Curriculum Guides


Grades 3 - 5

Archer’s Quest. By Park, Linda Sue

Clementine. By Pennypacker, Sue

Drita My Homegirl. By Lombard, Jenny

Free Baseball. By Corbett, Sue

Julia's Kitchen. By Ferber, Brenda

Larger-Than-Life Lara. By Mackall, Dandi Daley

Phineas L. MacGuire Erupts!: The First Experiment. By Dowell, Frances O Roark

Punished. By Lubar, David

The Road to Paris. By Grimes, Nikki

Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledge Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic. By Jenkins, Emily

Wings. By Loizeaux, William


Grades 6 - 8

All of the Above. By Pearsall, Shelley

Confessions from the Principal’s Chair. By Myers, Anna

Counting On Grace. By Winthrop, Elizabeth

Gossamer. by Lowry, Lois

Hattie Big Sky. By Larson, Kirby

Jumping the Scratch. By Weeks, Sarah

Listen. By Tolan, Stephanie S.

The Mailbox. By Shafer, Audrey

One-Handed Catch. By Auch, Mary Jane

Rules. By Lord, Cynthia

Singing Hands. By Ray, Delia

The Wright 3. By Balliett, Blue

Yellow Star. by Roy, Jennifer


Archer’s Quest

 Archer’s Quest , Linda Sue Park, Clarion Books, 2006

Grade Level: 3-5


ISBN-13: 978-0-618-59631-7, $16.00

ISBN-10: 0-618-59631-3, $16.00

Paperback (due out May 13, 2008)

CD, Audio download


Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by permission of the publisher.”


Synopsis: While doing his homework one grey February afternoon, Kevin is caught off guard when an arrow whizzing through the air takes his baseball hat right off his head! As he helps this gruff intruder find his way home he learns much about himself, his family’s heritage and an appreciation of history. 

 General Review: 

  Once again, Linda Sue Park uses a present day story to reach back in time to explore the history of a country and people. This story goes back in time before Korea was a country and explains its origin. Her main character, Kevin, shows much ingenuity as he uses his research skills and critical thinking to help him on his quest to return Koh Chu-mong to his time in history. Although the story takes place in less than a day, it’s believable. I think it will interest many readers, especially if they have read other books by this author.

Themes: Tongmyong Wang, King of Korea, 58-19 B. C.; Time travel; Magic; Kings, queens, rulers, etc.: Korea – History – To 935; Korean Americans

Author Information: this is the author’s own site;

 Discussion Questions: 

  1. How would you have helped Koh Chu-mong get back to his time in history?
  2. What do you know about your family’s history? Is knowing one’s family’s history important?
  3. In what year were you born? Are you a Rat, Monkey, or maybe a Tiger?
  4. What resources and research skills did Kevin use to help his new friend?
  5. Describe what Koh Chu-mong look like using clues from the story.


Although this story takes place in a single day, make a timeline of all Kevin did to help Archie.

(Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

Locate a Chinese Zodiac calendar that lists the character traits for each animal. Do you have some of the traits list for the year/animal of your birth? You may want to use a Venn diagram to show the characteristics you share.

(Standard 6, Benchmark 1; Standard 9, Benchmark 1)

Pick a scene from the story, and work together with a group of friends to write a brief play about the scene. The time travel scenes make excellent choices. For an audience, act out the scene with your group using costumes and props. Be sure the scene is accurate from the book and has a clear beginning, middle, and end.

(Standard 5 Benchmark 3 and Standard 9 Benchmark 1)

 Similar books for Further Reading: 

Any of Linda Sue Park’s books

Betsy Byars. Computer Nut

Dan Gutman . Virtually Perfect

Books for further reading on Korean culture:

Choi, Sook Nyul. Year of the Impossible Goodbyes (and sequels) Wong, Janet. Suitcase Full of Seaweed and Other Poems Yoo, Paula. Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds.


Clementine. Sara Pennypacker; Hyperion, 2006

Grade Level: 3-5

ISBN & Cost: 978-0786838820, $14.99

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets:

Preferred wording: From CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker. Illustrations by Marla Frazee. Copyright © 2006. Reprinted by permission of Hyperion Books for Children. All rights reserved.

Synopsis: Eight-year-old Clementine describes the hilarious antics of her daily life in her own unique voice. This light-hearted story includes worthwhile themes: thinking through the consequences of your actions, taking responsibility for mistakes, trying to make things right when you have wronged or upset someone, and loving someone for who they are, no matter their quirks or eccentricities.

General Review: 

  Author Sara Pennypacker has created a delightful and mischievous character in Clementine. The writer’s well-voiced depiction of this quirky eight-year-old shows that Clementine is creative, artistic, good-hearted, and impulsive. Although Clementine means well, she does not always think through the consequences of her actions, which causes disastrous – and hilarious – results. You will alternately laugh and groan aloud as you witness Clementine’s ups and downs. This title garnered starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews in addition to winning a number of best-book awards from various respected organizations and publications.

Themes: Friendship, family life, apartment houses, schools, humorous stories.

 Author information: 

  • Book Browse Biography: Sara Young (a/k/a Sara Pennypacker)

  • Hyperion Books for Children: Sara Pennypacker bio

  • Hyperion Books for Children: book, author, and illustrator info

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3, Benchmark 3) 


  1. Read page 1 of the story aloud. What do we already know about Clementine from just one page of text? How does the author draw us into the story?
  2. If you were Margaret, would you still want to be friends with Clementine after the hair incident? Why or why not?
  3. Do you agree with how Clementine’s parents handled the incident with Margaret? Why or why not? What would you do differently?
  4. Is Clementine a good friend? Why or not? Cite examples from the story to back up your opinion.
  5. Everyone has coping mechanisms—things they do to make themselves feel better when something bad happens. What are Clementine’s coping mechanisms? What do you do to help yourself cope when something bad happens?
  6. If you got to spend an afternoon with Clementine, what would you want to do together?




  1. Read aloud a portion of the book. Practice reading it expressively and fluently. This story has such great voice that it lends itself well to oral reading. You could also act out a scene with a friend (like cutting Margaret’s hair in the school bathroom—just pretend!). (Standard 5, Benchmark 2)
  2. Clementine creates a special hat for Margaret that includes some of Margaret’s favorite things (pg. 114-116). Create your own hat that features your favorite things, or create a hat for a character from another book. Wear your hat and present it to the class, explaining each item on the hat and its significance. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  3. Write a persuasive letter from Clementine to Margaret’s mother explaining why Clementine should still be able to spend time with Margaret. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4; Standard 9, Benchmark 1)


Similar Books for Further Reading

  • Sequel: The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
  • Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park
  • Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
  • Gooney Bird Greene and Gooney Bird and the Room Mother by Lois Lowry

Ida B…and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and Possibly Save the World by Katherine Hannigan

Drita My Homegirl

 Drita My Homegirl . Lombard, Jenny; G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006.

Grade Level: 3-5

ISBN & Cost: 0-3999-24380-1 $15.99

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: Drita, My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard. Copyright © 2006. Used with permission of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.


Synopsis: When ten-year old Drita and her family arrive as refugees from war-torn Kosovo, she is teased by the popular and sassy class clown Maxie. The two girls form an unlikely friendship as Maxie completes her punishment, a social studies report on Drita and Kosovo.


General Review: 

As a New York City public school teacher who often taught classes filled with many different non-English speakers, Lombard weaves her experience into the story of Drita, a fifth-grade Kosovan refugee in NYC. While it is more common to address the trials of American immigrants by reading historical fiction set during the immigrant waves of the 19 th century, Lombard helps us see the unique challenges faced by today’s immigrants. Children who catch news reports about war and violence across the globe will gain a new understanding and empathy for those affected as they “see” through the eyes of a peer. Lombard’s skillful paralleling of schoolyard bullying to the conflict in the Balkans helps demystify a complicated subject.

Themes: Refugees; Emigration and immigration; Albanian Americans; Family life – New York (State); Friendship; Schools; New York (N.Y.)


Author information: 

Author’s website

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  • How is the bullying that takes place on the playground similar to war? How is it different? Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast.
  • What should the consequences be for those who bully? What should the consequences for countries that start wars be?
  • Do you think that bullying and discrimination happen to non-native students in today’s classrooms? If so, do you think that over the years it has gotten better, worse, or stayed the same?
  • Adults don’t always see the problems faced by young people, especially when young people don’t ask for help. What problems does Drita try to face by herself? Why doesn’t she ask for help?
  • What do Drita and Maxie have in common and do you think they will become friends? Why? What is friendship and why is it so important in this book?


  • Learn more about the Albanians who live in Kosovo and Albania. There are some excellent periodical articles available through SIRS Discoverer (available FREE to all schools in Kansas). Using print and digital resources, have students make a list of Top Ten Facts about Albania and/or Kosovo or write a report on the problems Albanians have experienced. (Standard 1, Benchmark 5; Standard 2, Benchmark 4)
  • Interview someone who was has immigrated to the United States. Share what you learned with your class. (Standard 9, Benchmarks 1-4)
  • On February 18, 2008 Kosovo declared its independence and became a new country! It is no longer part of Serbia or Yugoslavia. Provide an old ATLAS or globe as well as a current map. Compare the two maps and note the copyright on each. Describe why it is important to know about your map before you use it. (Standard 2, Benchmark 1)
  • Explore the ancient and unique culture of the Albanians. Read the Albanian article in CultureGrams and practice nodding ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in Albanian. Listen to traditional Albanian folk music, and look at pictures of Albania, Albanian people, and Albanian art from some of the sources listed. Have students write an acrostic poem using the word ‘Albania’ as if they were Drita, missing her homeland. (Standard 5, Benchmark ; Standard 7 Benchmark 1)

Similar Books for Further Reading

Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo. Filipovic, Zlata: Penguin, 1995.

Girl of Kosovo. Mead, Alice; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.

Additional Resources about Albania/Kosovo

  • "Albania." CultureGrams. World Edition. Vol. 2. Provo, UT: Proquest Information & Learning Company and Brigham Young University, 2006. 4 vols. 1-4.
  • Albania: A New Mediterranian Love. 2008. 15 January 2008 <>.
  • (keyword ‘Albanian Folk Music’)
  • Boulat, Alexandra. "Eyewitness Kosovo." National Geographic February 2000: 72-83.
  • Doder, Dusko. "Albania Opens the Door." National Geographic July 1992: 66-93.
  • "Kosovo's Road to Independence." The Washington Post 17 February 2008.
  • Rozen, Laura. "A Beginner's Guide to the Balkans." Student Briefings 19 April 1999. From SIRS Discoverer database.
  • Schemo, Diana J. "Carrying Little but Hope, Albanian Refugees Begin Arriving." New York Times 6 May 1999.
  • Vesilind, Pritt. "Albanians: A People Undone." National Geographic February 2000: 52-71.

Free Baseball

Free Baseball. Sue Corbett; Penguin Group, 2006 (Puffin reprint 2008)

Grade Level: 3 – 5

ISBN & Cost: 0142410802

ISBN 978-0142410806 $5.99


Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: Free Baseball by Sue Corbett. Copyright © 2006. Used with permission of Dutton Children’s Books, a division Penguin Young Readers Group.

Synopsis:  Felix knows very little about his father, and what he knows is that his father is a baseball legend in Cuba. Tired of not knowing more Felix finds himself as a stowaway on a visiting Florida baseball team’s bus hoping to get some answers!

General Review: 

Free Baseball is a touching and entertaining story about a boy’s quest to know about his father. Using the story of baseball, a favorite pastime in Cuba and the United States, Sue Corbett gives readers a glimpse into the issues facing Cuban immigrants when they come to the United States. She also addresses the hardships of single-parent families. Third graders and older students will be drawn to the mystery of Felix’s father and what happened to him, relate to Corbett’s endearing and fun characters, and will enjoy the thrill of the baseball game.

Themes: Cuba, Immigration, baseball, single-parent families, the American Dream

Author information:  According to her website Sue Corbett is the daughter of Irish immigrants, grew up in New York, started her career as a journalist, loves baseball (author of Fall Ball) , and her first novel, 12 Again was the International Reading Association honor book and won the 2006 California Young Readers Medal. You can also read about her at Kids Read:

Discussion Questions:  Come up with 3 to 5 broad questions students could discuss after reading the book.

  • Do you know where you ancestors may have come from before they settled in the United States?
  • If you could interview anybody in your family about your family tree and background, who would you ask and why?
  • What are some of the challenges immigrants face in the country they settle in?
  • What are some of the challenges single-parent families face and how can they overcome some of them? How did talking with each other help Felix and his mother understand each other better?
  • Felix loved being a part of The Miracle’s baseball team even though the work was hard and not glamorous. Do you see yourself as a team member in your family and in your class? Maybe you belong to other kinds of teams as well. What is your role on these different teams?


  • Felix was an immigrant to the United States from Cuba, interview members of your family to learn about where you ancestors came from. Create a poster that visually demonstrates your family’s heritage. (Standard 1, Benchmark 3)
  • The United States is a nation made up of immigrants, using different resources (autobiographies, biographies, newspapers, etc.) do some research and write a one page paper about one famous United States immigrant and their contributions to this country. Present a summary of your paper to your fellow students (Standard 9, Benchmark 2)
  • Forming different teams and using different resources (encyclopedias, Almanac, newspapers, etc) research Cuba and create a diagram (e.g. Venn diagram) or chart(s) to demonstrate differences and similarities between Cuba and the United States. (Standard 11, Benchmark 2)


Julia’s Kitchen

 Julia’s Kitchen. Brenda Ferber; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Grade Level: 3 – 5

ISBN & Cost: Hardback ISBN: 0374399328 9780399245374; $16.00

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by permission of the publisher.”

 Synopsis: While Cara spends the night with her best friend, Marlee, her own home catches fire, killing her mother, Julia, her younger sister, Janie, and devastates her father who was unable to save them. A loving family, kind friends and the rituals of the Jewish faith are not strong enough to rebuild the bonds between father and daughter. It seems hopeless that Cara and her father will ever become a family again until he discovers her secret kitchen.

 General Review: 

 Julia’s Kitchen begins with a tragedy but ends happily. Grief and how the surviving parent and child cope with it is the main theme of Julia’s Kitchen. The rituals of Jewish life in Chicago form an underlying theme in the story. A glossary strengthens this concept. Friendship between girls with its stresses and successes comprise a third theme. Each theme could be considered a separately but Brenda Ferber weaves the storyline so artfully that Julia’s Kitchen becomes a unified and most memorable book. It is one that cannot be put down easily and should please upper elementary readers. Brenda Ferber has written a strong and charming first novel. Let us hope that there are many more.

 Themes: Grief and its impact on the father-daughter relationship; Jewish life; Cookery.

 Author Information: Ferber’s website is as charming as her award winning first book, Julia’s Kitchen. She says on the opening page: “ Hi! So glad you found me here on the web. I am living proof that with hard work and determination dreams can come true. I’ve wanted to be a children’s book author ever since I was a little girl, and now my first book, Julia’s Kitchen, is out in bookstores!”

 Awards: Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner, 2007

Bank Street Best Book of the Year, 2007

VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers, 2006

Junior Library Guild Selection, 2007

Nominee William Allen White Book Award, Kansas, 2008-2009


 Reviews: Booklist 02/01/06

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 05/01/06

Horn Book 10/01/06

Kirkus Review starred 04/01/06

Library Media Connection 01/01/07

Multicultural Review 12/01/06

School Library Journal 04/01/06

 Discussion Questions (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

  1. Grief which can be defined as great sadness or deep sorrow is very difficult to overcome. After reading the first chapters allow the children to talk about the impact of the fire on Cara and her father.
  2. In her grief Cara questions the role of God in her life. Using some of Cara’s own questions, discuss her feelings toward God in the aftermath of the fire, how she continues to question God and how she finally resolves God in her life.
  3. Cara cannot seem to alleviate her grief. As a result her friendship with Marlee is strained. Is there anything else that the girls could have done earlier to avoid the temporary break in their friendship?
  4. Why did Cara think she needed to keep the “Julia’s Kitchen” project hidden from her dad?


  1. To enhance the descriptions of the Jewish rituals and the glossary in the story, additional books on Judaism would be good to help the student’s understanding of this religion and its role in the book. The following books could be considered: Butler, Laura. (2005) A Faith Like Mine: A Celebration of the World’s Religions Seen Through the Eyes of Children. New York: DK Publishing-Dorling Kindersley. Buxbaum, Shirley. (2003). Faith in America Series:Jewish Faith in America. New York: Facts on File. Clark, Anne. (2006). My Jewish Faith. New York: Cherrytree Books. Nason, Ruth. (2005) Start-up Religion - The Jewish Faith. New York: Cherrytree Books.( Standard 7, Benchmark 1; Standard 9, Benchmark 1)
  2. The tragic death of a parent and sister is very hard to accept. In some ways it is impossible to adjust to. Think about this line, No one loves you like your mother. Have the students record their own responses to that line. Using a graphic organizer for showing comparisons, the students find evidence of Cara’s reactions in the text and list these as well. The students’ own reactions can be compared with those of Cara as grounded by the text. Another discussion of the emotions and reactions should follow the comparison.

(Standard 1, Benchmark 1; Standard 9, Benchmark 2)

  1. Comparisons of feelings and actions can be done between those of Cara as found in the text and in other literature relating to death. Suitable books are the following:

Brandis, Marianne. (1983/2003). The Tinderbox. New York: Tundra Books.

Brown, Susan Taylor. (2006) Hugging the Rock. New York: Tricycle Press.

Buscaglia, Leo. (1982) The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. New Jersey: Charles Slack.

Dodge. N. (1984) Thumpy’s Story: A Story of Love and Grief Shared by Thumpy the Bunny. Prairie Lark Press.

Miller, W. (1994) Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree. New York: Lee & Low Books.

Another book for comparing relationships with emotionally distant fathers is:

Klages, Ellen. (2006) The Green Glass Sea. New York: Viking Press

(Standard 1, Benchmark 1; Standard 9, Benchmark 2)

  1. The lives of the principal characters became hopeful and accepting of their tragedy through Cara’s initiative with “Julia’s Kitchen.” Imagine another family faced with the loss of a parent and/or a child. Design a different plan that eventually will bring wholeness to the surviving family members. This can be simply a descriptive written plan or it can also include samples products, posters, advertisements, and the like.

(Standard 1, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

  1. The cause of the house fire in Julia’s Kitchen was a short in the toaster oven. A similar fire was the inspiration for this book. Using the website for the local fire department or the state fire marshal, investigate other causes of house fires. Share this information with classmates and others through posters, brochures, the school’s website, newsletters, dramas or commercials and the like as attention-getting, colorful products.

(Standard 1, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 4; Standard 9, Benchmark 1).

Larger-Than-Life Lara

 Larger-Than-Life Lara. Dandi Daley Mackall; Dutton, 2006.

Grade Level: 3-5

ISBN & Cost: HB: 0525477268 $16.99

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall. Copyright © 2006. Used with permission of Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

Synopsis: Fourth-grader Laney has always been the one picked on until obese Lara joins their class. Laney sees the changes Lara makes in all their lives even while being bullied. Laney gives an inside look using writing techniques she has learned from her teacher.

General Review: 

When obese Lara joins Laney’s class everyone is at first shocked. Lara is bigger than the

teacher. She can’t fit in the regular desk or the lunch tables. Laney is relieved because Lara has distracted the bullies from her. The bullying upset Laney but Lara seems to be able to handle it with a smile and rhymed couplets until something happens to break her spirit. Laney wants everyone to know how Lara has changed the lives of the students in her class. She decides to write a story using the techniques she learns from her teacher. Each chapter is titled after an element of writing (conflict, suspense). While reading the story of Lara you also learn a lot about Laney’s life. An enjoyable book that could be used for a starting off point to a discussion about bullying or writing.

Themes: Authorship, Bullies, Prejudices, Obesity, Family problems, Schools

Author information:

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  1. Sometimes we meet people that really make an impression on us. Lara was that way with Laney and her classmates. Can you think of anyone you have met like Lara? What impression did they leave with you? What about characters in books you have read?
  • At some point in our lives we have all had nicknames. Some are fun, some are name related but some are hurtful. Lara was given the nickname of “Larger-than-life” Lara because of her size. What are some hurtful nicknames that you have had or used in relationship to someone else?
  • There is a fine line between fun teasing and cruel teasing? Can you think of examples of both? How can we tell the difference? When reading a story the author may not tell you all about a character. The author wants you to gain knowledge about them through what they say and do. What information did we learn about Laney? Give examples from the book that shows this information.



  1. Research different eating problems that children have today. Make a chart showing the different problems and the number of children affected by them. Share your results with the class. (Standard 3: Benchmark 4)
  2. Memorize a poem by dividing the word into rhythmic sections, the way Lara taught Laney to do. Share the poem with the class. Standard 5: Benchmark 1
  3. Think back to a special event in your life. Write down everything you remember about it. After taking notes, write a short story about the event to share with the class. (Standard 4: Benchmark 2)
  4. Everyday people accomplish things that they can be proud of even though it may not be much for us. For example, someone may have read their first book or got a 100% on a math paper. Look around your classroom and write a congratulation card to someone for an accomplishment no matter how small. (Standard 9: Benchmark 2)

Similar Books for Further Reading

Firegirl by Tony Abbotts

Misadventures of Millicent Madding: Bully-Be-Gone by Brian Tacang

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt

Blubber by Judy Blume

Phineas L. MacGuire ERUPTS! : The First Experiment

 Phineas L. MacGuir ERUPTS!: The First Experiment .  Dowell, Frances O Roark; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006

Grades 3-5

1-4169-0195-7 @ $15.95

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 


Synopsis:   Phineas L. MacGuire (aka Mac) is a scientist in the fourth grade.  Science is the mainstay of his being.  Now that the fourth grade science fair is around the corner, how will Mac deal with being paired with the new kid in class since his best friend and scientific partner moved away the second week of school?  You’ll find more than one eruption as you read about friends, experiments, and even a couple of super heroes.

General Review:  

It’s bad enough that Mac’s best friend, and scientific partner, moved away after the second week of school, but now another Mac has moved into to Mrs. Tuttle’s classroom, Mac R., who has not made a very impressive first impression.  And since Marcus moved away, who will Mac be partners with in the fourth grade science fair.  You’re right, the two Macs will have to work together.   Mac wants to do experiments with mold, but Mac R wants to do volcanoes.  And what about those first impressions?  Can you ever change a first impression?  Join Mac and Mac R as they use sound scientific reasons to overcome some fourth grade hurdles. Be sure to visit Mac’s Science Experiments Journal at the end of the book for some scientific adventures of your own.

Theme: Schools; Science- experiments; Friendship

Author Information:

Discussion Questions:   (Standard 3, Benchmark 3)


  • Why do you think that Mrs. Tuttle put Mac and Mac R as partners for the Fourth Grade Science Fair?
  • What evidence does Aretha observe that makes her suspicious of Ben?
  • Compare the relationship between Mac and Mac R., then compare the relationship between Mac and Ben.  What changes do you see?
  • How would you improve Mac and Ben’s chances of winning the science fair?
  • Why do you think that Ben (aka Mac R.) chose to make such an obnoxious first impression?



  • Use a Venn diagram to compare Mac and Mac R at the beginning of the novel.  Then use another Venn diagram to compare Mac and Ben at the end of the novel.  What changes do you see?  (Reading:  Standard 1, Benchmark 3)
  • Ben enjoyed making his comic books.  Put together a short comic book about your first week of school (or a summer vacation, or a memorable event in your life.  (Writing:  Standard 1, Benchmark 1)
  • Make a baking soda and vinegar eruption and make a baking soda and lemon juice eruption.  See details at the end of the book.  Compare the results of each eruption.  (Reading:  Standard 1, Benchmark 3)  (Science:  Standard 2, Benchmark 1)
  • Visit or to learn more about volcanoes.  (Science:  Standard 4, Benchmark 1)

Other books by this author: 

Dovey Coe

The Secret Language of Girls

Where I’d Like to Be

Chicken Boy

Shooting the Moon

Phineas L. MacGuire…Gets Slimed!

Similar Books for Further Reading: 

Star Jumper:  Journal of a Cardboard Genius - Frank Asch

Gravity Buster:  Journal #2 of a Cardboard Genius - Frank Asch

Moldy Mystery - Michelle Krudsen

It Came From Beneath the Bed - James Howe

Jake Drake, Know-It-All - Andrew Clements

Amber Brown Goes Fourth - Paula Danziger


 Punished!. David Lubar; Darby Creek Publishing, 2006

Grade Level: 3-5

ISBN 978-0-329-624873 & Cost: $9.96

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by permission of the publisher.”

Synopsis: Caught running in the library Logan is now punished with solving word problems (puns, oxymorons, anagrams) on a time limit. His friends and family start to catch on to his need for solving problems quick and want to know what he is doing but he cannot tell anyone. Will he solve all word problems in time to be normal again?


General Review: What an engaging, fun, library-rich read! Once starting this book, I could not put it down. You, the reader, are right along with Logan on his quest to solve the word problems. This book gets the reader thinking about those play on words, hopefully enticing them to read more books to learn even more. This is a great read for third graders on up. I did not find any weaknesses or dislikes with the book.

Themes: Boys, Friendship, Word games, libraries

Author information:

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  1. What character do you like most in this book? Why? How is this character like you or unlike you? In what ways are his experiences similar or different from yours?
  2. How do you feel about the ending of the book? Why? How might you change the ending if you were the author? Why would you change it this way? How might this change in the plot alter the author’s message?
  3. Why do you think the author wrote this book? What was his purpose? Did he succeed? How? What is the main theme or idea overall? Do you agree with this message? Why or why not?


  • Challenge students to locate 7 more puns, oxymorons and anagrams. If cameras are not available, have students draw out the pictures. Make a book of the student creations. (Standard 1; Benchmark 1)
  • Visit to challenge students with the language arts games (Standard 11; Benchmark 3)

Similar Books for Further Reading Cleary, Brian or Clements, Andrew have similar “school stories”

The Road to Paris

 Title:The Road to Paris; Author: Nikki Grimes; Publisher:G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Copyright: 2006.

Grade Level: 3-5

ISBN: 0399245375; Cost: $15.99


Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: The Road to Paris by Nikki Crimes. Copyright © 2006. Used with permission of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.


Synopsis: Due to their mother’s need to console herself when she does not have a partner in marriage and in many different marriages, Paris Richmond and her older brother Malcolm have become part of the foster care system. Desperation with their abusive treatment leads them to run away. Not even grandmother is a safe haven. For Paris, however, hope and trust are found with the Lincoln family in Ossining, New York. That is, until her birth mother calls with the news that she has married again and is eager to have a family --- again.

 General Review: 

 The Road to Paris by award winning author, Nikki Grimes, is not just another sad tale of foster home life. It is Paris’s story of hope and personal growth. It is a well written example of how good foster care provides a real family for children whom parents neglect. We need a sequel, however, to reassure us that Paris is on the right road.

Author Information: Almost every site relating to Nikki Grimes refers to her as a “prolific author.” She is the author of more than twenty-five books for children, young adults and adults. Her work is prose, poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She has earned awards from the Coretta Scott King awards, American Library Association (ALA), National Council of Teachers of English and Southern California Children’s Book Association. Her talents include singing, dancing, visual and wearable arts in addition to her writing. Additional information about Nikki Grimes can be found on the following web sites:

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark3)

  1. Discuss how Paris knows that she is loved in her interactions with her birth mother, with Malcolm and with the Lincolns.
  2. Describe the events that occurred at the grandmother’s house. Explain the grandmother’s rationale for her actions.
  3. Paris has several difficult experiences before she was settled at the Lincoln’s. Most children would consider the travels, the state workers and new people frightening. How would you expect other girls and boys to react if they were in Paris’s place? Talk about Paris’s reactions in comparison with those of yourself or your friends.
  4. In what ways does the “Prologue” prepare you for the story? It seems that more and more books written for upper elementary and young adult readers have prologues to be read prior to the chapters. Is this a good trend? How does it enhance the story or does it take away from the story itself?
  5. The first line of Chapter 36, “Gamble,” is “The next morning, for the first time ever, a grown-up asked Paris what she thought.” What are your thoughts on that statement? Is it unusual or commonplace that no one previously asked Paris for her thoughts on an issue important to her? If you were one of the adults in Paris’s life what would you have done to include her in decision making events? Or should adults make the decisions for children? Explain your thoughts on this.



  1. To help understand the locale of Paris’s story, visit the websites of Queens, a borough of New York City, Washington Heights neighborhood and Ossining, New York. You may also look at an atlas or encyclopedia for information. Using the book’s title as a theme, design a simple map of Paris’s journey. Make it colorful and interesting by including facts about the three places and pictures from the sites. Be sure to give appropriate citations for the use of the websites.

(Standard 1, Benchmark 1, Benchmark 4);

(Standard 3, Benchmark 2);

(Standard 8, Benchmark 2)

  • Using a graphic organizer such as a Venn diagram, compare the brother-sister relationships between Malcolm and Paris and between David and Paris. Do you anticipate finding many similarities?

(Standard 3, Benchmark 1)


  1. It seems as though the road that Paris is travelling is full of pot holes, bridges that are out, speed bumps and caution signs. One of these cautions for Paris is friendship. It seemed that she had a strong friendship with Ashley until it was totally shut down. When it seems that a new friendship might take off with Sienna, Paris is not too willing to try it. How do you explain the break-up with Ashley? Did it seem realistic that a new friendship should happen so soon after the former one ended? Was the timing of the break-up and the finding of a new friend contrived by the author? Would you have written it differently? Take time to discuss these questions. Following the discussion, make a time line for Paris’s stay with the Lincoln’s. Put important events on the time line in the order that they happened. Then revisit the break-up with Ashley and the new friendship with Sienna. With different colored markers, crayons or stickers, rearrange these events as you believe they would realistically have occurred. Be prepared to explain your reasons for changing the events or for keeping them at the same times.

(Standard 3, Benchmark 1);

(Standard 3, Benchmark 3).

  • One of the most beautiful moments for Paris came on Easter Sunday when she sang at the Star of Bethlehem Church. She sang beautifully and was well praised by the congregation. Her Lincoln brothers and sister, David, Jordan and Earletta were also very proud of their “sister.” Become the author and write an additional paragraph for the conclusion of Chapter 26 to tell how Paris felt and what she thought after the Easter service.

(Standard 3, Benchmark 2)

  • Mrs. Lincoln’s advice to Paris after the break-up with Ashley is a line that is good for all of us to remember. “Mrs. Lincoln had said, ‘Take every person as she comes. Judge each one by her actions.’” For boys the line could read: Take every person as he comes. Judge each one by his actions. Using that line as a slogan, design and create an attractive poster to give this good advice for making friends to other students in your class or school. Be sure to cite the book to give credit to Nikki Grimes for her thoughtful words.

(Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

  • Look into the future and see Paris living with Viola, her newest husband and Malcolm. Imagine that Paris often recalls her time with the Lincolns and that she decides to write a letter of thanks to Mrs. Lincoln and the family. Write the letter for Paris. Name several things for which you would have been grateful if you were Paris. Express your gratitude as Paris would have done and explain why those things are memorable and tell why you are thankful for them. Be sure to use correct letter form.

(Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

  • Foster homes are very real for many of our students in all neighborhoods. Some foster homes are like the one from which Malcolm and Paris ran away. Fortunately, most are more like the Lincoln’s home. Work with your school social worker or school counselor and your teacher to bring an expert on foster homes to your class to provide more information for you about foster care. With the help of the adults you should be able to make the necessary phone or mail contacts to arrange for a speaker such as someone from SRS, Social Rehabilitation Services or Catholic Charities or similar agencies. Once arrangements have been made for the guest expert, prepare questions based on The Road to Paris. Set up students to meet the speaker and provide amenities (water to drink, a podium, and the like). Before and after the expert’s visit, write brief passages for the classroom or school newsletter. Include photos, if possible. Mention the reason for the visit to make a real world connection with The Road to Paris and your class.

(Standard 1, Benchmark 1);

(Standard 3, Benchmark 1);

(Standard 3, Benchmark 3).


Similar Books for Further Reading

 Byars, Betsy. (1977.)The Pinballs New York: Harper & Row.

Codell, Esme Raji. (2006). Vive la Paris. New York: Hyperion Books.

Curtis, Christopher Paul. (1999) Bud, Not Buddy. New York: Delacorte Press.

Dowell, Frances O’Roark. (2003). Where I’d Like to Be. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

De Guzman, Michael. (2007). Finding Stinko. New York: Farrar Strauss & Giroux.

Fogelin, Adrian. (2007). The Sorta Sisters. New York: Peachtree

Gregory, Nan. (2006). I’ll Sing You One-O. New York: Clarion Books.

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Pictures of Hollis Woods.

Spirn, Michele. (2007). Poison Plate. New York: Stone Arch Books.

Wolfson, Jill. (2006) Home and Other Big Fat Lies.New York: Holt.

Wolfson, Jill. (2005) What I Call Life. New York: Holt


Note: Gossamer and The Mailbox, on the grades 6-8 master list, also deal with foster children

Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledge Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic

Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little

Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic. Emily Jenkins; Schwartz & Wade Books, 2006.

Grade Level: 3-5

ISBN & Cost: HB: 0375836047; $16.95

LIB: 0375936041; $19.99

PB: 0385736614; $5.99


Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins. Schwartz & Wade Books, © 2006.

Synopsis: The adventures of StingRay, Lumphy, and Plastic. Three best friend toys relate their visits to school, ocean, the washing machine and other places.

General Review: 

 Have you ever wondered what your pets do when you are away? What about your toys? In Toys Go Out, you get a look at three toys lives as they go on six adventures. Through these six adventures, children will be able to relate what the toys are going through to their own lives. Lumphy (a buffalo) is afraid of bathing, StingRay (a stingray) is a know-it-all and Plastic (a rubber ball) goes through an identity crisis. For beginning chapter book readers and for those who, like the Little Girl, have had an inaminate object for a best friend. Jenkins blends humor with insight while Zelinsky’s illustrations add to the details of the book.


Themes: Toys; Best Friends; Friendship; Adventure and adventures

Author information:

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  1. What makes a best friend? Can we have best friends that are not human? Why or why not? Do you or have you every had a best friend that was a toy?
  2. What are subliminal messages? In the book, StingRay gave Little Girl subliminal messages while she slept. What are the different ways we receive and send these kind of messages?
  3. In the book, the toys worry about the Little Girl growing up. Why was the Little Girl growing up a concern for them?
  4. Being afraid is something that everyone has experienced. Sometimes you can be afraid of the unknown or be afraid because something has happened to make you afraid. What things make you afraid? Why?



  1. Have your students write a short story, in the first person, about an adventure of one of their toys. (Standard 5: Benchmark 3)
  2. Have your students research the facts about the real life of one of their toys (i.e. buffalo) and shares it with the class. (Standard 3: Benchmark 4)
  3. Have your students play some of the games that the toys play in the book. (Standard 3: Benchmark 3)

Similar Books for Further Reading

Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

The Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden

The Doll People by Ann M. Martin (and sequel The Meanest Doll in the World)


 Wings. Loizeaux,William; ill. Bowman, Leslie; Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 2006.

Grade Level: 3-5

ISBN-13: 978-0-374-34802-1 (hardcover $16.00)

ISBN-10: 0-374-34802-2

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by permission of the publisher.”

 Synopsis: In the summer of 1960, a fatherless, ten year old boy named Nick rescues a baby mocking bird. He and his friend, Mate, nurture the bird to health and develop a special bond with the bird which they name Marcy. That summer takes on a magical quality which changes and expands as the bird and the lives of those who are involved in its care develop relationships. The story is full of the joy and wonder of Marcy and her physical feats and loyalty but the reality of change and independence is present also.

General Review:

  William Loizeaux writes a story which deals with the deep feelings of loss because of the death of a father and husband and other major changes in relationships, all of which could be devastating. However, his characters from Nick who is struggling with the death of his father, to his mother who is sad but steady, to the bird which is a wonder, to his mother’s boyfriend who is an interruption, and to his friends who pull him different directions, the author leads the reader in an upbeat, positive direction. There are real dilemmas presented in the book and they are dealt with in a positive, realistic way.

Themes: Loss; Friends; Family Relationships; Human-Animal Relationships

Author Information: William Loizeaux teaches at John Hopkins University where he has received awards for teaching excellence and professional achievement. Wings received the ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Award and was the Golden Kite Award Honor book for Fiction. He lives with his wife and daughter in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  1. The abstract idea of achieving independence in life is a main part of the book, Wings. Discuss how different characters in the book were struggling to gain independence from someone or something to make changes in their lives. Define the attributes of being independent and then decide upon a definition of it.
  2. It is a common childhood experience to find a baby bird or small wild animal and to try and make it a pet. Share your personal experiences doing this. Discuss the risks, the responsibilities and the rewards that Nick faced in raising Marcy as a pet.
  3. A dilemma is a situation when you are forced to make a choice or decision and anything you decide has possible bad results. One example from Wings is at the beginning of the book when Nick has to decide whether or not to help the bird he sees in the middle of the road. Another is when he has to choose whether to go over to Derek’s house to swim or stay with his friend Mate. When he has to decide what he will do about Marcy when he is gone for a week on vacation is a serious dilemma for him. Discuss the choices he faces in each dilemma and what the possible results for each might be. What did he choose to do in each situation? Explain why you agree or disagree with his decisions.



  1. Plan to have a person from a local nature center speak to the children about the risks and care that are involved in trying to raise a wild bird from infancy. (Standard 7, Benchmark 1)
  2. Write a report about raising birds and particularly wild birds using book research, the internet or visiting a nature center. (Standard 1, Benchmark 5 Standard 3, Benchmark 2)
  3. The illustrations in the book are all in black and white. Choose one or more and draw it adding color. Include the page number where the illustration is found in the book and write a caption for it. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  4. Research the mockingbird on the internet and find a color picture of one. Print the picture and using the internet and the information at the end of the book give an oral report to your class. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

Similar Books for Further Reading: 

    • Is My Dog a Wolf by Jenni Bidner
    • Buddy Unchained by Daisy Bix
    • Rascal by Sterling North
    • Coyote Autumn by Bill Wallace

GRADES 6 - 8

All of the Above

All of the Above, Shelley Pearsall, Little Brown & Company, New York, 2006

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN & Cost: 03161524X $15.99

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by permission of the publisher.”


Synopsis: In a moment of frustration with his unmotivated class Mr. Collins issues a challenge. He proposes that they build the world’s largest tetrahedron and get into the Guinness Book of World Records. The story of the four students who work together is told from each perspective in first person along with comments from the teacher and comments and recipes from one of the parents.

General Review: 

This is an entertaining look into an urban middle school and the lives of four of its students. It is based on a true story and captures the essence of the experience. The short chapters, line drawings and different voices of the characters make the book an easier read and add to the fun. The facts about tetrahedrons and the positive results of the project both in the successful completion of the structure and the positive effects on each student make it an inspiring story.

Themes: Interpersonal relations; Self-confidence; Family problems; City and town life; Geometry; Schools 

Author Information: Shelley Pearsall is a former teacher and museum historian who has written two historical novels. She is a full time writer who lives with her husband and family in Silver Lake, Ohio. She maintains a web site with teacher resources at . 


Discussion Questions: Standard 3 Benchmark 3


  1. Why did each of the students decide to join the math club? What did each one want to gain from the experience? What would motivate you to try something like this?
  2. What group projects have you participated in? Which one was your favorite? Why did you enjoy it?
  3. Which class period do you enjoy the most? What makes that class special – the subject, the teacher, the students or something else? Explain.




  1. Build a tetrahedron. Review the characteristics of a tetrahedron. Divide into teams and have a contest to see which team can build the largest structure. (Standard 1 Benchmark 1)
  2. Put on a play based on this book. Assign characters, build props, practice dialogue and present it to another class. (Standard 2 Benchmark 2)
  3. Research other world record projects. Do a report on how you would go about to break one of these records. (Standard 3 Benchmark 1)
  4. Use geometric shapes to illustrate the events in the story and display them along with a timeline of the project. (Standard 5 Benchmark 3)


 Similar Books for Further Reading: 

Middle school is worse than meatloaf : a year told through stuff by Jennifer Holm

Toby Wheeler, eighth grade benchwarmer by Thatcher Heldring

Leap of faith by Kimberly Bradley

Schooled by Gordon Korman

Agnes Parker, keeping cool in middle school by Kathleen O’Dell

Firegirl by Tony Abbott

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter , a math adventure by Cindy Neuschwander

The Fruit Bowl Project by Sarah Durkee

Math Games for middle school, challenges and skill builders for students at every level by Mario George Salvadori

Shape Up! by David A. Adler

Confessions from the Principal’s Chair

 Confessions from the Principal’s Chair . Anna Myers; Walker & Company, 2006.

Grade Level:  6-8

ISBN & Cost: HB: 0802795609 $16.99

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by permission of the publisher.”


Synopsis:  Fourteen-year-old Robin was a follower.  When she followed her group and participated in a cruel prank, her mother had had enough.  Moving them to Oklahoma was the worst punishment for Robin or so she thought.  On her first day at her new school, Robin is mistaken for a substitute principal (interesting?) and finds out that bullying happens even in Prairie Dog Town, OK.

General Review:  

When Robin (Bird), part of a group called the Six Pack in her Denver middle school, participates in a cruel prank against a classmate, her mother has had enough of her bullying behavior. Within twenty-four hours, she pulls up stakes and moves Robin, a.k.a. Bird, to Prairie Dog Town, Oklahoma.  Robin feels that this is the worse punishment her hippie artist mother could evoke.  She decides to undermine any chance of fitting in by insisting on dressing in a conservative business suit for her first day at the small middle school in town.  This outfit accidentally lands her the job of principal.  Who is Robin to correct the mistake when a prank like this will really get revenge on her mom?  Fun but a little unbelievable.  This book could be read aloud to be used as a jump start for conversation about bullying.


Themes: Bullying, Schools, Friendship, Mothers and Daughters, Oklahoma

Author information:

Discussion Questions:  (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  1.  Robin and her friends faked a letter about someone bringing a gun to school.  What kind of punishment should the girls have gotten? 
  2. Robin is mistaken for an adult.  How realistic is this in today???s society?  Think of a mature fourteen year old you know.  Would they be able to pull off this kind of prank?  Why do you think it happened in Prairie Dog Town, OK?
  3. The books main focus is on the harm of bullying.  What kinds of bullying do you see happening in your school?  Have you been bullied or have you been the one bullying others? 
  4. The book has a spinoff of the Oprah Show.  What other types of problems in schools do you think would make a good theme for an Oprah show?



  1.  Have the counselor visit the classroom and discuss bullying with the students.  Have the students do a survey on bullying in the school and present it to the faculty in the form of a chart (include types of bullying and the number of students being bullying by type). (Standard 9: Benchmark 1; Standard 4: Benchmark 2)
  2. Have the students plan a school-wide activity for their school like the water balloon fight.  (Standard 9: Benchmark 2)
  3. Have a dress like a professional teacher day.  Have the students vote to see which student could pass for one of the teachers. ( Standard 4: Benchmark 2)

Similar Books for Further Reading  

 Misfits by James Howe

The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm

Blubber by Judy Blume

Drowning Anna by Sue Mayfield

Poison Ivy by Amy Goldman Koss


Counting on Grace

Counting on grace, Elizabeth Winthrop, Wendy Lamb Books – a division of Random House, Inc.,2006

Grade level: 6– 8

ISBN Number & Cost: 0-385-74644-X $15.95

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: Counting on grace, Elizabeth Winthrop. Wendy Lamb Books, ©2006, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books


Synopsis: Twelve year olds Grace and Arthur help their teacher and a photographer prove illegal child labor practices in Vermont during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century’s in cotton mills.

General Review: 

Grace Forcier is a French Canadian twelve-year-old who lives with her immigrant family in the New England state of Vermont. Her parents and sister work thirteen hour days in the cotton mill form eager wages. Often children are put to work in the mill before the legal age of fourteen. When Grace a bright twelve-year-old student goes to work at the

mill, she struggles with being left-handed and operating right handed machines. Grace, her best friend Arthur, and their teacher bring the child labor problem to light with the help of photographer, Lewis Hine. “I’ve got my clumsy right hand and my jumpy brain and my big mouth making smart …” is the way Grace describes herself, however, Grace and Arthur are the ones who help bring about change for good in the lives of their people.


Themes: Family life, Immigration, Photography, Textile Mills, Child Labor Laws, Early Twentieth Century, French Canadians

Author information: Elizabeth Winthrop grew up in a writing family. Her father wrote a syndicated column, was an Evening Post editor and a Newsweek Magazine columnist and authored many books about political Washington. Her brother, Stewart Alsop, writes for Fortune Magazine. Her great great uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, wrote thirty-eight books. She, however, is the only fiction writer in the family having written fifty some books. She writes picture books for young children, chapter books for middle

grade readers, short stories and novels for adults. Her most popular books are The Castle in the Attic and The Battle for the Castle, both novels for middle grades. When children ask her about writing, she tells them that by the time they are twelve years old, they will be able to write as many as a hundred books from the memories they will have. She knew that she could make a living by writing and she believed that writing

is an honorable profession. She lives part of the year in New York City and part of the year in Massachusetts. Her children are Eliza and Andrew. They are in their twenties. Her website is


Discussion Questions: (Standard 3, Benchmark 3)


  • What impressed you about the schooling of 1910 compared to your school experience in the early twenty-first century?
  • Many families in the United States today are called nuclear families meaning parents and children only in a household. How does Grace’s family compare as an intergenerational family? as an immigrant family? List their challenges.
  • Traits of survival and leadership are found in different characters of this historic novel. The author uses interesting words to convey this. List some of Grace’s strengths then choose another character and do the same.



  • Most people are either right handed or left handed. For one hour try to do your work with your opposite hand. Discuss your experience in small groups. (Standard 9, Benchmark 1)
  • Write a journal of the activities of your day along side of Grace and Arthur’s day. How do they compare? (Standard 3, benchmark 1)
  • Create a Venn diagram or other graphic organizer of your choice showing similarities and differences in photography from 1910 and today. (Standard 3, benchmark 1)


*Note to teachers: Russell Freedman’s book Kids at Work is a biography of Lewis Hine. Selections could be effectively used with students as a read-aloud.


Similar Books for Further Reading: 

Denenberg, Barry. So Far from Home: The Diary of

Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl . New York;

Scholastic, 1997.

Freedman, Russell. Kids at Work. New York: Scholastic, 1994

Greenwood, Barbara. Factory Girl. New York: Kids Can Press, 2007.

Harlow, Joan Hiatt. Joshua’s Song. New York: Margaret K. McElderry, 2001.

Hopkinson, Deborah. Up Before Daybreak: Cotton

and People in America . New York; Scholastic, 2006.

Isaacs, Sally Senzell. Life in a New England Mill

Town . Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2003.

McCully, Emily Arnold. The Bobbin Girl. New York:

Dial Books for Young Readers, 1996.

Meltzer, Milton. Cheap Raw Material: How our

Youngest Workers are Exploited and Abused . New York:

Viking, 1994.

Parker, David L. Stolen Dreams: Portraits of

Working Children . Minneapolis: Lerner Publications,


Patterson, Katherine. Lyddie. New York: Puffin

Books, 1992.



Gossamer . Lowry, Lois; Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books, 2006

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN: 978-0618685509; Cost: $16.00

Also available as paperback, audiobook, hardcover largeprint, and audiocasette.

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets

Preferred wording: “Used by Permission of the Publisher.”


Synopsis: In this fantasy taleLois Lowry beautifully describes the work of "dream givers," creatures who have the awesome job of "bestowing" dreams on sleeping humans to help them get through their daily lives when awake. Littlest One, new to this responsibility, can't seem to quit talking and asking questions as she makes a serious effort to learn her job, selflessly giving of herself in an effort to help the dreamers in the house she is assigned. Will her constant questioning get her into trouble with the forces that attempt to block the delivery of sweet dreams, or help her to learn to guide her dreamers toward more hopeful lives? 

General Review: 

This book will be greatly enjoyed by readers with exceptional imaginations who are able to accept and enjoy a voyage into the fantasy world of dream givers described in Gossamer. Readers can learn a great deal from the determination displayed by Littlest One, who although small and inexperienced, will not give up her efforts to mold the "fragments" of memory she finds into comforting dreams for the young boy, the woman, and even the dog! This is the classic tale of good against evil forces that attempt to stomp on those less fortunate, and this story may empower young readers to attempt to better their situations even when it seems that the deck is stacked against them.


Themes: Dreams; Nightmares; Foster home care; Child abuse; Hope and rejuvenation.

 Author information: Something About the Author, Volume 70

Contemporary Authors Online , updated 8/21/2007



Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  • Do you ever remember your dreams? Have you ever experienced "fragments" from your life that ended up as part of your dreams like John's sea shell?
  • Think of a time you had to be brave like Littlest when she knew the Horde was coming. What did you do that maybe you didn't even think you could possibly do?
  • It is sometimes hard to accept the changes that are constantly occurring in our lives. What realization does Littlest One come to at the end of the book? How could you apply this to your own life?


  • Read author's autobiography Looking Back: A Book of Memories. Make Lois Lowry the subject of an author study. What other books has she written? Have you read any of them? What else did you learn about her life? (Standard 5, Benchmark 1)
  • Make a list of five characteristics about each of the main characters in the book so that we will know what they are like: Littlest One, Fastidious, Most Ancient, Thin Elderly, John, the older woman, the young woman, and Toby! (Standard 3, Benchmark 2)
  • Contact a foster care agency for information, or access information on the internet regarding foster care. Design a promotional poster, or create a radio or television PSA (public service announcement) about the importance of becoming foster parents. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  • As a small group with other students, collaborate on writing another chapter, as an epilogue (ending or follow-up) to the book. In this chapter, tell what happens to the main characters after the close of the book as currently written. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

Similar Books for Further Reading

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

Fairy Haven and the quest for the wand by Gail Carson.Levine

Prilla and the butterfly lie by Kitty Richards

The Wall and the Wing by Laura Ruby

Messenger . by Lois Lowry

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Big Sky , Kirby Larson, Delacorte Press, New York, 2006

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN & Cost: 0385903324 $15.95

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: Hattie Big Sky, Kirby Larson, Delacorte Press© 2006, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.


Synopsis: Hattie Brooks is a sixteen year old orphan who inherits a homestead claim in Vida, Montana, from her uncle in 1917. She has always wanted a home of her own and she sees this as a chance to finally belong somewhere. Her efforts to prove the homestead before the deadline in 10 months while coping with the effects of World War I on her community and her school friend Charlie who is stationed in France are described in both letters and first person narrative.

General Review:

This is an excellent book which has won numerous awards. It describes the challenges and joys of the experience of homesteading during World War I and it shows the effect of the war effort on the people left at home. The anti-German feelings and the effect of mob action were described as well as the sacrifices the families made to help the war effort. It also shows the changes this experience caused Hattie as she struggles to learn what to do, accomplish those tasks and survive the dangers and difficulties that come her way. Her growth in both ability and understanding make it a very good coming of age story.

Themes: Self-reliance; Frontier and pioneer life; Orphans; Montana – History – 20th Century; World War, 1914-1918 – United States

Author Information: Kirby Larson’s great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks Wright actually did homestead a claim in eastern Montana during this time period as a single woman. She did not leave a journal and the author used other homesteaders’ journals and writings as a basis for this story. Many of the incidents in the book are taken from real happenings that the author uncovered in her three years of research. Kirby Larson lives in Kenmore, Washington with her husband and has two grown children. For more information see the author’s website at .

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3 Benchmark 3)


  • Why did Hattie think of herself as Hattie Here-and-There? How did Hattie’s experiences shape her hopes and dreams? How did they help her?
  • What was Hattie looking for when she went to Montana? What did the railroad brochures promise? What did she actually find?


  • What kind of problems did the people in Montana face because of the war?
  • How do you think the war brought out both the good and the bad in people? How did Hattie react to the bullies she encountered?
  • What do you think happened next in Hattie’s life? What adventures would you like to read about?



  1. Research homesteading rules and find copies of real homestead claims. What is required to prove up a claim? How long did they have? How many actually succeeded? Why did some fail? (Standard 1 Benchmark 1)
  2. Research the effects of World War I on the people in the US. How many people were sent overseas. How many deaths and injuries occurred in combat? What struggles did the people who stayed home face? What were Liberty Bonds? (Standard 1 Benchmark 1)
  3. Research your own family. Where did your ancestors come from originally? What were they doing during this time period? Is there anyone in your family tree that you’d like to know more about? Ask your parents or relatives about this person or do research in the genealogy section of your library. (Standard 3 Benchmark 3)
  4. Try some of the recipes in the back of the book and look up other recipes for doing without rationed ingredients. What ingredients were substituted for sugar or wheat or any of the other rationed items? How were scarce items rationed? Look for copies of ration books or rules from this time period. (Standard 6 Benchmark 2)

Similar Books for Further Reading: 

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

My Heart Remembers by Kim Vogel Sawyer

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Mississippi Jack : being an account of the further waterborn adventures of Jacky Faber, midshipman, fine lady and the Lily of the West by L.A. Meyer

Nacky Patcher and the curse of the dry-land boats , a novel by Jeffrey Kluger

The extraordinary adventures of Alfred Kropp by Richard Yancey

Billy Creekmore : a novel by Tracey Porter

Hearts of Stone by Kathleen Ernst

900 miles from nowhere ; voices from the homestead frontier by Steven R. Kinsella

Bluestem by Fran Arrington

Boston Jane (and sequels) by Jennifer Holm

Prairie Songs by Pam Conrad

The Laura Ingalls Wilder books

Jumping the Scratch

 Jumping the Scratch , Sarah Weeks, Laura Geringer Books, 2006

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN-13 978-0-06-054109-5, $15.99

ISBN-10 0-06-054109-1

Paperback, CD, audio download


Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: Jumping the Scratch, Sarah Weeks, Laura Geringer Books, 2006

Synopsis: Jamie has had a string of bad luck and just when he thinks his life couldn’t get worse, it does. He has to move from Battle Creek to Traverse City with his mother to help his aunt Sapphy who had a freak accident at work that left her unable to be alone because she has no short term memory. This move is difficult in itself and something happens to Jamie that he wants desperately to forget, but he struggles throughout the story to do just that.

General Review: 

Sarah Weeks’ second novel is as compelling as her first, Ida B. Although I had a solid guess on Jamie’s secret, Weeks drew me into the story and dropped hints as Jamie unfolded through the story. The book certainly contains mature subject matter, child sexual abuse.

Themes: Memory; Aunts; Child sexual abuse

Author Information:

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Jamie had heard that bad luck comes in threes. Have you ever heard of that? What has been your experience with things happening in threes?
  2. Do you consider name-calling a form of bullying? Why or why not?
  3. Jamie somewhat believed that Audrey had ESP, what do you think? Does her explanation of how she “knew” things seem realistic?
  4. What was your favorite part of the story? Why?



List your feelings about having to move to a new city or school. This may be a real situation or imagine how you’d feel if it happened to you. Using a Venn diagram, compare and contrast your feelings with Jamie’s.

(Standard 1, Benchmark 4)

What has been your experience with bullying? In a small group discuss the effects of bullying and list ways you can help stop bullying in your school and/or neighborhood.

(Standard 5, Benchmark 2)

Follow the advice of the visiting author, Mr. Anthony Stone, and keep a notebook handy to write down words describe what you see, feel/touch, hear, smell and taste. Become more aware of your surroundings, even if is only for a day or two.

(Standard 3, Benchmark 3)

Interview a character from the book. Write at least ten questions that will give the character the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings about their role in the story.

(Standard 2, Benchmark 2)

Similar Books for Further Reading: (Be aware several deal with child sexual or physical abuse) 

 Antle, Nancy. Playing Solitaire

Columbis, Audrey. Getting Near to Baby

Howard, Ellen. Gilly’s Secret (Original title is Gillyflower)

Roberts, Willo Davis. Don’t Hurt Laurie

Woodson, Jacqueline. I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This


Listen. Stephanie S. Tolan; Harper Collins, 2006.

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN & Cost: HB: 0060579358 $15.99

PB: 0060579374 $5.99

LIB: 0060579366 $16.89


Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: Listen. Stephanie S. Tolan; Harper Collins, 2006.

Synopsis: The summer Charley had been dreading becomes a summer of healing, not only of her leg that was damaged in the accident, but of her heart that has been wounded since her mother’s death. The feral dog that was just a nuisance to some, is the catalyst for love, trust and family renewal.

General Review: 

 Twelve-year-old Charley, who is recovering from a recent car accident while still mourning the death of her mother, is dreading the upcoming summer. With no one around, her best friend left for the summer and her father works all the time, Charley has nothing to do but work on gaining strength in her injured leg. On one of her walks around the lake she spots Coyote, a shy intelligent stray. She makes it her goal that summer to tame Coyote and make him her dog. Through the processing of taming the dog and growing to trust her heart to someone else, Charley comes to terms with her mother’s death. Thought provoking and beautiful descriptions of nature makes this a charming story for animal lovers.

Themes: Mothers and daughters, Death, Animal stories, Accidents

Author information:

6 th Book of Junior Authors & Illustrators

Something About the Author: vol. 38

Writers for Young Adults: supplement 1

Continuum Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  1. In what ways are Coyote and Charley alike?
  2. Charley was having trouble coming to terms with her mother’s death. Give examples from the book that shows this. By the end of the book things have changed. Give examples from the book that shows she has come full circle in the mourning process.
  • The title of books relate to the story line. How does the title “Listen” relate to this story.
  • Training a dog takes time and patience. Taming a wild dog would take also courage. Would you have the patience and courage to tame a wild animal? Why or why not?




  1. Research the training of a dog. Develop a flow chart on the steps that you go through to train a dog. Present it to the class. (Standard 4: Benchmark 1 & 2)
  • Put yourself in Charley’s shoes. Put a temporary bandage on one of your legs so that your leg is stiff. Go for a long walk. Write down everything you felt about your leg, etc.. (Standard 9: Benchmark 1)
  • Research teenage car accidents. Develop a powerpoint presentation for the class. Include the number of accidents, age of drivers, death, etc.. (Standard 4: Benchmark 1 & 2)


Similar Books for Further Reading

Dog’s Life by Ann Martin

Julia’s Kitchen by Brenda Ferber

Izzy, Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt

The Mailbox

 The Mailbox, by Audrey Shafer, Delacorte Press, 2006

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN: 0-385-73344-5 $15.95

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: The Mailbox, by Audrey Shafer, Delcorte Press © 2006, an imprint of Random House Childrens Books.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Gabe Culligan Pace has had a rough life, but things have evened out really nicely for him lately. In his early years Gabe was a foster kid, shuttled from place to place without a home. Then his social worker found his long-lost Uncle Vernon, and things were looking good. Uncle Vernon is kind of crusty. He has a prosthetic leg and a gruff manner, but it's obvious that he and his nephew get along really well. You can't blame Gabe for not knowing that Vernon would have secrets, secrets from his Vietnam War days. Then one day, Gabe comes home from school, his first day of sixth-grade, and Uncle Vernon is dead on the floor. The next morning Gabe goes to school like usual and tries not to think about what to do. When he gets home, there's a note in the mailbox. On one side it says, "I have a secret". On the other side it says, "Do not be afraid.” But when Gabe comes into the house and finds that his uncle's body has disappeared, he is afraid, very afraid. Throughout the rest of the book Gabe has to navigate new territory and situations, and his main mission is to stay safe and out of the foster-care system. He does all this while grieving for his uncle and wondering if Vernon’s death was his fault in any way.

General Review: 

If you haven't read the book yet, you've no idea how good it's going to be. To begin with, first time author Audrey Shafer doesn't come across as first time at all. Her writing is crisp and full of perfectly-placed little descriptions. When Gabe discovers his uncle's body right off the bat he cries. "Messy crying, the kind of crying that leaves you swollen, red, and leaky". When later he pets his dog at the base of the neck between the shoulders, "He could lose his hands there, then pull his fingers up, like pink fish rising from a bed of soft seaweed". Here’s one more. "Evening, with her blowing skirts of cooling breezes and rustling leaves, swirled her colors, first fiery then deep blue, through the house and around the house". As you will read, Shafer uses many examples of figurative language which are wonderful for our Kansas (state-assessment-bound) students to read.

Characters are beautifully defined here as well. First of all, there's the heroic teacher Mr. Boehm. He has a sense of humor, which makes him suspect. As Gabe knows, teachers that joke are separated into two categories. "Joking teachers were either friendly and open, or closed to all but their own humor, in love with their own voice.” Every person has his/her own agenda and his/her own way of doing things in this story. You get a sense of who they are and what they want through Shafer's writing. The characters are not flat; they are interesting and well-rounded. A couple of them even surprise us with how they have changed. Uncle Vernon’s great dialogue, especially his comforting bedtime philosophy, came out along the lines of, "Scum-lickin' pus-suckin' buckets of trouble ken happen whether you're good or bad. But why git spit by skunk muck? Stay low and steer clear of screw-ups, Gabe.” Sound advice. This what is later referred to as, "the usual scrubbed raw dash of wisdom.”

The storyline is unique and wonderful. Here we have Gabe living on his own without a guardian, his dead uncle missing, and a mysterious somebody sending him letters. His only confidante for a large portion of the story is his dog, Guppy. So many books begin with a good premise, but it is not sustained in many cases. Shafer manages to keep us readers interested and also satisfied throughout the entire book.

Themes: Foster home care; Uncles; Death

 Author information: Audrey Shafer was educated at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania. She works at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System as an associate professor of anesthesia, through the Stanford University School of Medicine. She has two teenage children. Her website is . The Mailbox is her first book.


 Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  1. Uncle Vernon’s philosophical advice was given to Gabe at bedtime. Do you have
  2. an older relative who talks in adages or who gives unique advice? Explain.
  3. On the third day of school, Gabe decided to stay home. Why? List at least five things he did that day at home. How did some of these trigger memories of Uncle Vernon?
  4. (after Ch.9) What details do we readers learn about Gabe’s maternal grandpa, Vernon’s dad? What kind of a man was he? What kind of a relationship did Vernon and his dad have?
  5. The author uses flashback as a literary device often. Gabe is constantly thinking of conversations and experiences with his Uncle Vernon. In Ch. 9, does Gabe hear details of his mom’s death from Vernon? Why or why not? Does he ever find out the details of her death?
  6. (after Ch. 11) “Life is a puppet thing,” according to the metaphor that Jack London used in Call of the Wild. Explain the metaphor.
  7. Choose one of these statements from the book and make a personal comment/opinion about it: A. They’re not honoring the memory. (p. 140) B. Smitty told me that thinking weird thoughts is okay. It doesn’t mean I’m bad. (p. 143) C. Above all, he’s a politician. (p. 154)
  8. (after Ch. 18) Make a detailed prediction and write it down. How will the book end? With whom will Gabe live after the funeral? Don’t worry if you end up wrong. It is just fun to predict.
  9. Comment on one of these war-and-chess statements: A. War isn’t chess. A stalemate in chess is a draw. Nobody wins, but nobody loses. But a stalemate in war is different; everybody loses. You can’t fight for a stalemate. (p. 165) B. Remember the fool’s mate in chess? That you can get set up for the easiest trap and not realize it until it’s too late? It was like that all the time in the war. We were set up, trapped, conned over and over. It made you suspicious of the slightest movement. It made you jumpy, and sometimes you’d overreact. (p. 166)
  10. (after Ch. 21) Why does Guppy distrust men in uniform even more than before?




  1. (after p. 36) Draw Mrs. Pickering in her kitchen. What do her surroundings look like? Give her a dialogue bubble. What is she saying to Gabe? To others who enter her kitchen? (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  2. (in the middle of p.39) Find the onomatopoeia that refers to the doggie-door sound. How would you spell the sound? Now find five similes from the book which you’ve read so far. Hint: On the first two pages you will find similes regarding Vernon’s scribbly handwriting and his fan and how it looked. Keep looking for more. Reading Standard: Figurative Language: (Standard 1, Benchmark 3, Indicator 5)
  3. (after reading Ch. 6) Draw a Venn Diagram and complete one of the following: A. Compare Gabe’s new routine of taking a shower to his old. Remember to show similarities and differences. B. Compare the parenting styles of each of Webber’s parents. (Standard 7, Benchmark 5)
  4. (after finishing the book) Gabe’s friendship with Smitty helped Smitty deal with his guilt feelings regarding a young child in Vietnam. Search the internet for a news story about at least one wounded, returning soldier from Iraq. Read and empathize. Do you know anyone personally who has experienced a war injury? Listen and empathize. (Standard 1, Benchmark 5)


Similar Books for Further Reading

Children of the Dragon: Selected Tales from Vietnam by Sherry Garland and Trina Hyman

Escape from Saigon by Andrea Warren

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

Where I’d Like to Be by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

One-Handed Catch

One-Handed Catch. Auch, Mary Jane; Henry Holt, 2006.

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN : 9780805079005, 0805079009 & 16.95

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by permission of Henry Holt and Company.”

Synopsis: After losing his hand in a meat grinder, Norman learns to do for himself again and works hard to obtain his long desire to play baseball and to draw.

General Review: 

  This book is based on a true story of what happened to the author’ s husband when he was a boy. It will not only encourage the child with a disability but also those who work and live around someone with a disability. Norman is a strong, loving, optimistic character. The book is easy to read and flows smoothly. Once you sit down to read you won’t want to put it down.

Themes: Disabilities, Friendships, Physically Handicapped, Amputees; Self-reliance; People with disabilities; Family life – New York (State); New York (State) – History – 20 the Century

Author information

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  • Why is N orman so interested in Pete Gray?
  • Why was his Mom so hard on him after the accident? Can we be too helpful to someone with a disability?
  • What did Norm decide to do for the Boy Scout Jamboree? Did he make the team? How did that affect Norm’s attitude and the other boys? What did he end up doing for the Boy Scout troop?
  • Who gave Norm the right handed mitt and why?
  • Did Norm make the baseball team? How?



  • Begin your lesson on disabilities by assessing your student’s prior knowledge using a K-W-L chart. List on a chart the facts that your students already know about disabilities. Next ask them to tell you what they want to know. After reading the book, have students tell you what they have learned. (Standard 1, Benchmark 3)
  • Select a significant event from the book and draw an illustration. Be sure to include the page number(s) where the event takes place and write an original caption for the illustration. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  • Using Internet and book research, have students write a report on someone famous who has overcome their disability such as Franklin Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Pete Gray, Anne Sullivan, Carol Johnston, etc. . (Standard 1, Benchmark 5)
  • Read the interview with the author, MJ Auch, at the web site listed below. Using a Venn diagram, compare and contrast the author’s husband, Herm with Norm Schmidt. What type of summary statement could you make based on the completed Venn Diagram? (Standard 3, Benchmark 1)
  • Draw a timeline for the events chronicled in this story, beginning with losing his hand on July 4 th – a year later. Standard 3 Benchmark 1
  • Have the students not use one arm the entire class. Then give them a little hands-on activities and see how creative or frustrated they get using only one hand. (Standard 3, Benchmark 2)


Similar Books for Further Reading: 

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

Carol Johnston: The One-Armed Gymnast/ by Pete Donovan

Million Dollar Putt by Dan Gutman

Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton

The Window by Jeanette Ingold

Stranded by Ben Mikelson

Pete Gray, One-Armed Major Leaguer by W.G. Nicholson

Peeling the Onion by Wendy Orr (high school characters/situations)

Beating the Odds by Mary Packard

Izzy Willy Nilly by Cynthia Voight (high school characters/situations; former WAW Awards nominee) By Retta Eiland


Rules by Lord, Cynthia; Scholastic Press, New York; 2006.

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN & Cost: 0-439-44382-2, $15.99.

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by permission of the publisher.”

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Catherine is a dedicated sister to her younger brother David who faces the daily challenges that autism brings. However, Catherine learns that perhaps the "rules" she is constantly preaching about to David need to be applied to her own life when she makes friends with a wheel-chair-bound boy who must communicate without talking. Is she afraid to introduce him to some of her friends for fear that he, and therefore she, will be seen as "different" around those she is trying to fit in with?

General Review: 

  This book takes a very serious subject (autism) that may seem distant to many, and talks about it in an understandable and accessible way, and therefore demonstrates that such variations from societal expectations don't just "happen to other people," but occur in families just like all of our own. It also addresses the observable fact that we don't quite know how to act around others who may have physical or mental challenges, termed "disabilities," in our world made up of people who want to be similar to those around them so that they can feel comfortable. Catherine is a character with whom many readers will be able to identify—she has a very caring heart, yet she doesn't want to seem so far out of the mainstream that she won't be accepted by others. The choices she must make will resonate with readers who are growing up to the realization that the world is not a totally level playing field for everyone.

Themes: Autism; Brothers and sisters; People with disabilities

 Author information:

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  • How do you feel when you are out at the shopping mall with your friends when you encounter someone with a disability? How did Catherine report that people acted when confronted with David's unusual behavior that made them uncomfortable? Do you ever find yourself acting as she suggested?
  • On page 106, Catherine is thinking: "I'm torn between losing choices. David will scream if I make him go inside now. Mom thinks I'm selfish if I beg her to take him with her. Then there's Ryan..." Have you ever been faced with such choices? What responsibilities do you feel for other members of your family when you don't want to be embarrassed around your friends?
  • What part do Catherine's guinea pigs play in the story? Can you think of any similar situations with pets that you have personally observed?




  • Have students divide into small groups, with members of each group collaborating on research of the combined terms "autism" and "siblings" on an Internet search engine to discover more information. Come up with scenarios that could occur in such households with this combination. (Standard 1, Benchmark 5)
  • Jason is unable to talk, but still wants to communicate, and uses word cards. Pretend you are Jason and are having Catherine make communication cards to describe yourself. Design and use these cards to introduce yourself to another member of your class. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4)
  • Have a guinea pig as a class pet, or bring in an expert to show guinea pigs and discuss their care. (Standard 7, Benchmark 1)
  • Do a study of autism. Ask a local medical expert and/or a guidance counselor to provide a presentation of current research information on this subject for your class. Make a poster listing facts you have learned (Standard 1, Benchmark 4)

 Similar Books for Further Reading

The Flight of a Dove by Alexandra Day

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Clay by Colby F. Rodowsky

My best friend Will by Jamie Lowell

Nobody's perfect by Marlee Matlin

The Goodenoughs Get in Sync: A Story for Kids about the Tough Day When Filibuster Grabbed Darwin's Rabbit's Foot and the Whole Family Ended Up in the Doghouse--An ... Introduction to Sensory Processing Disorder b y Carol Stock Kranowitz

Singing Hands

Singing Hands . Ray, Delia; Publisher: Clarion Books, New York, 2006.

Grade Level: grades 6-8

ISBN & Cost: 978-0-618-65762-9, $16.00.

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by Permission of the publisher.”

Synopsis: Gussie Davis is determined to take on the world in her own way, regardless of the fact that she has deaf parents and two sisters who sometimes try to cramp her unique style. Has Gussie finally gone too far this time, she thinks regretfully, as she is forced to miss her dream trip into the exciting world where regular hearing people (or ears) live? Perhaps her mom and dad care more about her father's deaf church congregation than their own daughter!

General Review: 

 Gussie goes through many of the same trials that we all do, as we try to decidehow to successfully function as part of a family. This book does illuminate deafness as a disability, but also expresses the idea that the physical disability is not the only difficulty faced by families with deaf members. The trials and tribulations of family life are highlighted, a s well as the importance of relationships, often overshadowing the more obvious obstacles of dealing with a challenge such as deafness. The controversy of the use of sign language as opposed to lip reading is broached, a theme that many who are part of the community of deaf culture encounter.

Themes: Conduct of life; Deaf; People with disabilities; American Sign Language; Family life – Alabama; Clergy; Alabama – History – 20th Century

Author information: Something About the Author, Volume 70

Delia Ray grew up in rambling farmhouse, and she and her best friend wrote their own books for fun as children. She was lucky to locate a job in publishing after college as her husband began a medical residency. Ms. Ray has a rich history as a writer of historical fiction for children, including Gold! The Klondike Adventure; A Nation Torn: The Story of How the Civil War Began; Ghost Girl: A Blue Ridge Mountain Story. 

 Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  • Gussie gets bored easily, and likes to create her own adventures. Sometimes these lead to calamities, when she was just trying to have fun! (Example: trying to get clothes to create a "dummy" of Birthmark Baines to fool her sister into thinking that the escaped prisoner had found his way to their house!) Have you ever tried to commit a practical joke that you thought was really funny, but perhaps didn't consider how it might made someone else feel? What other actions did Gussie take that she might have changed with more thought?
  • Research facts about the city of Birmingham, Alabama, as it was in 1948 when the book took place. What was it known for? What is the significance of the Vulcan statue discussed in the book? How would this state differ from Kansas, particularly in this era?
  • What assumptions about other people (for example Mrs. Fernley, Miss Grace) did Gussie have to change when she got to know these individuals? Have you ever made a snap judgment about someone that you had to change once you got to know them? Think of some examples of judging someone from a distance rather than personal knowledge.
  • What do you do when you see individuals "signing" to communicate with each other? How do you react?
  • How is the controversy between use of sign language and lip-reading illustrated in the book? How do Gussie and her father resolve the debate in their own way at the Alabama School for the Deaf Jubilee?
  • Although Gussie's father is an accomplished and well-respected man, she sometimes feels that he doesn't pay enough attention to her in ways that have nothing to do with his deafness. "He has to take care of people," says Margaret "Your mean deaf people," mutters Gussie (p. 7). What are some suggestions you have for Gussie for letting her dad know how she feels that might have had a positive effect on their relationship?




  • Look up information on American Sign Language and lip reading. (The finger spelling guide inside the front cover would be a start!) Go over some symbols as a group in order to be able to talk to each other without speaking. Have some sign language books or videos available, then compare your symbols with the American Sign Language symbols for these things. Schedule a class visitor who can teach students some sign language; learn how to communicate with deaf people in your community.

(Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

  • Do research on the Kansas School for the Deaf on the Internet. Find out the history of admission to this school for non-whites. If the website does not disclose this information, contact an official at the school to clarify the history. If necessary, write to the Governor of Kansas to verify this information about civil rights in the state of Kansas. How does this information relate to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Kansas? (Standard 1, Benchmark 5)
  • Gussie carries out some actions she feels are justified even though they would be considered dishonest, such as lying to her dad about what she is doing with the money her gives her for offering at church. Write an editorial for your school newspaper about whether or not breaking the rules, lying, or even stealing is ever justified. ( Standard 3, Benchmark 2)


Similar Books for Further Reading: 

Auch, Mary Jane One-handed catch ;

McDonald, Megan, Changes for Julie

Matlin, Marlee , Deaf Child Crossing , Nobody's perfect

Look, Lenore,Ruby Lu, empress of everything
Moss, Marissa,Amelia lends a hand        .        

Woodson, Jacqueline, Feathers

The Wright 3

 The Wright 3. Blue Balliett ; Scholastic Press, 2006

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN & Cost: 0-439-693675, $16.99

Blanket Permission t Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by permission of the publisher.”

Synopsis: Sixth-grade sleuths Petra and Calder, along with friend Tommy, work to save Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural treasure the Robie House from destruction and investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the house.

General Review: 

 A follow-up to the art mystery Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3 features Petra, Calder and Tommy at the end of their sixth-grade year. Their teacher, Ms. Hussey, is horrified to learn that because of financial constraints, the University of Chicago is planning to dismantle the Robie House, a marvel of prairie style architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and display the parts in separate museums. When Ms. Hussey enlists the children’s help in an effort to save the Chicago landmark, the main characters discover mysterious happenings at the house and a coded message left by Wright himself. Like Chasing Vermeer, this book also includes interlocking coincidences, a secret code, and some surprises hidden in Brett Helquist’s wonderful illustrations.

Themes: Robie House (Chicago, ILL); Wright, Frank Lloyd, 1867-1959; Schools; Chicago (ILL); Mystery and detective stories

 Author information: Author & Illustrator Index. Scroll down and click on Blue Balliett.

Blue Balliett . Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2005. (available online through free Kan-Ed access to Literature Resource Center)

Blue’s Clues: On the Case with the Wright 3 by Shannon Maughan, Publishers Weekly, 3/23/2006


Discussion Questions: (Standard 3, Benchmark 3)


  1. Ms. Hussey asks her students: is a building a piece of art? What do you think?
  2. Do you think dismantling the Robie House is a crime, or do you think it would be OK to put its pieces in different museums? Explain your answer.
  3. Discuss the role of patterns and coincidences in the story. How do they add to the plot of the story?
  4. Decode the message on page 237.
  5. Discuss the “About the Artwork: a Challenge to the Read” page that appears in the book before chapter 1. What can you find in Helquist’s illustrations?






  1. Ms. Hussey taught her students to stand up for what they believe in and take action. Think of an issue you feel strongly about (for example, reducing the amount of trash on school grounds or in the local park). Now come up with an action plan—what will you do to make a difference? Organize kids to pick up trash? Talk to kids at school? Write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper? (Standard 3, Benchmark 3; Standard 4, Benchmarks 1 & 2)
  2. Use art supplies or Google SketchUp (free download available at ) to design your perfect house. Explain the reasons behind your design and why you would want to live there. “Design a House” lesson plan available at:,30 . (Standard 4, Benchmark 2; Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  3. Design your own stained glass window and create it using black construction paper, colored tissue paper and glue. Directions available at: . (Standard 4, Benchmark 2; Standard 5, Benchmark 3)
  4. Write a persuasive letter from Petra, Calder and Tommy to the University of Chicago explaining why the Robie House is an important piece of architecture and should not be torn apart. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4; Standard 9, Benchmark 1)
  5. Frank Lloyd Wright was known for prairie style architecture. Learn more about Wright, or research other types of architecture or architects and share what you learn with your class. (Standard 2, Benchmarks 1 & 4; Standard 9, Benchmark 1)

SIRS periodical database and World Book Online (free to all schools and libraries) have some excellent articles, including:

    •  FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: BUILDINGS FOR PEOPLE by Suzanne Bilyeau, SCHOLASTIC ART March 1994, pp. 2-7. (available through SIRS – excellent discussion of Wright’s contributions to architecture)
    • Fallingwater by Brooke Malfatto, HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN
      (Vol. 60, No. 5) May 2005, pp. 22-23. (SIRS)

Web resources:

  1. Research historic buildings in your own community. Take digital photos and create a “virtual tour” that explains the history of the building. PowerPoint or PhotoStory (free download available at ) are great software tools that allow you to create narrated slide shows. (Standard 1, Benchmarks 3 & 5; Standard 3, Benchmark 4; Standard 9, Benchmark 1)


Similar Books for Further Reading

  • Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (past WAW nominee)
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (winner of both the Newbery Medal and William Allen White Award)
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Newbery Medal, past WAW nominee)
  • The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base (a picture book mystery with codes and clues hidden in the illustrations)

Short mysteries to be solved: 
Dr. Quicksolve Mystery books by Jim Sukach

MysteryNet’s Kids Mysteries --

Yellow Star

 Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. Marshall Cavendish Publishing, 2006.

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN: 978-0-7614-5277-5, $16.95

Blanket Permission to Reproduce Book Jackets: 

Preferred wording: “Used by Permission of the publisher.”

Synopsis: Syvia Perlmutter, a young Jewish girl, her older sister Dora, and their parents are forced into the Lodz, Poland ghetto in 1939, along with 270,000 other Jews. Syvia and her family members experience starvation, beatings, and threat of execution during the years in the ghetto. Young Syvia experiences total boredom, fear, and, extreme lonliness. This book is told in free verse from young Syvia’s point of view. While over a quarter-million Jews entered the ghetto, as stated earlier, only 800 were left alive when liberation came in 1945. Twelve of them were children. Jennifer Roy's aunt Syvia was one of those children.

General Review: 

Jennifer Roy, the author and niece of the hero/main character, does a wonderful job of blending the fiction-novel format with the memoir format in this moving book. She interviewed the elderly Syvia numerous times, of course, and then, filled in any memory gaps with plausible fictional details. The result is a compelling free verse novel set in Lodz, Poland from the beginning of World War II to its end. We the reader hold our breath as Syvia barely escapes going to the concentration camp many times. We experience the total boredom and loneliness with Syvia. We share the fear and hunger of all the brave Jews that we get to know in the book. Because this book is written in first-person narrative, we observe the maturity in language and thought of Syvia from age 4 to age 10. The reader will be surprised and relieved along the way.

This book would make a wonderful addition to a middle school Holocaust unit.

Themes: Jews – Persecutions – Poland – Lodz; Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) – Poland; Jews- Poland; Family life – Poland; Poland – History – Occupation, 1939-1945


Author information: Jennifer Roy is the author of more than thirty books for children and young adults. She is a former Gifted and Talented teacher. She holds a BS in Psychology and a MA in Elementary Education.

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)


  1. How did the adults in the ghetto help the 12 remaining children when the kids’ cellar location was discovered? What action did they take? Then what did the Nazis do? Did it surprise you that all the Jewish adults participated, even those who had lost their own children?
  2. Read pgs. 90 and 91 again. What games and mind-entertainment could you create in that same situation?
  3. Describe the physical traits of the Russian liberator on p.213. How does he travel? What does he do when he sees the scene of the remaining Jews? What does the word “liberator” mean?



Read the excerpt from “Life in the Warsaw Ghetto” by Emanuel Ringelblum. . Did this description, including the amount of food brought into the ghetto remind you of the Perlmutter family in this book? What other connections can you make?


Look at the photo galleries of the Warsaw ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the following website. Now draw your own mental pictures from scenes from this book onto paper. Draw a black and white sketch of Syvia playing with her dust “dolls.” Draw other scenes in addition to this. Standard 5 Benchmark 3


This book is filled with figurative language examples. Find these:

Simile – comparison between two things using “like” or “as.”

Reading Standard 1, Benchmark 3, Indicator 5

Drive like crazies (27)

No best friend like a doll (48)

Crushing people like cattle (56)

Resistance fighters like ant tunneling through ground (96)

Living is like sleepwalking (96)

Feel like a pile of bones (144)

Men like a pack of dogs running from the dogcatcher (152)

Pear cores like small skeletons (175)

Dragged like a sack of potatoes (175)

Hands feel like ice (187)

Scatter like loose chickens (196)

Stand like statues in the snow(197)


Metaphor – compares two thing without “like” or “as.”

Fingers are icy sticks (6)

Dark apartments are boxes of grief and fear (32)

Summons papers are “wedding invitations” (57)

I am a bear in a cave (62)

Hole in ground is bed fit for kings (76)

Syvia is a mouse in a mouse hole (162)

Blue scrap of fabric is the sky (165)

Room is an icebox (201)


Onomatopoeia – a word that imitates a sound

Thump (22)

Vroom, sput, sput (27)

Bang (41)

Whoo (55)

Thud (69)

Plop (76)

Zzkrrch (116)

Thwap (126)

Boomboomboom (167)

Zzzmmm (202)

Whee!boom! (208)


Personification – describes animal, object, or idea as if it were a person

Feet walk as if they have nothing to fear (22)

Wool is ready to help (29—30)

Ghetto holds its secrets tightly and shrugs its shoulders when asked questions (39)

Dialogue between dolls (39)

Winter erases whole families (51)

Sun invites me out (167)


Similar Books for Further Reading :

Willy and Max: A Holocaust Story by Amy Littlesugar and William Low, Escaping into the Night by D. Dina Friedman, The Night Spies by Kathy Kacer, Lost in America by Marilyn Sachs, Ten Thousand Children by Anne Fox and Eva Abraham-Podietz, Anne Frank and Me by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gotlesfeld, Four Perfect Pebbles by Lila Perl, Run, Boy, Run by Uri Orlev, Katarina by Kathryn Winter, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen, Daniel’s Story by Carol Matas, A Place to Hide by Jayne Pettit, Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren, and Tell Them to Remember by Susan Bachrach. This is just a partial list of quality children’s Holocaust literature.