present in your classroom? Are they things that are likely to happen? What should you do about such dangers?

Franklin is a pacifist. Sarah doesn’t believe in putting up with any “crap”. These are two extremes of dealing with bullies. How do you recommend dealing with bullies?

Sarah and Franklin both live in single parent families. Is that a major factor in how they see themselves? Why?


Do a survey of the potential safety issues in your classroom and school. What can you do about them? Standard 9 Benchmark 3

Research pacifists. What do they believe? What groups are identified as pacifists? What happens during a time of war? Standard 3 Benchmark 3

Research your school’s policies about bullies. How much of a problem is it? What happens to someone who attacks another student? What can you do about it? Standard 4 Benchmark 1

Grades 6-8

Ayers, Katherine. Macaroni Boy. (by Connie Schwartz) 

Collings, SuzanneGregor the Overlander.

Cushman,Karen. Rodzina. (by Amy Brownlee) 

DeFelice, Cynthia. Under The Same Sky (by Pam Harborl) 

DuPrau, Jeanne. The City of Ember (by Mary Evans) 

Hesse, Karen . Aleutian Sparrow . (by Amy Brownlee) 

Hobbs, Will . Jackie's Wild Seattle. (by Mary Evans) 

Korelitz, Jean . Interference P0wder (by Marj Lloyd) 

Murphy, Jim . An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 (by Arlene Wiler) 

Paulsen, Gary . How Angel Peterson Got His Name. (by Barb Bahm) 

Ray, Delia. Ghost Girl. (by Shirley Douglas) 

Swallow, Pamela Curtis. It Only Looks Easy. (by Wend Morris) 

White, Ruth. Tadpole. (by Connie Schwartz) 

Woodruff, Elvira . The Ravenmaster's Secret . (by Barb Bahm) 

Woodson, Jacqueline. Locomotion. (by Judy Druse) 

Macaroni Boy

Macaroni Boy
Katherine Ayres
Delacorte Press, 2003
Grade Level: 6-8
ISBN 0385730160

Synopsis: In Pittsburgh in 1933, sixth grader Mike Costa notices a connection between several strange occurrences, but the only way he can find out the truth about what’s happening is to be nice to the class bully. Includes historical facts. (Source: book)

General Review:

Grade 4-7-In 1933, as the Great Depression hits his Pittsburgh neighborhood, Mike Costa has a handful of problems to face. The family business is in financial trouble, his grandfather is losing his memory, and he faces bullying and anti-Italian prejudice at school. Meanwhile, his job as family rat catcher leads him to investigate the mysterious sickness that has killed some local hoboes, and affected his own grandfather. From the start, this fast-paced novel puts readers right into the vivid world of "the Strip" where Mike lives. His confused feelings of guilt about the neighborhood homeless and the squalid home of his bullying classmate add powerful human touches to the effects of the Depression. Though Mike has to rely on help from his archenemy, and helps him in turn, the boys quite realistically remain foes afterward. The mystery of why there are suddenly no rats for Mike to catch adds to the fast pace, though an encounter with moonshiners seems more contrived than other plot developments. As protagonist, Mike seems like an ordinary boy at first, but learns to solve his problems with intelligence, rather than the straightforward resistance his grandpa and uncles preach. His actions and his perceptions give readers an involving and informative kid's-eye look at several aspects of city life in the 1930s. Steven Engelfried, School Library Journal

Themes : Catholic Schools, Family life, Great Depression, Food Poisoning

Discussion Questions : From website

  • During the Great Depression most people in America experienced hard times. What sort of hard times do today’s children face? How is this different from life in the 1930s? What sort of worries did Mike have? And what sort of worries do children think about today? Which do you think are harder to deal with?
  • In past times people spoke of older people experiencing a second childhood or becoming senile. Today this problem is called dementia. What does that word mean and what language does it come from? What must it be like to see someone you love lose tough with reality?
  • Environmental pollution was a serious problem in cities and towns for much of human history. Rivers were the dumping places for industrial wastes and sewage. When and how did this start to change? When was the Environmental Protection Agency started and how does it work to help keep our land, air, and water clean? What can individuals or small groups of people do about this issue? What dangers still threaten us?
  • During periods of economic depression much of ordinary life is disrupted. Problems in one region or in one industry can lead to problems elsewhere, in an ever-widening circle. What caused the Great Depression of the 1930s? What factors made it worse? How and when did it finally end? In the book, Mike is nervous about the hobos. Who were they and how did they move about the country? How were they like to homeless people that live in many regions today? How were they different?
  • There’s an old saying, “It takes two to tango.” Encourage students to think about both Mike and Simms and how they behave. Which boy is more responsible for their conflict? Can students make a case for Simms and his side of the arguments? For Mike? What about the conflict between various ethnic groups I Mike’s neighborhood? In his family? How does this show up today?

Activity Suggestions :

  • Research Alzheimer’s disease. Write a short paper explaining the disease and discussing how the treatment of the illness has changed over time. Standard 2, Benchmark 4
  • Read about pollution and then create a poster discouraging pollution practices that affect the food supply. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
  • Using a decades book, read about the 1920s and 1930s. Make a Venn diagram showing significant events from each decade. Standard 3, Benchmark 1.

In a small group and using a problem solving model, discuss ways Mike could have handled Simm’s bullying. Standard 3, Benchmark 3, Standard 9, Benchmark 1.

Gregor the Overlander

Gregor the Overlander, Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 2003
Gr. 6-8
ISBN: 0-4394-3536-6
COST: $16.95 (also in paperback)

SYNOPSIS: In this first book of the five-part Underland Chronicles, Gregor follows his little sister’s fall into a grate in their New York City laundry room and discovers a fantastic city as well as his own destiny. Other books in the on-going series are Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane and Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods.


Gr 4-8- If you only have one copy of this book in your library, invest in another. Interest in this book spreads by word of mouth among students even before their teacher or librarian booktalks it. Between the believable characters, the lovable, competent cockroaches, and the fast-paced action, this is a book to grab even reluctant readers.

THEMES: Fantasy

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Suzanne Collins wrote for children’s television for many years. She now lives in Connecticut with her family.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Standard 3 Benchmark 3

See teaching guide website below.



Teaching guide:

Curriculum connections: 


Title : Rodzina
Author: Karen Cushman
Publisher: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin)
Grade Level: 6 th-8 th
ISBN # and cost: 0-618-13351-8, $16.00

Synopsis: One of a group of orphans, 12-year-old Rodzina boards a train on a cold day in March 1881. She’s reluctant to leave Chicago, the only home she can remember, and she knows there’s no substitute for the family she has lost. She expects to be adopted and turned into a slave—or worse, not to be adopted at all. As the train rattles westward, Rodzina unwittingly begins to develop attachments to her fellow travelers as she cleverly finds a way out of one bad situation after another. (from product description)

General Review:

It is 1881, and 12-year-old Rodzina finds herself on an orphan train bound from Chicago to the west where, she is sure, she will be sold into slavery. All of her family members have died tragically, and the large, unpretty, and standoffish girl can't believe she will be adopted into a loving home. Pressed into service to help with the younger children by tough Mr. Szprot and a stern young woman whom she calls Miss Doctor, Rodzina entertains the youngsters with colorful stories from her Polish heritage and watches as the more appealing children are adopted along the way. The story features engaging characters, a vivid setting, and a prickly but endearing heroine. The first-person narrative captures the personality and spirit of a child grieving for her lost family, yet resourceful and determined to make her own way. 
From School Library Journal -- Marie Orlando, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY -- Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Themes: Orphans; Orphan trains; Families

Author Information: 

  • Learning about Karen Cushman

  • Educational Paperback Association – Top 100 Authors (see bottom of this Web page for additional print author resources)

  • Karen Cushman – KidSpace @The Internet Public Library

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3, Benchmark 3)

1. What are some examples of prejudice in the story? Why do you think the author chooses to include them?
2. The adults in the story claim that they have the orphans' best interests in mind. When is this true? When is it not true?
3. How is Rodzina's ethnicity important to her? How does she let other people know this?
4. Rodzina doesn't always follow the rules. Do you think she is justified in doing this? In what instances does this behavior help her to survive?
5. Why do you think people say Lacey is "slow"? Do you agree? What examples support your opinion?
6. Despite their differences, how are Rodzina and Miss Doctor alike? Do you think they will be able to get along in the future?

(Discussion Questions from Houghton Mifflin Web site:

Activity Suggestions: 

1. Pretend you are an orphan on the orphan train trying to get adopted. Create a poster advertising all the great things about you and reasons why someone would want to adopt you. Be as persuasive as you can and really “sell” your good points. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1) 

2. Conduct research on orphan trains. The pathfinder at is a great place to start. As you research, focus on the following questions:

  • Why did the orphan trains exist?
  • What was life like for children who rode the orphan trains?
  • Why did some children have positive experiences, while others experienced tragedy?
  • How has our treatment of homeless children changed over the past century?
  • Could the orphan trains happen again? (Standard 1, Benchmark 1; Standard 2, Benchmark 4; Standard 3, Benchmark 3)(activity found online at:

Under The Same Sky

Title: Under the Same Sky
Author: Cynthia DeFelice
Grade Level: 6-8
Cost: $16.00

Synopsis: Joe longs for a motorbike for his 14 th birthday, but his father says he needs to earn the money for it. So Joe agrees to go to work with the crew of Mexican laborers who travel to his father’s New York farm each summer. At first, he resents the responsible crew boss, Manuel, who is only 16, because Manuel has his fathers’ respect in a way Joe doesn’t. Joe also finds the work of planting cabbages, weeding, hoeing, and picking strawberries terribly difficult and utterly exhausting. Soon Joe grows to appreciate the workers’ plight of earning money to send back home to heir families. Not only does he develop a crush on Manuel’s cousin, Louisa, but he begins to see that there is strong prejudice against the migrant workers. Only after the INS appears does Joe realize that some of the workers are illegals. When the rest of his family goes out of state to a family reunion, Joe makes the decision to help those workers escape to work at another farm. By the end of the story Joe has grown in every way and has earned his father’s respect.

General Review: At the beginning of Under the Same Sky Joe is a typical, self-centered 13 year old looking forward to his fourteenth birthday. His request for $899.00 motorbike makes his parents realize that he doesn’t understand the value of the earned dollar. It’s at this point that events are put into motion in which Joe is forced to confront many realities: working for money makes it worth more, his friends may not really be true friends, his father doesn’t especially respect him, sometimes a person has to do a wrong thing for the right reason, and that migrant workers are deserving of better treatment. Such weighty realizations could have made for preachy or dry reading, but DeFelice does a great job of incorporating all these lessons within the story and isn’t at all heavy-handed & adds a touch of romance to boot. She especially handles the immigration laws and its effects deftly, leaving the reader with a greater understanding and empathy for the workers. This is definitely a book that will be a good read for both boys and girls.

Themes: independence; choices; family relationships; father-son relationships; illegal aliens

Discussion Questions

Tell how Joe’s older sister, LuAnn, shows that her opinion of him has changed. ( Reading

Standard 1, Benchmark 5

What things have happened in Under the Same Sky that changed Joe’s opinion about his

friend Randy? (Literature Standard 4, Benchmark 2)

Do you think Luisa and the others made the correct decision in leaving Joe’s farm when

threatened by INS?( Reading Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

What is the significance of the title? (Reading Standard 1, Benchmark 5)

Suggested Activities

Find the meaning in the text or dictionary

of the following words: migra, periodico, perro, muy bueno. (Standard 1, Benchmark


Make a list of other books Cynthia DeFelice has written. Decide which one you might

like to read later. (Standard 1, Benchmark 1)

Choose a favorite passage from Under the Same

Sky and after practicing, read it to your group. (Standard 1, Benchmark 3)

City of Ember

City of Ember

Jeanne Duprau
Random House, 2003
Grade Level: 6 th – 8 th
ISBN 0-375-92274-1

Author Information:

Jeanne DuPrau has been a high school English teacher, an editor, and a technical writer. The City of Ember was her first novel. She has also written a sequel, The People of Sparks.


In the city of Ember, children leave school at the age of twelve and are assigned a job to “serve the city.” There are many assignments that must be filled to keep the city functioning properly: greenhouse helper, building repairer, clerk, messenger, pipeworks laborer, and the most important of all, electrician. Without the generator and electrical system that keeps Ember alight for twelve hours a day, the city would be in perpetual darkness, just like the unexplored Unknown Regions that surround them. Lina and Doon are schoolmates who share the same Assignment Day. They grow increasingly aware that their beloved city is deteriorating as the electrical system becomes less and less stable, and essential supplies dwindle. Lina’s discovery of an ancient, forgotten message for the citizens of Ember may be the means of saving the city, if only she and Doon can decipher its significance before the lights go out forever.

General Review:

The intrepid young hero and heroine of this novel will capture the imaginations of middle school readers, as the pair race to find a way to save their city from extinction. Readers are drawn into helping Lina and Doon decipher and interpret the message that will show them the way to help their people survive. The author’s use of language imparts a sense of urgency and impending doom that keeps the story moving.

Discussion Questions:


  • What is the meaning of the word “ember?” Why do you think this was chosen as the name of the city?
  • When Lina heard “The Song of the City,” she felt “a rush of joy and sadness mixed together.” What songs can you think of that affect you emotionally in this way?
  • Even though it made leaving more dangerous, Lina found she couldn’t leave Poppy behind. Who (or what) would you have to take with you if you were leaving home and might never be able to come back?

Activity Suggestions:

  • As the people of Ember used up the supplies that were stockpiled for their survival, their standard of living deteriorated over time. Have students identify resources (renewable and nonrenewable) that have an impact on their community, then have them design posters that promote conservation, production, or consumption of their resource. Kansas Library Media Standard 3, Benchmark 1
  • Doon has difficulty locating the information he needs in the Ember Library. Have students analyze his problem, and describe how information is organized in their school library to make information access easier. Kansas Library Media Standard 1, Benchmark 5

Lina and Doon had to piece together parts of a document and gather meaning from it, even though some key elements were missing. Challenge students by having them identify documents through a similar process, providing parts of words and spacing gaps for them to infer information through their prior knowledge of spelling, word choice, and sentence structure. Kansas Library Media Standard 3, Benchmark 3

Aleutian Sparrow  

Title: Aleutian Sparrow
Author: Karen Hesse
Publisher: Margaret McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Grade Level: 6 th-8 thISBN # and cost: 0-689-86189-6, $16.95

Synopsis: In June, 1942, Japanese forces attacked the Aleutian Islands. Within days of the attack, the U.S. military removed the Native people of these islands to relocation centers in Alaska's southwest, supposedly for their own protection. Conditions in these camps were deplorable. The Aleuts were held for approximately three years, and many of them died. In a series of short, unrhymed verses, Hesse tells this moving story through the eyes and voice of Vera, a girl of Aleut and Caucasian heritage. (from SLJ review, cited below)

General Review:

From School Library Journal
The novel begins at a happy time for Vera, in May, 1942, and ends with her return home in April, 1945. During the course of the story, readers see all that the Aleut people endure during these years-bewilderment, prejudice, despair, illness, death, and everyday living that does include moments of humor and even a budding romance for Vera. Hesse's verses are short and flow seamlessly, one into another. Her use of similes is a powerful tool in describing people, scenes, events, and emotions. Ending on a hopeful note, Aleutian Sparrow brings to light an important time in American history, and in the process introduces readers to Aleut culture.
Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Themes: Aleuts; Alaska; World War II; Internment/relocation camps; Historical fiction

Author Information: 

  • Karen Hesse –

  • Educational Paperback Association – Top 100 Authors (see bottom of this Web page for additional print author resources)

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3, Benchmark 3)

1. Describe Vera’s relationship with her mother.

2. Read page 103. Why does Vera think music would have helped them in the camp?

Do you agree that music holds this power?

*3. Why is the book named Aleutian Sparrow? See page 93 for help.
*4. What were the effects on the people and the environment of the relocation in both areas, the islands and mainland?

5. If you were forced from your home, what treasured possessions would you take with you? Why?
6. In the author’s note on page 155, Hesse writes: “The damage done in those three years to the Aleut culture is incalculable.” Explain how the culture, not just people and possessions, was damaged.

Activity Suggestions: 

*1. What constituted the ecosystem in the area during the time of this story? How is it the same or different today? (Standard 1, Benchmarks 1 and 3)

2. Study Hesse’s use of free verse poetry and identify some of her excellent examples of figurative language (similes, metaphors, personification, etc.). Write your own poem based on her free verse model being sure to include figurative language. (Standard 4, Benchmark 2) 

3. On page 88, Pari’s mother plans to write letters to the Indian bureau asking for help. Write your own letter from the point of view of someone at the camp persuading the government the help correct the unbearable conditions of the camp. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1) 

*Denotes discussion/activity question was created by Carolyn Spillman.

Jackie's Wild Seattle

Jackie’s Wild Seattle
Will Hobbs
HarperCollins, 2003
Grade Level: 6 th – 8 th
ISBN 0-688-17474-4

Author Information:

Will Hobbs is the award-winning author of many books for elementary, middle school, and young adult readers. He and his family live in Durango, Colorado.

Will Hobbs Website:


Shannon and her younger brother Cody have been sent to Seattle for the summer to visit their Uncle Neal while their parents, both doctors, are on a medical volunteer mission to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Uncle Neal involves them in rescue work for an animal shelter known as Jackie’s Wild Seattle.

General Review:

Will Hobbs’ likeable characters and realistic dialogue add to the enjoyment of this heart-warming tale of compassion, rehabilitation, and the importance of family. Readers who delight in animal stories and humorous adventures will find both, as well as dramatic wildlife rescues.

Discussion Questions:

In the story, Cody was an eyewitness to the events of September 11 th. How did it affect his behavior?

  • Shannon and Cody spent the summer in a totally different environment than they were used to in their normal lives. What were some of the most dramatic differences?
  • Shannon discovered that Uncle Neal had a secret he had kept from his family. What reasons do you think he had for keeping it from them? Why did Shannon feel she needed to keep his secret, too?

Activity Suggestions:

Doctors Without Borders, the organization that Shannon’s mom and dad were volunteering their medical services for in the story, is a real association. Visit their website at and research some of their humanitarian missions around the world. Kansas Library Media Standard 1, Benchmark 4

  • Shannon, Cody, and Uncle Neal enjoyed reading and sharing humorous bumper stickers they discovered. Have your students design and create a bumper sticker that relates to their own personal interests or philosophy. Kansas Library Media Standard 3, Benchmark 1
  • Will Hobbs used the Sarvey Wildlife Center in Arlington, Washington, as the basis for his fictional wildlife rescue center Jackie’s Wild Seattle. He read about it first in a newspaper article, then went on to discover more about the actual people and events described in the article. Assign a newspaper article to each student. Have them locate information from other resources that extends their understanding of the information presented in the article. Kansas Library Media Standard 1, Benchmark 1

Interference Powder

Interference Powder. Jean Hanff Korelitz
Gr. 6-8
ISBN: 0-7614-5139-0
Cost: $15.95


Fifth grader Nina discovers a mysterious powder in the bag of her substitute art teacher that changes her life. She finds that it changes her grade from 62 to 100 but there are unintended consequences. She loses her best friend, has to compete in a competition she is unprepared for, creates a flood, and sings when she wants to talk.


Nina finds a mysterious powder in the substitute teacher’s bag. It causes things that Nina draws to come true, but Nina discovers there are unintended consequences. Nina’s new high grade on her history test earns her a place on the quiz team for her class. This causes her best friend to hate her. Another use of the powder causes everything she says to come out as singing. The book has a happy ending where everything is resolved but there are funny scenes and a good lesson along the way. The author has written novels for adults and a book of poetry, but this is her first book for young readers.

THEMES: Humorous stories, Science Fiction, Magic, Consequences, Truth.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jean Korelitz lives in Princeton, NJ with her husband, two children, two cats, and three dogs.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: (Standard 2, Benchmark 1 and Standard 3, Benchmark 3)

  1. What kind of person was Nina at the beginning of the story? How did what happened change her?
  2. Nina and Isobel were very different, but still very good friends. Is it usual for friends to be very much alike or very different?
  3. Grownups often say, “Think before you act.” What does this mean and how does it apply to this story?
  4. Nina’s Aunt Sally was looking for her “passion.” Do you think that was important?
  5. What do you think of the Brain-Busters Extravaganza? Is it a good way to learn?


  1. Try Ms. Charlemagne’s art activity. Just draw a picture to see where your creativity takes you.
  2. Pick a subject you are studying in class. Create questions that could be used in a Brain-Busters game. Plan the way the game will be played. (Standard 2, Benchmark 1)

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

An American Plague, The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, Jim Murphy
Clarion Books , 2003
ISBN: 0-395-77608-2
COST; $17.00

SYNOPSIS: In 1793 a Yellow Fever epidemic swept Philadelphia and brought our new federal government to a standstill. This book explores the medical beliefs and practices of the time, the effect the disease had on the whole country and the people who made a difference.

GENERAL REVIEW: This is an excellent book which presents the facts of the event in a narrative style. Reproductions of paintings and drawings of the time add to the reality of the story. Individual chapters focus on different events and personalities that were important during this epidemic. Reprints from local newspapers, handbills, letters and lists of the dead add to the facts presented in a very effective way. This is an excellent non-fiction book which has been awarded the Robert F. Siebert Medal for Informational Books as well as a Newbery Honor and National Book Award.

THEMES: Medical history, Yellow Fever, Early Government of the United States

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jim Murphy lives with his family in Maplewood, New Jersey. He has written more than 25 children’s books and has won numerous awards including a Newbery honor, and the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award. Information is available in Something About the Author, 32, 37 & 77, Children’s Literature Review 53, Contemporary Authors 111 or at

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Standard 3 Benchmark 3

  • What caused the epidemic? How could it have been prevented?
  • Who helped care for the victims? Where were they cared for? Who buried the ones who died?
  • What were some of the medical theories for dealing with the disease? Which ones helped and which ones made the victim worse?
  • Why did this epidemic have a strong impact on the Federal Government? Could something like this happen now?


  • Research other plagues that have been epidemic in the United States? What diseases are creating the most danger now? What can we do about them? Standard 1 Benchmark 5
  • Read about Homeland Security and explore the plans that are in place to help the government keep functioning in case of another emergency. Standard 3 Benchmark 3

Research current medical treatments for Yellow Fever and other communicable diseases. How have treatments changed since 1793? Standard 1 Benchmark 4

How Angel Peterson Got His Name

How Angel Peterson Got His Name: and other outrageous tales about extreme sports
Gary Paulsen
Wendy Lamb Books, ISBN 0-385-72949-9 $12.95



Author Gary Paulsen relates tales from his youth in a small town in northwestern Minnesota in the late 1940s and early 1950s, such as skiing behind a souped-up car and imitating daredevil Evel Knievel.


Paulsen accounts for his 13 th year when he and his friends tried to shoot a waterfall in a barrel, break the world record for speed on skis, hang glide with a parachute, and perform other daredevil stunts. Stories are fresh and lively and will appeal to every boy who is 13 or who remembers being 13 and especially the reluctant middle-grade readers. Readers will pick up the novel for the extreme sports aspect but will read about a past generation’s version of homemade fun.


Adventures & Adventurers, American Authors, Childhood and youth, Sports and Recreation


Writers for Young Adults (Scribner’s Sons); Continuum Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature (Continuum); Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults (Gale Research); Favorite Children’s Authors and Illustrators (Traditions Books); Sixth Book of Junior Authors; Something About the Author, vol. 54

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

Your television isn’t working. What type of activities would you do in place of watching television?

  1. What type of safety gear is used today that wasn’t used back in the forties?
  2. One adventure in the book was wrestling a bear at the state fair. How do you feel about animal fighting against other animals or humans? Is it inhumane? What about research using animals?
  3. What activities have you tried after seeing them on television, hearing about them on the radio or reading about them in a book?
  4. This book is a biography. Did you notice anything in this book which is also in any of Paulsen’s fiction books you’ve read?


  1. Research extreme sports of today. Find one that relates to an event in the book. Note similarities between extreme sports today and extreme sports in the book. (Standard 1, Benchmark 2; Standard 5)
  2. Find an article on bear fighting, discuss and support your opinions on the issue. Is it inhumane? What are the possible consequences of fighting bears? (Standard 1, Benchmark 2; Standard 2, Benchmark 2)
  3. What are the top male and female world records for land speed skiing? Compare the record in the story to the records of today. What does this say about the progress in sports? (Standard 1, Benchmark 2; Standard 1, Benchmark 5)
  4. Write an essay on “How to Avoid Dog Bites”! Research for suggestions. Include a time in which you have had an encounter with an aggressive dog. (Standard 1, Benchmark 2; Standard 2, Benchmark 2)
  5. Compare the features of the 1939 Ford Sedan to the 2004 Ford vehicles of today. What are the similarities and differences? (Standard 1, Benchmark 2; Standard 1, Benchmark 5)
  6. Research Minnesota and your home state. Make a chart listing interesting facts and places of interest. Which state offers the most to tourists? (Standard 1, Benchmark 2; Standard 1, Benchmark 5; Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  7. Interview someone you know who lived as a teenager during the 1940s. How did their pastimes compare to those you read about in the book? (Standard 1, Benchmark 3; Standard 1, Benchmark 4)

Ghost Girl: A Blue Ridge Mountain Story

Ghost Girl: A Blue Ridge Mountain Story Ray, Delia
Ghost Girl: A Blue Ridge Mountain Story
Clarion (224 pp.) 
Grade Level: 6 th -8th
ISBN: 0-618-33377-0


Eleven-year-old April is delighted when President and Mrs. Hoover build a school near her Madison County, Virginia, home but her family's poverty, grief over the accidental death of her brother, and other problems may mean that April can never learn to read from the wonderful teacher, Miss Vest.


From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8-April Sloane is called "ghost girl" because of her white-blonde hair and light eyes. She feels like a ghost because since the accidental death of her younger brother a year previously, her mother has fallen in to a deep depression and never seems to see her any more. The 11-year-old lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains and has never attended school, so when she learns that President Hoover and his wife are building one nearby, she is thrilled. However, her mother flatly refuses to let her go, until her grandmother, Aunt Birdy, intervenes. April is an eager student and loves her teacher, Miss Vest, but her mother soon pulls her out and rejects all appeals-from April, Aunt Birdy, and Miss Vest. Then, April's secret about her brother's death comes to light, resulting in a two-year estrangement between the girl and her parents, only somewhat healed when Aunt Birdy falls ill and dies. During those two years, April lives with Miss Vest and realizes that the future is waiting for her. There are many novels out about the lives of mountain children, but this excellent portrayal of four important years in a girl's life rises to the top. Based on a real school and teacher, this novel seamlessly incorporates historical facts into the narrative. April is an engaging character, always eager to learn but also struggling with her desire for her mother's approval. A first-rate purchase for all libraries.
Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA


School, Families, Appalachian Mountains, Teachers


Website: Author/Illustrator Bio: Houghton Mifflin Website with additions from the back flap of the book.

Delia Ray is the author of three young adult nonfiction books. She has long had an interest in history, and was thrilled to discover the little-known collection of letters that formed the basis of this novel. Delia Ray grew up in tidewater Virgina, within a half-day’s drive of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She lives with her family in Iowa . She has written 2 other books for young adult nonfiction about American History entitled Behind the Blue and Gray and One Nation Torn. A personal website was not found.

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3, Benchmark 3)

1. What would your life be like if you were not allowed to go to school? How would it be different? How would it be the same?

2. How did loosing a child affect Aprils’ Mom? If your Mom lost a child, how would your life be different?

3. Compare and contrast April’s life at Ms. Vest’s home with at her life at home?

4. Why did they all want to go to school?


1. find the physical location of the Applachian Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountain range. What states are the home to the Blue Ridge Mountain range? (Standard 2, Benchmark 4)

2.If you could not go to school, write a daily agenda for what activities you would be doing at home in 1929. What activities did April have to perform? (Standard Standard 3, Benchmark 2)

3. Select a significant event in the story and illustrate the event with a drawing. Be sure to include the page number of the event and compose an original caption for the drawing. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

4, Find an authoritative biography of Lou Henry Hoover online. Evaluate the biography for source and relevance of information. Explain how the Presidents Mountain School came into being. (Standard 2, Indicator 1)

It Only Looks Easy

Title: It Only Looks Easy
Author: Pamela Curtis Swallow
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press Brookfield, CT
Copyright Date: 2003
Grade Level: 6-8
ISBN: 0-7613-1790-2 (Trade Edition) 
0-7613-2866-1 (Library Binding) 
Cost: $15.95

Author Information:

Themes: Differences, Fear, Responsibility, Kindness, Friendship,

Family, Trust, Middle School, Alzheimer’s Disease,

Synopsis: (taken from the inside front flap)

Before the first day of seventh grade is over, Kat Randall’s year is nearly ruined. When her beloved dog, Cheddar, is over by a woman with Alzheimer’s disease, Kat reacts impulsively, leaving school on a “borrowed” bike to get to the veterinary hospital.

Kat often does the wrong thing for the right reason, but now she has gone from being a person you can count on to someone you probably shouldn’t. Suddenly she is looked at differently—by kids in school, the principal, and even the police. If “one of the best years” of her life starts out like this, what’s next?

You’ll root for Kat as she finds out that It Only Looks Easy.

General Review: From School Library Journal

Grade 4-7-On her first day in seventh grade, Kat Randall learns that her impetuosity can lead to serious consequences. After her beloved retriever is hit by a car driven by an elderly woman with Alzheimer's, Kat cannot wait any longer to hear about her dog's condition; she "borrows" a bike from school grounds and heads to the vet. Cheddar will ultimately pull through but Kat's troubles have just begun, because the bike gets stolen and she must earn the money to replace it. More bikes are taken from school and the police view Kat as a suspect. She becomes increasingly involved with Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence (the woman who hit Cheddar), staying with her so that her husband can occasionally get out. Kat's generous, impulsive nature is still in evidence, but she slowly learns responsibility, realizing that everyone deals with issues of one sort or another. Ultimately, the thieves are caught, Kat is exonerated, and she regains her sense of being a person who can be relied upon to do the right thing. Kat is a funny, warmhearted character whose voice immediately grabs readers. Snappy dialogue, sympathetic adults as well as unpleasant ones, and descriptions of the ways in which an action can have major repercussions all add to this touching, perceptive, highly readable novel that is sure to strike a chord with readers.

B. Allison Gray, South Country Library, Bellport, NY

Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Discussion Questions:

  • How would you describe Katia?
  • What is Katia’s first impression of Grace? How does Kat’s impression change as she gets to know Grace?
  • Why would Dennis pick on Katia after he heard she stole Melody’s bike?
  • Do you think Kat did the right thing by calling Melody once the police discovered her bike in the river?
  • Do you think it was right for Kat’s parents to make her work off the money she owed them for replacing Melody’s stolen bike? Why or why not?
  • After completing the book, what is your impression of Grace Fuhrman?

Activity Suggestions:

1. Write an advertisement describing the missing bike in the story. (standard 5, benchmark 3)

2. 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.

Websites: 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.

3. Fold a sheet of paper in two and illustrate two events from the story in which Katia demonstrated compassion for others. (standard 3, benchmark 1)

4. Pretend that Kat is your friend; write her a letter giving her advice on how to handle one of the though situations she has gotten herself into. (Examples may include: borrowing the bike then it is stolen, her dog getting hit, her best friend is upset with her for helping Grace with math, losing track of Mrs. Lawrence while getting their drinks, or handling the teasing from Dennis) (standard 3, benchmark 1)


Ruth White
Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2003
Grade Level 6-8
ISBN 0374310025

Synopsis :

In rural Kentucky in 1955, Sheridan Collins, single mother of four lively girls, discovers that her orphaned nephew is being subject to brutality.

General Review :

Reminiscent of White's Belle Prater's Boy (Farrar, 1996), this first-person narrative is set in Appalachia in the 1950s and told in the lilting tones of Kentucky hill-country speech. Carolina Collins is the youngest of four daughters; all of whom seem to have found what is special about them. Kentucky, the oldest at 14, is the most popular; 12-year-old Virginia is the prettiest; and Georgia, at 11, is the smartest. Mama, a single mother, works hard but indulges the girls' whims to the point that money goes toward a movie matinee rather than the electric bill. Indeed, the Collins girls have a reputation for being loud, spoiled, and whining. Their cousin Tadpole, a charismatic 13-year-old orphan with an optimistic outlook, arrives, having run away from his uncle, who has beaten him with a horsewhip and treated him as free labor. The fact that the uncle's son died a mysterious death adds an ominous note to the story. But Tad stays upbeat, inventing his own truths when the truth hurts too much. He loves playing the guitar and singing country music, and he helps Carol realize that this is her special talent, too. After Mama loses the court battle to remove Tad from his uncle's guardianship, the boy runs away to Nashville, leaving Carol his guitar and his belief in her. The sisters learn a hard lesson about their behavior, and the family's future changes when Mama meets a man with four sons. White skillfully re-creates the time and place, and her superbly drawn characters possess the resiliency of spirit necessary to transform themselves. Connie Tyrrell Burns, School Library Journal.

Themes : Child Abuse, Orphans, Cousins, Family Life

Author Information:

Ruth White grew up in Southwest Virginia in the Jewell Valley. She loved being read to as a little girl and continued to love it when she could read herself. She started writing stories and plays she and her friends acted out in the second or third grade, and when she was in high school, she wrote short stories. While a student at Pfeiffer College, she took all the writing courses offered. A teacher who was a writer also influenced her.

White’s father was a coal miner who was killed in a brawl when she was six. The family was forced to leave their camp house and moved to Loggy Bottom for one year. They then moved near Grundy-Little Prater. When she was in eighth grade, the family moved to Michigan. Ruth only stayed one year, because she missed the hills so much. She stayed with an aunt and uncle near Grundy during high school.

White was teaching seventh and eighth grade in Mt. Pleasant, in North Carolina when she wrote her first book, The City Rose. After a divorce from her second husband in Georgia, she moved to Virginia Beach and A.R.E. where she is now a full-time librarian. Other books include Belle Prater’s Boy, Sweet Creek Holler, and Weeping Willow. 

Discussion Questions:

  • Tadpole’s parents had both died by the time Tadpole was 4. Nobody wanted to keep him so he was passed from one relative to another. Why do you think no one would take him to live with them? What would happen to him today? What kinds of problems do you think would cause for Tadpole? For you?
  • Carolina thinks they are poor, but thought that they were pretty well off? How were they well off? What makes people poor? Can rich people be poor?
  • The Collin’s girls did not help their mother very much as the start of the book. By the end they were doing their share of the work. What caused them to change? What kinds of chores do you do to help around the house? Do you think children should have jobs to do?
  • When Mr. Birch came to get Tadpole, the Collin’s were breaking the law when they hid him. Do you think it was or for them to break the law? Why or why not? What are some examples when you think it would be ok to break a law? Why?
  • When the family went to the carnival, Carolina realized that Tad was born for show business. What made her think that? Give some examples found throughout the book that support her belief.

Activity Suggestions: 

  • Research child abuse. Write a one-page paper including the definition of child abuse, the consequences of abuse, and what can be done to prevent abuse. Standard 2, Benchmark 4
  • Find a website that gives you information about square dancing. Write a paragraph explaining how and where square dancing started. Make a list of calls and what the calls mean. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
  • Working in a small group, plan a Fourth of July picnic. Decide what food you will have, where it will be, and what games and other activities you will do. Standard 3, Benchmark 1 and Standard 9, Benchmark 1
  • The book takes place in rural Kentucky. Look at a map of Kentucky and see if Polly’s Fork is a real place. Make a map of Polly’s Fork, Kentucky, and the surrounding area. Note important geographical features of the state. Standard 3, Benchmark1

The Ravenmaster's Secret

Ravenmaster’s Secret Elvira Woodruff
Scholastic, ISBN 0-439-28134-2 $4.99


They were eleven years old. The year was 1735. She was the enemy, a young Scottish prisoner. He was her jailer, the Ravenmaster’s son. Together they met deep in the confines of England’s most fortified castle, the Tower of London, a place where terror ruled the day…a place where their friendship could cost them their lives!


 The Ravenmaster’s Secret is a historical adventure, with a unique setting. A story about friendship and war, love and hate, weakness and courage. It’s about a boy who grows up in the middle of the Tower of London in 1735, and passes the ultimate test of courage and friendship. Suspense, excitement and interesting characters add to the vivid images of eighteenth-century London. Author’s note, a history of the Tower of London, and a glossary of unfamiliar English and Scottish words are appended.


Bullies, 18 th Century, Jacobites, Prisoners, Social Situations, Tower of London, Friendships, Executions, Castles, Heroes


More information can also be found at

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

  1. How did Forrest deal with the bullies? Was his father’s advice useful? Why do you think people become bullies? How can you protect yourself from bullies?
  2. What kinds of things fuel a war? What was the War between the Scottish and the English at the time of the book? What was it about?
  3. How important was Forrest’s family to him? Discuss why he chose to stay with them in the Tower. Discuss Maddy and what her family meant to her. How did her grandfather influence her life? What were her best memories? What was it like for Ned to have no family?
  4. What are the consequences of war besides the loss of human life?
  5. Discuss how Forrest struggled with the problem of disobeying his King and helping Maddy.


  1. Take a virtual tour of the Tower of London at (Standard 1, Benchmark 4)
  2. Study the map in the book and create a game called Escape From the Tower. Make cardboard figures of Forrest, Maddy, Ned, Tuck, Simon Frick, and the Ravenmaster. Come up with a good game plan to move the figures around the board. The loser falls into the moat. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  3. Following the map in the book, make a 3-D diorama of the White Tower, the Bloody Tower, Tower Green etc. be sure to add the moat. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  4. What historical sites have you visited? Write a short story using your visit as an inspiration. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 2; Standard 3, Benchmark 4)
  5. Turn your classroom into the Tower of London for the day. (Standard 9, (Benchmark 4)

You can find other discussion questions and activities like these at


Locomotion. Jacqueline Woodson; Putnam Juvenile, 2003
Grade Level: 6-8
ISBN and cost: 0399231153 $15.99

Synopsis: Lonnie Collins ‘Locomotion’ Motion uses poetry as a way to express his jumbled feelings – about the fire that killed his parents, his new foster home, separation from his little sister Lili, his classmates and teacher Ms. Marcus, and coming to terms with the past while moving forward.

General review: Locomotion is a novel in verse that delves into the mind of an eleven-year-old boy who feels out of place, on the outside. Preteens and adolescents will relate to Lonnie and the difficult issues he faces, be interested in what he has to say, and be encouraged by his spirit, hopefulness, strength, and belief in himself. Lonnie’s voice is honest, sometimes humorous, oftentimes heartbreaking; the poetry is simple, but presented in various forms. Locomotion will touch the heart of all young readers and keep them turning pages to see how the story unfolds.

Discussion Questions:

  • The Epistle Poem (page 24) is a letter. In Hip Hop Rules the World (page 70) Ms. Marcus says that rap is poetry. What is poetry? Where does poetry start and prose stop? Do you think letters and rap songs are poetry?
  • In the first poem Miss Edna appears stern and crabby. Do you believe she really cares for Lonnie? Why or why not?
  • Lonnie experiments with many different forms of poetry. Which poem do you think captures the emotions and point of view of an adolescent best?
  • Ms. Marcus says Lonnie has “a poet’s heart.” What do you think she means by this?
  • Does Lonnie remind you of yourself or any of your friends? Why?

Activity Suggestions:

  • Discuss with students the various forms of poetry used in Locomotion - free verse, haiku, sonnet, epistle, list, epitaph, rap - and ask them to write their own poems following the various poetic forms. Standard 5. Benchmark 3.
  • Lonnie’s friend Eric has sickle cell anemia. Ask students to conduct research on this disease. Standard 1. Benchmark 5.
  • Lonnie mentions in several poems the African American poet Langston Hughes. Ask students to find a Langston Hughes poem they think Lonnie would like and read it to the class. Standard 3. Benchmark 2.