Grades 3 - 5

A Friendship for Today By McKissack, Patricia C. (Barbara Stransky)

Bravo Zulu, Samantha! By Duble, Kathleen Benner (Barbara Stransky)

Dexter the Tough By Haddix, Margaret Peterson ( Jane Burton)

Home of the Brave By Applegate, Katherine (Bev Nye)

How to Steal a Dog By O'Connor, Barbara (Barbara Stransky)

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II By Judge, Lita (Mary Ann Sadler)

Seeing Sky-Blue Pink By Ransom, Candice (Mary Harmon)

The Rising Star of Rusty Nail By Blume, Lesley M. M. (Wendy Morris)

Way Down Deep By White,Ruth (Kim Glover)


Grades 6 - 8

Billy Creekmore By Porter, Tracey (Barbara Bahm)

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam By Kadohata, Cynthia (Retta Eiland)

Elephant Run By Smith, Roland (Barbara Bahm)

Elijah of Buxton By Curtis, Christopher Paul (Barbara Clark-Evans)

From Emporia: The Story of William Allen White By Buller, Beverley Olson (Barbara Stransky)

Iron Thunder: The battle between the Monitor & the Merrimac: a Civil War Novel By Avi (Vickey Long)

Leap of Faith By Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker (Amy Brownlee)

Leepike Ridge By Wilson, N. D. (Barbara Stransky)

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller By Miller, Sarah (Amy Brownlee)

Night of the Howling Dogs By Salisbury, Graham (Barbara Bahm)

Schooled By Korman, Gordan (Barbara Stransky)

A Friendship for Today

 McKissack, Patricia C.;  Scholastic Press, 2007.                 

Grade Level:  Grades 3-5

ISBN & cost:  978-0-439-66098-3, $16.99


Rosemary wonders if she'll ever fit in.  A black student, she has been sent to an integrated, nearly all white school, where her old neighborhood nemesis (“Grace the Tasteless,” as Rosemary calls her), a white student, attends.  On top of that, Rosemary has to deal with her own problems at home.  Her parents aren't getting along, and her best friend is struck with polio.

 General Review:  

We all need to learn to practice “tolerance,” says Rosemary's teacher Mrs. Denapolis. Have you ever tried to get along with someone who from the outside appears to be very different from you?  Rosemary and Grace KNOW they won't like each other even before the school year starts.  Can they learn to tolerate each other?  And what about “Katherine the Great Mouth,” who acts like she thinks she's better than both of them? There might be more than meets the eye to the real-life situation that somebody else lives in, but we may never even try to make friends with others we judge to be living in a world just too different from the way of life we know.

Themes: School integration, racism, race relations, divorce, African-Americans, friendship; Missouri history--20th Century, poliomyelitis

Author information:  Volume 51, 73 Something About the Author

Discussion Questions:  (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

•  What are some examples of prejudice in the story? Why do you think the author chooses to include them?

•  Describe Vera's relationship with her mother.  Describe her relationship with her father. How do these relationships affect her actions?

•  What part does “Rags” play in the story?

•  Does Rosemary learn “tolerance?”  How does the story show this?

•  How can you be a friend?  What could you do to help Grace if she was in our class, and didn't have a dress to attend the Spring Garden Concert. Why won't her father let her accept Rosemary's the dress?       



•  Research poliomyelitis. What causes it? How dangerous is it? How does it spread? What is the best treatment and how can it be prevented? Write a short paper explaining the disease and discussing how the treatment of the illness has changed over time. (Standard 2, Benchmark 4)

•  Look up information on school integration in the United States.   Draw a historical timeline of school integration in the United States, beginning in 1954. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

•  For more information on “tolerance,” visit online the Museum of Tolerance, Simon Wiesenthal Center.   List five things you learned about the importance of tolerance. (Standard 3 Benchmark 3)

Similar Books for Further Reading

  • Don't Say Ain't , by Small, Irene
  • My Mother The Cheerleader , by Sharenow, Robert
  • Where You Belong by   McGuigan , Mary Ann

Bravo Zulu, Samantha! 

Kathleen Benner Duble; Peachtree, Atlanta, 2007

Grade Level: grades 3-5

ISBN & cost: ISBN: 9781561454013, $14.95


Samantha does not want to spend the summer with her grandparents, but her parents will be gone, and don't think she is old enough to stay alone. Actually, Grandma is pretty cool, but the “Colonel” (her grandpa) thinks he is still back in the military, and will be so impossible to get along with!

General Review: 

We can learn so much about ourselves by looking at the relationships between characters in a book like this. Samantha and the “Colonel” can't imagine that they can get along all summer, but discover that perhaps they have much to learn from each other. This point of view might help all of us when trying to get along with others we see as so different from ourselves.

Themes: (Grandfathers – Juvenile fiction; Airplanes, Home-built – Juvenile fiction; Contests – Juvenile fiction; Flight – Juvenile fiction; Family – Juvenile fiction

Author information: Online information available through Kansas State Library free databases.

Blue Skyways

Go to Literature Resource Center and search author's name for helpful information.


Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

•  How did retirement affect the colonel? Why did he say: “Retired people are brain dead”? (p. 9). Can you imagine why he might feel this way?

•  Why did the Colonel try to be sure that Samantha's grandma didn't know about his top secret project? Why did he feel the need to hide information like this from someone who obviously cared about him?

•  How do Samantha's feelings toward the Colonel change throughout the story? What about the Colonel's feeling toward her? Give examples of interactions between two that illustrate changes in their feelings.

•  What did Sam's mom mean when she said “Sometimes things aren't about what you want but about what others need”? (p. 117) What happened in the story that relate to this statement?



•  Look in the back of the book for “Sources of Sam's and Colonel's Facts.” Locate several of these books in your library, and look through one to select the most outrageous or weird facts in your opinion. Would Sam agree with your ideas? How about the Colonel? (Standard 2, Benchmark 5)

•  Turn to the Author's Note at the end of the book. Do Internet research on “EAAAir Venture Oshkosh.” Write an advertisement for this gathering that might have motivated the Colonel to carry out his secret project. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

•  Find out about the history of the NATO phonetic alphabet, as described on pages 63 and 73-74. Collaborating with classmates, prepare a poster or graphic display that explains the meaning and history of changes of the phonetic alphabet. (Standard 9, Benchmark 4)

•  Invite an expert on aviation to speak to your class about some aeronautical principles the Colonel was concerned with when building the plane, and terms used in the book, such as “canard” (p.71). Have students prepare questions for the speaker. (Standard 3, Benchmark 2)

Similar Books for Further Reading

  • Walks Two Moons by Sharon Creech
  • Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
  • The World Record Paper Airplane Book by Ken Blackburn Jeff Lammers
  • Wright Brothers : How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman

Dexter the Tough

Margaret Peterson Haddix; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2007

Grade Level: 2 – 5

ISBN and cost: 978-1-4169-1159-3, 1-4169-1159-6; $13.57

Synopsis :

Dexter, the new student, puts on a “tuf” act the first day of school. His writing assignment tells the class just that. As the teacher continues the writing experience, Dexter looks deep into his actions, and the response they generate from others.

General Review :

Haddix creates the story of a boy struggling to deal with his father facing cancer, being the new student in a school, and missing his parents. Through a writing assignment, his teacher helps Dexter find the true source for his anger.

Themes : Family Life, New Experiences, School Stories, Cancer

Discussion Questions : (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

•  New students enter a class at various times in the school year. Have you had a new student in your class? What did you notice about their acceptance in the classroom? What are things you have done to welcome a new student? Have any of you been the new student? What made your move easier? What made it difficult to be part of the class?

•  Dexter's father had a very serious illness. Have any of your parents ever been very ill? What changes did the illness create in your family? What did you do to feel better during the illness? Who could you talk to if your parents are not able to discuss the situation with you?



•  Research cancer. Find out some treatment methods, and side effects of the treatment. (Standard 2, Benchmark 4)

•  Think about a time you were very scared of something. Write a poem about your fear. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

Similar Books for Further Reading

•  Savvy by Ingrid Law

•  Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

•  S tarting with Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

•  Runt : Story of a Boy by V. M. Caldwell

Home of the Brave

Katherine Applegate; Feiwel & Friends Publishers, 2007

Grade level:  4 – 7

ISBN & cost (hardback): 9781439594414; $17.59


Applegate uses first-person narrative and free verse to capture a Sudanese refugee's impressions of America and his slow adjustment.  Eleven-year-old Kek, who has seen great loss and sadness in his life, comes to live with his aunt and cousin in Minnesota.  Prefaced by an African proverb, each section of the book marks a stage in the Kek's assimilation.  We readers recognize Kek's initial confusion and how it fades as his survival skills improve and his friendships take root in Minnesota.  We also share in Kek's hope that his mother has survived the violence and that he will one day be reunited with her.

General Review:  

This story gives us readers a memorable inside view of an outsider coming to America.  Katherine Applegate's precise, succinct language brings a wide range of emotions to us.  Very few children's and young adult books have dealt with the War in Sudan (Darfur) and its victims.  This book has the opportunity to educate our young Kansans about this important issue, and would make a wonderful read-aloud in any middle school classroom.

Themes:   War in Sudan (Darfur), African Refugee Camps, Immigration, Survivor guilt, America's image in the world, Family love and loyalty.

 Author Information: 

“ After Katherine Applegate graduated from college, she spent time waiting tables, typing (badly), watering plants, wandering randomly from one place to the next with her boyfriend, and just generally wasting her time. When she grew sufficiently tired of performing brain-dead minimum-wage work, she decided it was time to become a famous writer. Anyway, a writer. Writing proved to be an ideal career choice, as it involved neither physical exertion nor uncomfortable clothing, and required no social skills. 

  Ms. Applegate has written more than one hundred books under her own name and a variety of pseudonyms. She has no children, is active in no organizations, and has never been invited to address a joint session of Congress. She does, however, have an evil, foot-biting cat named Dick, and she still enjoys wandering randomly from one place to the next with her boyfriend .” (

  Discussion Questions: 

  1. This America is hard work.   This is one of Kek's first realizations.  Talk with students about why it is so hard even though many people think that Americans have it too easy.  How is it especially hard for newcomers to the United States?
  2. Of all the things I didn't know about America, this is the most amazing:  I didn't know there would be so many tribes from all over the world.  How could I have imagined the way they walk through world side by side without fear all free to gaze at the same sky with the same hopes?   The issue of immigration is a topic that is being debated in our government and throughout our country.  Questions to consider are:

•  Should we make it easier for people to immigrate to America or enforce stricter quotas?

•  Do immigrants add to the economy or take jobs away from American citizens?

•  Should illegal immigrants be allowed to stay in America and seek to gain legal status or be sent back to their home countries?

  1. Hannah takes Kek to the grocery store to buy food for her foster mother.

The grocery store had rows and rows of color, of light, of easy hope.  …I stand like a rooted tree firm, my eyes too full of this place, with its answers to prayers on every shelf.  I reach out and touch a piece of bright green food I've never seen before.  And then I begin to cry. 

 Discuss with your students Kek's emotional reaction when he sees the shelves lined with food.  Do your students take this for granted?  How much is too much?  Do we need dozens of varieties of breakfast cereal and half dozen kinds of cola? 

  1. Gol is a cow, but Katherine Applegate also uses her as a symbol.  Ask your students how Gol represent Kek's past, present, and future.
  2. What are the most important things that happen to Kek in his first year in America that make him begin to feel at home?
  3. As a final discussion, talk about why Katherine Applegate titled the novel Home of the Brave.


Activities:  ( Reading Standard One, Benchmark Four and Reading Standard Two, Benchmark One)

•  The background for Home of the Brave is the civil war that devastated the Sudan on and off from the 1950's to the 1990's and the ethnic war in the Darfur region of Sudan that has raged from 2003 to the present.  In order for our students to understand the plight of Kek and the millions of Sudanese people affected by the war, research and then discuss recent history of the Sudan as a whole and the Darfur region in particular.

These websites may be useful in helping American students understand the issue:



  Questions to consider are:

•  What is the ethnic makeup of Sudan?

•  Why were the wars fought?

•  Who was fighting whom?

•  What role did the Sudanese government play?

•  What happened to the people?

•  How did the world community respond?

•  What were the consequences?

•  Figurative Language:  This book contains some examples of idioms; Kek was confused by these. 

•  P. 60 – “The kids will eat you alive.”

•  P. 108 – “You need some time to get your feet wet.”

•  P. 115 – “Meantime, keep your eyes open.”

•  How many other idioms can your students list?  View the website:


•  Similes were used by Kek to compare his new experiences and friends to his “real” home in Africa and to his “real” family members.  Starting on p. 2, readers will find simile after simile after simile.  Have students list as many as they can.

•  To help the students in Kek's ESL class get to know each other, they play a game called “Interview.”  Your students can play the game too.  Use a cardboard tube as a microphone.  A student stands in front of the class and says five things about him/herself.  Then each member of the class interviews the student by asking him/her a question.  When you are finished, your students will have a better understanding of each other.


Similar Books for Further Reading

•  The Arrival by Shaun Tan

•  The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle  

•  Kira-Kira by  Cynthia Kadohata

•  Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

How to Steal a Dog

O'Connor, Barbara; Frances Foster Books, 2007.

Grade Level: grades 3-5

ISBN & cost: 979-0-374-33497-0, $16.00


Georgina is doing everything she can to help her family survive since her dad left. She, her mom, and little brother are kicked out of their apartment and forced to live in their car! Georgina comes up with a brilliant plan for making some money: she and little brother Toby will steal a dog, and collect a reward for its return. The idea is that then they will have money to move into a real house. However, Georgia's detailed scheme for stealing the dog doesn't work out quite the way she planned.

General Review: 

Anybody who has had to struggle to present a clean face to the world and hide the truth of real circumstances will understand Georgina's predicament. She is not only worrying about going to school in the same clothes several days in a row, or washing up in the MacDonald's bathroom in the morning, but her best friend seems to have found someone she likes better who isn't “unkempt.” This book can help us understand that sometimes we need to look beneath the surface before judging others, and also that sometimes it is important to ask for help when it's really needed.

Themes: Subject areas: Homeless persons – Juvenile fiction; Family problems – Juvenile fiction; Conduct of life – Juvenile fiction; Interpersonal relations – Juvenile fiction; Brothers and sisters – Juvenile fiction; Dogs – Juvenile fiction; North Carolina – Juvenile fiction

Author information: 

Contemporary Authors Online Detroit: Gale, 2008. From Literature Resource Center 

Free access through the Kansas State Library then go to databases


Author's website: 

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

•  Read page 1 of the story aloud. What do we already know about Georgina from just one page of text?

•  Was Luanne a good friend to Georgina? She did promise not to tell anyone about Georgina's predicament as she asked, after all. Page 85 says: “Luanne didn't hardly even talk to me all day,” and Georgina thinks that Luanne and Liza are laughing at her. Why do you think she feels this way?

•  Teachers and other adults don't always see the problems faced by kids, especially when the students don't ask for help. What problems does Georgina try to face by herself? Why doesn't she ask for help?

•  A dilemma is a situation when you are forced to make a choice or decision which may possibly have bad results. One example is when Georgina has to decide whether or not to return Willy without receiving a reward, and then whether to admit what really happened to the dog's owner. Discuss the choices she faces in each dilemma and what the possible results for each might be. What did she choose to do? Explain why you agree or disagree with these decisions.


•  List the qualities of this story's characters: Georgina, her mother, Toby, and Luanne. How are they displayed? Standard 2 Benchmark 2

•  Pretend that you will be interviewing a character from the book. Write at least ten questions that will give the character the opportunity to discuss his/her thoughts and feelings about his/her role in the story. However you choose to present you interview is up to you. Standard 1, Benchmark 3.

•  Check out the following websites:

•  National Coalition for the Homeless http://

Standard 9; Benchmark 1

•  Research what is in your town or community that helps homeless or poor families. Find out what these organizations need, then organize a class project to help one of these agencies. Standard 1; Benchmark 3 and 4; Standard 9; Benchmark 1


Similar Books for Further Reading

•  Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

•  Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs

•  Tyrell by Coe Booth

•  Monkey Island by Paula Fox

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II

 Lita Judge; Hyperion Books for Children; 2007

Illustrator: Lita Judge.

Grade Level: 3 – 5

ISBN:  978-142310008-9


The author describes her family's efforts to help their friends and others who were left homeless and hungry in the aftermath of World War II.

General Review:  

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II tells the story of an American family's efforts to aid friends in need following the war.  The story of the tracings is told in two page spreads resembling very short chapters.  Each print page begins with a title followed by a subtitle of the date.  The first is “Papa Came Home” and “December 1946.” Several lines of text ensue.  The last sentence on that opening page ominously predicts something other than utter happiness because of father's return from the war.  Tracings are the outlines done on any available paper of the thousands of feet so dearly in need of shoes.  As the work of securing shoes, soap, sugar, cocoa, clothing and other necessities enlivens the story, a little German girl writes to the American girl, the main character.  Her writing picks up the thread of the first page, “Papa Came Home.”  Unfortunately, her papa has not yet come home.


Author Information:   The author/illustrator's own web site, provides much information on Lita Judge.  She is daughter of the little girl who tells the story of the tracings of the feet of the suffering people in post war Germany. While the book focuses on the efforts of the little girl and her mother, it was both Lita's grandparents who worked diligently to obtain the shoes and other needed items for thousands of families in fifteen war-torn European countries.  Like the story, Lita's family asked friends, neighbors and colleagues to help them in this great effort.  The author's website is worthy of a visit to learn more about this compassionate work done by many, many Americans following World War II. In communities throughout the United States people sent packages and money to aid those suffering from the effects of war and not just to Germany but to all afflicted countries. Do not miss the “Author's Note” at the end of the book.


Discussion Topics and Questions: (Library Standard 3, Benchmark 3)

•  In order for many students to grasp the full meaning of the story, it would be helpful to discuss World War II in Europe. 

•  Wars cause hardships for families in all the involved countries.  This is made evident in the story because used clothing and shoes must be sent because new items are not yet affordable for even the families of those Americans who are giving so generously.

•  One of the somewhat chapter like pages mentions battles.  What are the battles that the little girl and her mother are fighting?  In what other ways can the word battle be applied to their lives?

•  Although it is not mentioned in this book, many American relief packages sent to Germany and other European countries had to have the word, GIFT marked on them.  To the German that word meant poison.  Imagine and talk about the recipients' reaction to seeing that for the first time.  How would the students feel?

•  How does the ending of the story from the final two chapters bring a conclusion to the difficulties of the war's aftermath? 

•  Continue discussion of the peoples' and the countries' recoveries from wars as inferred from the last paragraph of the “Author's Note.”



•  Using the endpapers, have an information search.  Use the information to connect to the story and to create new stories.  What can be learned about the people in need?  With maps of Germany find the places from which the letters came.  (Standard 3, Benchmark 1; Standard 8, Benchmark 2)

•  As the war in Iraq seems to be ending, predict similar reactions for the people there in making contact with Americans.  What might the Iraqis needs be?  Could Americans aid them as the people of the USA did for the Germans? (Standard 3, Benchmark 1; Standard 3, Benchmark 3)

•  Imagine the situation of Eliza.  After discussing the aftermath of World War II or doing research on war-torn Germany, write or illustrate the situation in which Eliza lives.  Include colorful details so that anyone reading or seeing this project would get a clear picture of Eliza's suffering. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

•  Is it possible for enemies during a war to forgive one another after a war?  Perhaps someone with recent war experience could contribute to such a discussion.  (Standard 3 Benchmark 2)

•  Read the book, Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming.  Using a graphic organizer such as a Venn diagram, compare and contrast Boxes with One Thousand Tracings. ( Standard 3, Benchmark 1) 

•  High school students must now be involved in service learning projects or volunteering.  Student councils are encouraged in elementary schools to promote good citizenship and a type of service learning.  Was the little girl at the center of the story practicing good citizenship?  Is it important to help others, even those who might have been enemies just a short time before?  Is it important to help others in need?  Why or why not?  Using the example from One Thousand Tracings what could be done in your school through your classroom to help others in need?  Could a book be created to tell the story? (Standard 3, Benchmark 2)

•  Author and illustrator Lita Judge has developed activities for the book at her website.  On her blog on the website, Lita Judge tells how she develops her characters both in the illustration and in the story.  Refer to those activities and the blog for more information on the book and to enhance its meaning.


Similar Books for Further Reading

•  Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming

•  Freedom Writers Diary : How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by Zlata Filipovic

Seeing Sky-Blue Pink

Candice Ransom; Carolrhoda Books, Inc, 2007.

Grade Level:  3-5

ISBN & Cost:  978-0-8225-7142-1, $16.95


Maddie's mother has just married Sam and they are now living on Sam's farm instead of in the big city where Maddie grew up.  Eight-year-old Maddie's not sure whether she will like it here in the country, but she is willing to try.  Sam is kind and patient and makes Maddie feel right at home, even letting her choose what color she will paint her bedroom…

”How about sky-blue pink?” he (Sam) said to Maddie.

“That's not a real color.”

“It is a real color.  Haven't you ever seen sky-blue pink?”

General Review:  

Eight-year-old Maddie and her stuffed donkey, Buckingham, are moving to a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with her mother and new step-father, Sam and the Sam's cat, Abraham, who can predict the weather…and has many other incredible talents.  Sam works his way into Maddie's heart by being patient and kind.  He plants a dogwood tree outside her bedroom window, gives her a wheelbarrow ride to the neighbors house, takes her with him on the tractor as they plow the back acre, lets her pick out the color of paint for her bedroom, and even spends an afternoon building her a tree house without harming the tree.  Maddie remembers how life was in the city of Manassas, Virginia, with just her and her mother.  Times had been sad after her real father went away.  Now she is learning to trust again, but can this be real?  Sam and Maddie have many adventures together that help strengthen that trust.  This is a positive story about a step-father and step-daughter relationship as seen through the eyes of an eight-year-old that is a delight to witness.  Sam helps Maddie believe in herself, and as you read, you can see the maturity, trust, and love that develops along the way. 

Themes:   Stepfather, Remarriage, Moving Household, Fear, Country Life, Family,

Author Information:   Candice Ransom holds a Master of Fine Arts in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College.  Her fiction and picture books have been named to the New York Public Library's 100 Best Children's Book list, the ABA Bookselling This Week Kids' Pick of the Lists, and the Virginia Young Readers List.  She lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Discussion Questions:  (Standard 3; Benchmark 3) 

•  Describe Maddie before and after Sam became her step-father. How did she mature?

•  Describe the “Perfect Days” when Maddie lived with her mother in the city. Why do you think that Maddie misses the city? What things do Maddie's mother and Sam do to help her feel at home in the country?

•  Maddie learns to trust Sam, but what problem in this story puts that trust to the test? Why do you think that Maddie was afraid that Sam would tell her mother, Do you know what Maddie did?  She ran off inthe woods like a two-year-old! ? Why do you think that Sam never told Maddie's mother what happened in the woods?

Suggested Activities: 

•  Similes are figures of speech in which unlike things are compared to give the reader a mental picture to use as they read.  Have your students find similes throughout the story, and then discuss them. (Standard 5, Benchmark 2)

•  Superstitions are the belief or practice not based on reason or knowledge.  On page 16, Mrs. Tompkins said, ”I dropped a fork this morning, so I baked  pie.”  Then Sam says, “There's an old saying, ‘Fork falls, lady calls.' Miss Eliza means she knew a lady was coming to visit.”  The website below gives some common superstitions.  Talk about how superstitions get started.

(Standard 2, Benchmark 3)

•  Maddie was intrigued by the wax paper.  Sam said, “In the fall, we'll find leaves and make wax paper pictures.”  Have the student bring leaves to school and have fun making wax paper pictures. The websites below show different projects to do with wax paper and leaves.

(Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

•  Purchase a small lunch box for the classroom.  Maddie's was black, and she even put her name on it with chalk.  At the local home improvement store, ask about getting a variety of single color paint chips.  Have the students choose a paint chip they like and write a wish on the back.  Put all these in the lunch box.  Each day, bring out a paint chip and read the wish.  Don't tell who it is from, or it might not come true…  With the paint chips you have read, put them in a nice quilt block display on a bulletin board. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

•  Sky-blue pink lends itself to talking about clouds.  Use the following books to identify different cloud shapes.  During recess, have student identify the cloud formations.

Estigarribia, Diana.  Learning About Weather with Graphic Organizers . 

                        New York, NY: PowerKids Press.  2005.

Sherman, Josepha.  Shapes in the Sky : A Book About Clouds .  Minneapolis,

                        Minn.: Picture Window Books, c2004.

Cosgrove, Brian.  Eyewitness Books:  Weather .  London, England : Dorling

                        Kindersley Limited. 1991.

  (Standard 5, Benchmark 2)

•  Maddie found one of Sam's old books Grimm's Fairy Tales while they were cleaning out the basement.  Find a copy at the library and read a few to your class. (Standard 5, Benchmark 2)

Similar Books for Further Reading: 

•  Iris and Walter by Elissa Haden Guest: ©2006

When Iris moves to the country, she misses the city where she formerly lived; but with

the help of a new friend named Walter, she learns to adjust to her new home.

The Rising Star of Rusty Nail

Lesley M. M. Blume; Alfred A. Knopf, 2007

Grade Level:  3-5

ISBN # and cost: 978-0-375-93524-4, $15.99


Franny Hansen is a ten-year old piano prodigy. She has a rival in her class who seems to have the money to buy her way to the top. Franny's piano teacher tells her that she has taught her everything she can, and that she needs to look for someone who can teach her more. Stuck in Rusty Nail, Minnesota, where is Franny going to find that teacher? Mysteriously, a Russian woman moves in next door. Franny tries her best to convince the “Commie” to teach her more about the piano against the many wishes of some townsfolk. Will Franny lose the respect of the local people in order to reach her musical dreams, and have more piano lessons?

General Review: 

This book begins a little slowly, but starts to pick up intensity in the second section.  Readers will not be able to turn the pages quickly enough in the last third!  This would be a nice classroom read-aloud for older elementary, competitive classes.

Themes: Friendship, School, Musicians, Russia

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 her purpose? Did she succeed? How? What is the main theme or idea overall? Do you agree with this message? Why or why not?


•  Challenge students to research some of the musicians listed in the story.  

(Standard 1; Benchmark 1)

  1. Listen to the music of various composers. Read a biography about a composer

(Standard 1; Benchmark 1)


Similar Books for Further Reading  

  • Maria Von Trapp:Beyond the Sound of Music (Trailblazer Biographies) by Ransom, Candice F.
  • Piano Starts Here:  The Young Art Tatum by Parker, Robert Andrew
  • After Tupac & D Foster   by Woodson, Jacqueline.
  • The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Freedman, Russell. 

Way Down Deep

Ruth White; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007

Grade Level: 4-6

ISBN-13 # & cost: 978-0374382513, $16.00


Ruby had always wondered about the mystery of how she showed up all alone as a toddler in the town of Way Down Deep, although she was very content with her life there. That is, until a new family shows up in town with a story about a night many years ago when the mountain people heard a panther's cries and how a child went missing that same night off their mountain. Was she that missing child? Would she have to give up a life and community she loved for one she did not know?

 General Review:  

Students will be captivated by the mystery of Ruby's beginnings and of the appearance of a ghostly woman in her room. Teachers will appreciate the sense of community expressed in the story and the complexity of the characters. Both students and teachers will be charmed by the characters in Way Down Deep and appreciate the humor and tenderness in Ruth White's story of story of a little community tucked away in the mountains in 1944.

Themes: Orphans, small towns, family, mystery, dreams, community

Author information :  Ruth White is the author of several children's books which include the Newbery Honor Book, Belle Prater's Boy. Ms. White was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains and has been teacher and school librarian for many years. Many of her stories come from her memories of childhood and growing up in the mountains.

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

1.  What does it mean to be family? Can someone be part of your family even if you are not related?

2.  There are many interesting characters in Way Down Deep . Which one is your favorite and why?

3.  Miss Arbutus and Ruby have a special ritual they both look forward to every evening. Do you have a special ritual that you share with a family member?

4.  Bob Reeder attempts to rob a bank, Peter Reeder cusses, Grandma Combs is mean to her family. How does the author explain the reasons for each of her character's bad behavior? Do you think the same reasons would apply to people you know?

5.  Ruby belongs to several communities in the story Way Down Deep , the smaller community of the boarding house and the bigger community of the town. What does community mean to you and how many communities do you belong too?



•  In the first paragraph Ruby explains how Way Down Deep became a town. Do some research about the history of your town using resources like newspapers, microfilm, and books. Create a storyboard to recreate the story of your town. (Standard 1, Benchmark 4, Standard 2, Benchmark

•  Ruby June had heard several stories of her childhood from different people that knew her. Do a oral history project about yourself and interview your family, friends, and teachers for early and favorite memories they have about you and add them to a timeline starting with the earliest memory to the most current. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

•  Use a concept map or graphic organizer to analyze the characters, theme, conflict, and setting of Way Down Deep . (Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

Similar Books for Further Reading

•  The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

•  Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

•  Hattie Big Sky  by  Kirby Larson

6 - 8 Grade

Billy Creekmore

Porter, Tracey; Joanna Cotler Books (division of HarperCollins), 2007.

Grade Level: 4-7

ISBN-13 (hardback) & cost: 9780060775704; $16.99


In 1905, ten-year-old Billy is taken from an orphanage to live with an aunt and uncle he never knew he had, and he enjoys family life until he has to work in the coal mines. When trouble starts with a union, he leaves and joins a circus, hoping to find his father.

General Review: 

This tale of Billy Creekmore begins cruel and bleak at an orphanage. When a stranger claiming to be his uncle comes for him, Billy begins a journey from the coal mines of West Virginia to the world of the traveling circus, while looking for his past and seeing what's in his future. A strong historical novel told in a child-true voice brings the shocking facts about the lives of children at the turn of the century alive for the reader.

Themes: Self-reliance; Orphanages; Coal mines mining; Circus, West Virginia

Author Information:


Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 5)

  1. Do you think Billy really can communicate with spirits? What in the story makes you think the way you do? How does your opinion about this affect the way you read the story?
  2. As Billy learns different things about his past, his birth, and his mother's death, how does this knowledge affect his future?
  3. Billy makes several hard choices. What do you think is the hardest choice he makes and why?
  4. If you could meet Billy Creekmore tomorrow, what would you tell him about the differences between his time and yours? What would be important for him to know?
  5. Compare and contrast Billy's various bosses, including Mr. Beadle, Mr. Newgate, the Captain, and Mr. Sparks.


  1. As the students read, have them keep a list of towns, states, rivers and other places where Billy goes. Map out Billy's trip as best you can with this information. Discuss how students would feel about going on Billy's journey themselves. (Standard 3; Benchmark 4)
  2. Research what life was like at the turn of the twentieth century. Topics might include clothing, food, child labor, orphanages, United Mine Workers, or traveling circuses. Have the students share five pieces of information they learned either verbally or in a electronic presentation. (Standard 3; Benchmark 4)
  3. Examine the chapter titles. They are done with different fonts etc. Design an advertisement for the book following the design of the chapter titles. (Standard 5; Benchmark 3)

Similar Books for Further Reading

•  The Journal of Otto Peltonen by William Durbin

•  Fire in the Hole by Mary Cronk Farrell

•  Breaker Boys by Pat Hughes

Cracker! The Best Dog in Viet Nam

Kadohata, Cynthia; New York, Atheneum Books, 2007.

Grade Level: 6-8

Hardback ISBN & cost: 1416906371, 9781416906377, 16.99


A young soldier in Vietnam bonds with his bomb-sniffing dog.

General Review: 

A German shepherd dog is trained to sniff out bombs, traps, and the enemy.

Told in part through the point of view of the German shepherd “Cracker,” this book is an action-packed glimpse into the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of a dog and her handler.


Themes: German shepherd dog – War use – Juvenile fiction; Dogs – War use – Juvenile fiction; Vietnam War, 1961-1975 – Juvenile fiction; Human-animal relationships – Juvenile fiction

Author information This website is a short video of the author talking about her book.

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

  1. Describe the difference between Rick's relationship with Cracker and Cracker's with Rick compared to Willie and Cracker. Talk about trust and respect.
  2. In Chapter 11-6 th paragraph, the author explains, “The Vietcong were guerillas.” Explain what this means. Discuss why dogs were needed in this war.
  3. In Chapters 14-16, Cracker and Rick have several successful missions. Talk about their feelings during and after these missions and how these missions change their relationship with each other.

4. At the end of Chapter 16, a joke has been played on Rick. Discuss why it helped soldiers to survive to play practical jokes sometimes.


•  Using Internet and book research, have students a write a paragraph about the Vietnam War.

Invite them to share their paragraphs in class. (Standard 9, Benchmark 1)

•  Begin your lesson about dogs used in wartime 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 dogs and wartime. 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)

•  Dogs have extraordinary senses. Do research on the senses of dogs that make them

indispensable during times of war. (Standard 1, Benchmark 5)

•  Compare and contrast Cracker's relationship with Willie and Rick. Use a Venn diagram. 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. (Standard 3, Benchmark 1)

Similar Books for Further Reading: 

•  Letters from Wolfie by Patti Sherlock

•  War Dog: a novel by Martin Booth

Websites with related activities for this book:

For more information and pictures of dogs used for war, try this website:

Elephant Run

Roland Smith; Hyperion Books, 2007.

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN-13 HB 978-1423104025; $15.99


Journey through the jungles of Burma and explore the effects World War II had on Burma and the use of timber elephants on plantations.

General Review: 

This history adventure about British colonization, forced occupation, and World War II finds 14-year-old Nick on his British father's teak plantation. Invading Japanese force Nick to work the plantation like a servant while his father is taken as a prisoner of war. When the danger escalates, he along with a Monk and his granddaughter escape through the jungles of Burma on the timber elephants used to work the plantation. This story is filled with intrigue, danger, plot twists and suspense.

Themes: World War II, Timber elephants, Burma, Plantations, Jungles, Prisoners of War, Friendship, Loyalty, Betrayal, Hope and Violence.

Author Information:

Discussion Questions (Standard 3; Benchmark 5)

•  Describe Nick's first encounter with Hannibal. What are the effects of this event over the next several chapters? How would you have felt in this situation?

•  Compare and contrast the house (Hawk's Nest) of Nick's memory to the one he finds nine years later. Why is it so deserted? What makes this place so important to Nick's family?

•  How does the war find Nick in Burma and how does it affect his stay on the plantation?

•  Describe Nick's days as a captive of the Japanese. Do you think that war forces people to behave differently than they normally would, or reveals their true character?

•  Discuss the ten precepts a Buddhist monk novice must agree to live by. Which ones would be most difficult for you?


•  Create a list of important characters as you read the novel. Include their name, relationship to Nick, their skills or attributes, and conflicts that include them. (Standard 2; Benchmark 4)

•  Draw a map of Burma to show the specific geographical setting of the novel. Include a legend. (Standard 3; Benchmark 4)

•  Using the descriptions from the book, draw the following items: koongyi elephant bell, manhout cowboy, gaur cow, civet cat, choon riding crop, natskin offering box, pangolin anteater. (Standard 3; Benchmark 5)

•  List and explain 8-10 new ideas you have learned about the time period of this novel and/or the culture represented. (Standard 3; Benchmark 2)

•  Write a subchapter placing yourself in the novel as a new character. You might be an American businessman trading for lumber at the beginning of the story, another American boy brought to the Colonel for questioning or maybe an American prisoner of war. Indicate which chapter you will be entering. Write in the third person, past tense to blend with the story. (Standard 3; Benchmark 4)

Similar Books for Further Reading: 

  • Code Talkers by Joseph Bruchac 
  • Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti 
  • Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

Elijah of Buxton

Curtis, Christopher Paul; New York: Scholastic Press, 2007.

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN-13: 978-0-439-023450


Elijah is an 11-year-old boy and first child to be born free in the in Buxton, Canada, a settlement populated by runaway slaves. He learns the harsh realities of slavery when he journeys to America, accompanying his friend, Mr. Leroy, who is attempting to retrieve his money.

General Review: 

Once again, Christopher Paul Curtis creates a wonderful coming-of-age story, this time set against the historical background of the real, “free” settlement of Buxton. Curtis' story is reminiscent of Twain's The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn , filled with hilarious to heart-rending events, authentic dialect, memorable supporting characters, and a lovable main character. 

Themes: Slavery, Underground Railroad, Freedom, Judging the Content of Character

Author Information: 

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

•  What was life like in Buxton?

•  Why was Elijah called “fra-gile”? Do you think it's o.k. to be fragile? Why or why not?

•  When Mr. Tavis said, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” what did he mean?

•  What were some of the lesson, good or bad, Elijah learned from his experiences with the Preacher?

•  What do you think will happen to Elijah and Hope when they arrive at Buxton?

Activity Suggestions: 

•  Draw a Venn diagram. Compare and contrast the lives of slaves to the free African-Americans in Buxton. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

•  Fold a sheet of paper in half twice, and then, open it. Label each quad as follows: Elijah, Cooter, Mr. Leroy, Preacher (or use alternate characters). In each square, write what you think that character would say about Elijah and why. (For example: In the square, labeled Elijah, you would write what Elijah thinks about himself.) (Standard 2, Benchmark 4)

•  Pa makes the same speech to all runaway slaves who make it to freedom in Buxton, pgs 164-165. Write a short speech that you would give to newly arrived slaves, welcoming them to the freedom of Buxton. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

•  Illustrate an event from the story. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4)

Further Reading: 

•  The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

•  Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry

•  Biographies: Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass

Other Resources: 



From Emporia: The Story of William Allen White

Buller, Beverley Olson; Kansas City, MO, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN # & cost: 978-1-933466-44-6, $24.95


The biography of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner William Allen White, this book describes the life and family relationships of the distinguished Kansas citizen for whom a children's book award named in his honor is given each year. White comes to life as a small town Kansas boy who eventually looks far beyond his Kansas roots and becomes a world renowned newspaper editor, globe trotter, and friend and confidante of presidents, but who stays true to the small town Kansas values he absorbed as a child.

General Review: 

Children and teachers of Kansas will be interested to learn more about the real William Allen White after reading so many “William Allen White books,” as the students vote for the winner of this award each year. Formerly an individual who may have seemed so distant from them, White is described as a person who could inspire them to look beyond their own backyards and discover the wonders of issues throughout the world. William Allen White is humanized as a real person, as the book includes descriptions of his close relationship with his wife, as well as his grief when one of his children succumbs to an untimely death. Many photographs depicting White's life are sprinkled throughout this eye-appealing book, as well as reproductions of some primary documents, including excerpts from editorials and letters he wrote.

Subject areas: White, William Allen, 1868-1944; Journalists – United States – 20th Century; Emporia (Kan) – History; Emporia gazette (Emporia, Kan)

Themes: White, William Allen, 1868-1944; Journalists – United States – 20th Century; Emporia (Kan) – History; Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kan)

Author information: Beverley Olson Buller is a school librarian in Newton, Kansas and an active member of the William Allen White Children's Book Awards Committee. View the following website for more information.

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

•  Brainstorm adjectives that best describe White as a boy, a man, an editor, and a critic of the world around him.

•  White wrote in the Emporia Gazette that “people run all over the world looking for beauty, and the truth is only they who stay at home find it.” What do you think he meant by this statement? Why did White stay in Kansas, even after writing that “Kansas has gone downhill” in the editorial entitled “What's the Matter with Kansas?”

•  What effect did the “ocean of books” in the White household have on his children Bill and Mary's lives? List some specific actions of White's children that might have resulted from growing up in this atmosphere.


•  Ask students to write letters to William Allen White describing the connections they made to his life and their reactions to the book. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

•  Ask students to conduct further research on the city of Emporia, Kansas. (Standard 1, Benchmark 5)

•  Investigate further information about White's friend, President Theodore Roosevelt. Write a report on his accomplishments as President. (Standard 2, Benchmark 4)

•  Ask students to compare and contrast the life of William Allen White with another leader, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (Standard 3. Benchmark 2)

Similar Books for Further Reading

•  The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman

•  Eleanor Roosevelt: a Life of Discovery by Russell Freedman

•  Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend) , by Deborah Hopkinson

•  What To Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! by Barbara Kerley

Iron thunder: the battle between

the Monitor & the Merrimac: a Civil War Novel

Avi; New York, Hyperion Books for Children, 2007.

Grade Level: 6-8

Hardback ISBN and cost: 9781423104469, $15.99


Tom Carroll must get a job to help support his mother and sister but what kind of job can a thirteen-year-old get that pays enough money? A friend of his mothers offers him a job working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When Tom enters the Yard, he has no idea that in two months he would be part of the most amazing adventure during the Civil War.

General Review: 

In his first I WITNESS book, Avi has written about a time in our history that many students (and adults) know very little about, the battle between the USS Monitor and the USS Merrimac. Thirteen-year-old Tom Carroll narrates this compelling story about the hardships with his family, trying to escape a rebel spy, helping to build the Monitor and finally the battle between the first two Ironclads, the Union's Monitor and the Confederate's Merrimac. The illustrations by C.B. Mordan (who lives in Kansas) and the photographs and pictures from the Mariners' Museum and Library help to make this a fast-paced and exciting book to read.

Themes: Civil war, historical fiction, armored vessels

Author Information: 

  • Avi's official web site: 

  • Illustrator C. B. Mordan web site

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

  1. The “Copperhead” (a Confederate spy) told Tom to “keep your eyes open” and report back any information about the Ironclad ship. He then gave Tom a gold coin. What did Tom do? Would you have done the same thing?
  2. At the age of thirteen, Tom was offered a job on the USS Monitor. Would Tom in today's world be offered a job on a ship? Why or why not? If you were Tom, would you have taken the job he was offered?
  3. Tom was afraid he would have nothing to do during the battle but Captain Worden had a very special assignment for him. What did Tom do during the battle? Could you have done Tom's job?
  4. On page 169, Tom talks about the differences between the two Ironclads. From the descriptions, which ship should have won the battle? Why?


  1. Research the USS Monitor at . When did they find the wreckage of the Monitor under the sea? How much has been recovered? Where is it on display? (Standard 1, Benchmark 1)
  2. Draw an illustration of your favorite part of the book but use only black ink like illustrator by C. B. Mordan does in the book. (Standard 5, Benchmark 3)

Similar Books for Further Reading: 

  • Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
  • Crispin: At the Edge of the World by Avi
  • Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859: A Tale of the Old West by Avi
  • Fields of Fury: The American Civil War by James McPherson
  • The Journal of James Edmond Pease: A Civil War Union Soldier, Virginia, 1863 by Jim Murphy

Leap of Faith

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; Dial Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Grade Level: 6-8

ISBN # and cost: 9780803731271, $16.99


Forced to attend a Catholic middle school because of her conduct, Abigail discovers a talent for theater and develops a true religious faith.

General Review: 

At the opening of the story, sixth-grader Abigail has been expelled from middle school, forcing her non-religious parents to send her to a private Catholic school. The author skillfully divulges the reasons behind Abigail's expulsion little by little throughout the story, revealing that Abigail used a knife to assault another student in the cafeteria. As Abigail tries to become “invisible” in her new school, she discovers a talent for acting in drama class, struggles to find a personal faith in God, and tries to break through to her parents to get them to really listen to her explain the reason behind her violent incident. The author effectively frames this serious subject matter for a middle school audience. This coming-of-age story does an excellent job of showing how Abigail seeks out information about Catholicism and struggles with what it means to have faith in something you can't see, but is never preachy or heavy-handed. This realistic story portrays a girl in crisis as she is able to work through difficult situations and issues to find peace with herself, her parents, and God.

Themes: Catholic schools; Faith in God; Religion; Bullying; Parent-child relationships; Drama and theater.

Author information: 

•  "Kimberly Brubaker Bradley." Contemporary Authors Online from Gale's Literature Resource Center . Available through free access to KanED Education Desktop/State Library Databases.

•  Author's official Website 

•  A Conversation with Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (author interview)

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3, Benchmark 3) 

•  Why does Abigail attack Brett McAvery in the cafeteria? Is her attack justified? Why or why not? What other course of action might she have chosen in this situation?

•  Do you think Abigail's parents are responsible for the attack in the cafeteria? Why or why not?

•  Why does Abigail slap Chris during drama class?

•  How is Mrs. Brashares (Chris's mom) important in the story?

•  Describe Abigail's relationship with her parents at the beginning of the book. What is her relationship with them like at the end of the book? What caused the change?

•  How does Abigail change and grow as a person throughout the story?

•  Once Abigail learns the rituals and routines of the Catholic church services, she finds comfort and peace in them. Are there any special rituals or ceremonies that are meaningful to you?

•  Abigail struggles with taking a “leap of faith” by believing in something she can't see. Who or what do you have faith in? How do you keep that faith alive?


•  Research different religions or faiths. How are they the same? How are they different? (Standard 2, Benchmark 4; Standard 3, Benchmarks 1, 3) 

•  Try some drama games or reader's theater. (Standard 3, Benchmark 4; Standard 5, Benchmark 2; Standard 9, Benchmark 1) 

Drama Games: 

•  “Five Easy Drama Games for the Early Elementary Classroom” by Theresa Sotto 

•  Creative Drama Lesson Plans

•  Theater Games

•  Drama Resource: Drama Games 

•  Improv Encyclopedia has lists of drama games 

Reader's Theater scripts (available free online): 

•  Aaron Shepard's Reader's Theater Page
(my favorites are “The Legend of Lightning Larry” and “Three Sideways Stories from Wayside School”)

•  Double Trouble in Walla Walla by Andrew Clements RT script (funny tongue twisters)

•  Reader's Theater Scripts for popular stories and children's books 

Similar Books for Further Reading

•  Larger-than-life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall

•  The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

•  No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman

•  Replay by Sharon Creech

•  Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan

•  Ruthie's Gift by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (the play they present in Leap of Faith )

Leepike Ridge

Wilson, N.D;

New York, Random House, 2007.

Grade Level: grades 6-8)

ISBN (paperback) & cost: 9780375838743; 0375838740; $15.99


Tom thought he would do about anything to prevent his widowed mother from marrying Jeffrey, a teacher at his school. However, Tom hadn't bargained for the mysterious adventure he soon found himself on! Even though the authorities have given up on finding Tom after he suddenly disappears, his mom just feels in her bones that he is still alive, and doesn't want to give up looking for the son with whom she had so strongly bonded after his father's death.

General Review: 

Anyone who has faced seemingly impossible odds will be able to relate to Tom, who struggles to grow up without a father, and then faces being stuck in an underground cave with only a corpse as a companion! Can he possibly find the strength and hope necessary to escape from this dark, damp prison? Readers will follow Tom with bated breath as he tries to decide who to trust, and pushes himself to the limits of endurance.

Themes: Subject areas: Missing persons – Juvenile fiction; Caves – Juvenile fiction; Adventure and adventurers – Juvenile fiction; Mothers and sons – Juvenile fiction; Buried treasure – Juvenile fiction

Author information: N. D. Wilson is a Fellow of Literature at New Saint Andrews College, where he teaches classical rhetoric to freshmen. He is also the managing editor for Credenda/Agenda magazine, a small Trinitarian cultural journal. He lives in Moscow, Idaho with his wife and four children ( ).

Author's website:

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

•  Why does Tom's mother tell him to apologize to Mr. Veatch (Jeffrey)? Do you think he should?

•  Have you ever visited a cave? Was your experience anything like Tom's?

•  What role does Argus play in the story? How have animals affected how you've felt during traumatic adventures in your life?

•  What treasures do Tom and his mother find?


•  Research caves in the United States. Can you find any information on underground cave and lakes? Standard 5, Benchmark 3

•  Look up information on water clocks that are similar to the one Reg built . Sketch a diagram of such a clock which explains how it works. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

•  What would you write on a cave wall (as Reg did) if you thought you were going to be there forever? Pretend you are stuck in an underground cave, and design your own cave inscription. Standard 5 Benchmark 3

Similar Books for Further Reading

•  Brian's Winter by Gary Paulsen

•  Abel's Island by William Steig

•  Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

•  A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

Sarah Miller; Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007

Grade Level:   6 th -8 th

ISBN # and cost: 978-1-41692542-2, 1-4169-2542-2, $16.99


At age twenty, partially-blind, lonely but spirited Annie Sullivan travels from Massachusetts to Alabama to try and teach six-year-old Helen Keller, deaf and blind since age two, self-discipline and communication skills. Includes: historical notes and timeline.

General Review:  

This historical fiction novel takes biographical material of famed deaf-blind girl Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan, and brings it to life with emotion.  Though many know the amazing story of how Sullivan broke through to teach Keller language skills, this story is unique in its honest and detailed portrayal of the enormous physical, mental, and emotional effort it took for the two to forge a bond.  The author is particularly skillful in revealing how Sullivan's rough childhood and upbringing gave her the tenacity needed to tame a wild and overindulged Helen.  Sullivan's dedication to unlocking Helen's mind despite numerous obstacles is miraculous and inspiring.  Primary sources in the form of excerpts from Annie's letters add to the book's authenticity.  Told from Annie's point of view, this is a new spin on an often-told story that is a candid portrait of a struggle toward the light.

Themes: Blindness; Deafness; Helen Keller; Annie Sullivan; Teachers; Teacher-student relationships; Communication; Perseverance.

Author Information: 

•  Author Sarah Miller's official website (author information, audio clip, downloadable book jacket,

and downloadable reading guide) 

•  Interview with Sarah Miller

•  Interview with Sarah Miller from Embracing the Child

•  Sarah Miller's Blog 

Discussion Questions:  (Standard 3, Benchmark 3) 

•  Compare and contrast Helen Keller with Annie Sullivan.  How were they alike?  How were they different?  How did Helen and Annie's similarities help Annie reach Helen?

•  Why was Helen such an undisciplined mess?  Do you blame her family?  Would you have done things differently if you were part of her family?

•  Why did Annie want to take Helen away from her family for a while?  Do you agree it was necessary?

•  Was Annie unnecessarily cruel to Helen?  Why or why not?

•  What character traits did Annie have that helped her find success with Helen?

•  Imagine that you were going to lose your sight and hearing in one week.  What experiences would you want to have between now and then? (places to go, things to see and do)

•  If you lost your sight, what would you miss seeing the most?  If you lost your hearing, what would you miss hearing the most?

•  An excellent Reader Guide , including an author interview, more discussion questions and activity ideas, is available online at:

Activity Suggestions: 

•  Learn more about Braille, finger spelling, or American Sign Language (ASL). (Standard 3, Benchmark 2) 

•  Learn more about Helen Keller.  This book provides an in-depth look at her initial experience with teacher Annie Sullivan, but what about the rest of her life?  What did she go on to accomplish? (Standard 3, Benchmarks 2, 3) 

•  Imagine that you are creating a proposal for Helen Keller to be honored with a national holiday.  Write a proposal that explains why she deserves such an honor.  How and when should the day be celebrated? (Standard 3, Benchmarks 1, 2, 3, 4) 

•  Play games that force you to communicate in unconventional ways and discuss the challenges you face.  Play charades (acting things out without talking).  Spend a day not speaking, communicating only through writing.  Blindfold students and have them identify objects by touch only. (Standard 3, Benchmark 3) 

Braille sites: 

•  Braille Bug – A site from the American Foundation for the Blind to teach sighted kids in grades 3-6 about Braille 

•  Braille: Deciphering the Code

•  “You've Got Braille” Braille translator

•  Worley, Helen L.  “The Dots of Louis Braille.”  Children's Digest Jan/Feb 2008:  16-17.  (Available through free access to World Book Online through Kan-Ed/Education Desktop.)

ASL sites: 

•  Surfing the Net with Kids: Sign Language

•  Animated ASL Dictionary

•  Arthur's Sign Design

•  Thinkquest: ASL for kids

Helen Keller resources: 

•  Helen Keller Kids Museum Online (includes video clips)

•  The Miracle Worker , 1962 movie with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke (adapted from the book Helen Keller: The Story of My Life )

Follow-Up Books: 

If you liked Miss Spitfire , you might also want to try:

•  Helen Keller: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (autobiography)

•  Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy by Helen Keller (biography)

•  Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures by George Sullivan (biography)

Night of the Howling Dogs

Salisbury, Graham; Wendy Lamb Books (division of Random House), 2007.

Grade Level: 5-9

ISBN-13 (hardback) & cost: 978035731225; $16.99


Survival skills are put to the test in 1975, when eleven Boy Scouts and their leaders who are camping at Halape, Hawaii experience a massive earthquake strike followed by a tsunami.

General Review: 

When hearing that Louie will be joining his Boy Scout troop, eighth grader Dylan's anticipation turns to dread. But Louie was the least of Dylan's worries when an earthquake hits their campground, and then a tsunami floods the area. Dylan and Louie must use each other's strengths to help the others. A tale, based on a true event, of courage, strength and survival that will have the reader not wanting to put the book down.

Themes: Natural disasters, Bullies, Boy Scouts, Camping, Courage, Hawaii, Survival, Tsunamis

Author Information:

  • Favorite Children's Authors and Illustrators – vol 5 (Traditions Books)
  • Writers for Young Adults – vol 3 (Scribner's Sons)
  • Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature (Continuum)
  • Major Authors & Illustrators for Children and Young Adults – Supplement (Gale)

Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 5)

  1. Have you ever been bullied by someone older than you? Did something happen, like in this story, to change your relationship with or your opinion of that person?
  2. In the story, there was a myth that seeing a dog repeatedly meant trouble to come. In everyday life, we hear about myths such as “my nose is itching, I must be going to have company.” What myths have you heard, and do you believe them?
  3. Have you ever been involved in a natural disaster or known someone who has been? What survival skills have your parents taught you so that you could be prepared for a natural disaster that is common in your area?


•  Research what survival skills are taught by the Boy Scouts of America. Which badges need to be earned? (Standard 2; Benchmark 4)

•  Research the true event that this book was based upon. Compare and contrast the events and people involved with the events and characters of the book. How historically accurate was the author? (Standard 2; Benchmark 4)

•  Using print and electronic resources, have your students become experts on survival. They can learn safety and survival skills, and use the information to create a poster or brochure. Have each student choose a different natural disaster: avalanche, flood, tornado, hurricane, forest fire, earthquake, or getting lost in the woods. (Standard 5; Benchmark 3)

Similar Books for Further Reading

•  Earthquake Terror by Peg Kehret

•  Night of the Twister by Ivy Ruckman

•  Quake by Joe Cottonwood

•  A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements


Korman, Gordon; Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2007.

Grade Level:  6-8                 

ISBN & cost: 978-078685692-3, $15.99

Synopsis: After growing up totally removed from today's world, raised and homeschooled by his grandmother “Rain,” an aging “hippie” who is still living in her own world circa the 1960's, Capricorn (“Cap”) is thrust into a new life as a student at a public middle school when Rain has to enter a rehabilitation facility for a broken hip.  Cap must try to fit into a world he has been taught to stay away from, and after he is elected eighth grade president as a joke by the “cool” crowd, he and his classmates have to acknowledge that some of the values that Rain taught him perhaps aren't too old-fashioned for today's world.

General Review: Anyone who has ever felt out of place in a crowd will relate to Cap's experiences as the new kid who doesn't dress right among students who equate in-style clothes with worthiness.

Themes: Middle school students – Juvenile fiction; Home schooling – Juvenile fiction; Hippies – Juvenile fiction; Zen Buddhism – Juvenile fiction; Leadership in children – Juvenile fiction; United States – History, 1961-1969 – Juvenile fiction; Student government – Juvenile fiction 

Author information: 

Something About the Author , Volume 81

Korman, Gordon in Contemporary Authors Online from Gale's Literature Resource Center. Available through free access to KanED Education Desktop/State Library Databases.

Discussion Questions:  (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

•  Put yourself in their place: You don't have a television, as Cap and Rain didn't at the commune.  What type of activities would you do in place of watching television?  Could you survive without a cell phone and a computer?

•  What kind of person was Sophie at the beginning of the story? What incidents happened in Schooled that changed Sophie's opinion about Cap, and why do you think so?

(Literature Standard 4, Benchmark 2)  Zach

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

4.   When Sophie heard “All You Need is Love” when taking her driving test, suddenly her tears were flowing, and she couldn't stop crying. Why do you think that happened? Has music ever affected you emotionally in this way?


•  Interview someone in your family or your town who lived through the 1960's. Write a short paper about changes they observe in today's world versus that era.

(Standard 3: Benchmark 2)

2.   Go to the library and find information about communes that were active during the 1960's. If possible, find someone who lived in one and interview him or her about experiences there. (Standard 1; Benchmark 5)

3.   Research to learn more about music and musicians of the 60's era that are mentioned in the book. (Standard 3, Benchmark 3; Standard 5, Benchmark 1)

Similar Books for Further Reading

  • The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Born to Rock by Gordon Korman