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Posts tagged ‘Book Club’

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

A Single Shard

One could dismiss A Single Shard by thinking that a story set in twelfth century Korea would not hold the interest of today’s young readers. Until reading the first page, and then you would realize your error. Right away, Tree-ear’s story is one that needs to be told. There are so many wonderful things about this book, it is hard to name just a few. First is the relationship between Tree-ear, an orphan who lives under a bridge, and Crane-man, his companion and teacher in the important elements of life. Then we have Min, a master potter who is strict and unfriendly, punishing Min for breaking a piece of pottery with many days of hard work. Min’s wife, Ajima, makes food everyday for Tree-ear, once Tree-ear begins the work of an apprentice. Yet Tree-ear is an orphan, and as much as he loves pottery and desires to become a master potter, tradition dictates that only a potter’s son may be an apprentice and learn the trade of his father. Tree-ear wants to help Min receive a royal commission for his work, a difficult task for a potter. Yet Min and Tree-ear are determined, despite the obstacles in their paths. Will Min receive a royal commission? Will their plan be successful? Can Tree-ear make a long, sometimes dangerous journey to Songdo on his own? What will happen to Crane-man without Tree-ear nearby? Will Tree-ear ever become an official apprentice and learn the trade of pottery?

Quotes for Discussions and Journals

*page numbers refer to the 2011 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition

  • “Work gives a man dignity, stealing takes it away.” (page 6)
  • “Scholars read the great words of the world. But you and I must learn to read the world itself.” (page 7)
  • “My friend, the same wind that blows one door shut often blows another open.” (Crane-man, page 97)
  • “Why was it that pride and foolishness were so often close companions?” (page 102)
  • “‘I have no gift for you beyond words,” he said. ‘I would tell you this. Of all the problems you may meet on your journey, it will be people who are the greatest danger. But it will also be people to whom you must turn if ever you are in need of aid. Remember this, my friend, and you will travel well.'” (page 107)
  • “Leaping into death is not the only way to show true courage.” (page 126)
  • “There were some things that could not be molded into words.” (page 139)
  • “Tree-ear ducked his head quickly, recalling that the son of Min had been called Hyung-gu. A name that shared a syllable! It was an honor bestowed on siblings. No longer would Tree-ear go by the name of an orphan. He could only nod wordlessly, but he felt Ajima’s smile at his back as he turned away.” (page 147)

Discussion Questions

  • The first scene in the novel involves Tree-ear and a farmer. What do you think of Tree-ear’s decision in this scene? What do we learn about Tree-ear? What kind of person is he? Find evidence in the text to support the characteristics you see in Tree-ear.
  • Describe Tree-ear and Crane-man’s relationship? Why are they friends? What ideas and values form the basis of their friendship?
  • Crane-man offers many moments of wisdom for Tree-ear. What are some of the lessons learned by Tree-ear because of his elder friend? What quotes show Crane-man’s wisdom?
  • Explain the apprentice process for potter’s in twelfth century Korea. What are the advantages to this type of system? What are the disadvantages? How is the apprentice system similar to modern day education? How is it different?
  • Honor and honesty are both important values in this story. How does Tree-ear learn about both honor and honesty? What incidents in the storyline help us understand how honor and honesty are part of the characters’ lives? Why is it so important to Tree-ear to be honest and live his life with honor?
  • Names are very important in Korean culture. What are the stories behind Tree-ear and Crane-man’s names? What is the significance of the name that Ajima gives Tree-ear in the final chapter? Why is this important to Tree-ear? What do you think this means for Tree-ear’s future?
  • What is the significance of the title A Single Shard? Can you think of other titles that would also be appropriate for this book? Cite evidence from the text in discussing your proposal for a title.


Linda Sue Park Website

Reading Rockets Interview

Linda Sue Park Interview (Cynthia Smith Site)

Interview with Tim Podell (youtube)

Newbery Project

Interested in pairing books with A Single Shard? Here are some great possibilities!

Korean Folk Tales, Fairy Tales & More

The Green Frogs: A Korean Folktale by Yumi Heo

The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy: A Korean Folktale by Yangsook Choi

The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo

All About Korea by Ann Martin Bowler

The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park

The Royal Bee by Frances Park and Ginger Park

Readers of A Single Shard will likely be inspired to read another Linda Sue Park novel. Which one will you read next?

Discussing the Outrageous Pippi Longstocking – by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi LongstockingReaders all over the world immediately recognize a mischievous girl with red braids and a penchant for creating trouble. And young readers will laugh and smile at Pippi’s antics! This is a fun book – perfect for summer reading! Not to mention excellent for reading out loud.

Pippi resides in Sweden, home of the author Astrid Lindgren. Pippi’s story actually began when Lindgren’s nine year old daughter, Karin, requested a story one day when she was home from school, ill in bed. Her mother began a story about an outrageous girl who had a tendency to end up in unpredictable, crazy adventures, and also has amazing strength (never explained but quite often put to use in her adventures – picking up a horse or grown man!). Karin named the character “Pippi Langstrump.” When Lindgren first submitted her manuscript for publication, it was rejected. Finally, it was published with a different company (1945), along with additional books about Pippi’s adventures over the following years. Three longer Pippi books were published (Pippi Longstocking, 1945; Pippi Goes on Board, 1946; and Pippi in the South Seas, 1948). Several picture books and short books based on adventures in the original books have also been published over the years. The first Pippi film was completed in 1949; since that time, there have been other films, television specials, television series (in Sweden in 1969), a later American film in 1988, and other productions, on stage and on screen, in multiple countries.

Pippi has a suitcase of gold coins, a house with no grown ups around (Villa Villekula) and the companionship of her horse and Mr. Nilsson (a monkey) and two best friends nearby, Tommy and Annika. Pippi is unconventional and terrible at following the “rules” of society or school. Yet she is also trustworthy, loyal, and thoughtful in her friendships with Tommy and Annika. Mrs. Settergren is not thrilled about many of Pippi’s wild adventures, but comes to understand that the friendship is good for all three children. While Pippi tells many tall tales, she also tells the truth when questioned, displays her loyalty and thoughtfulness with Tommy and Annika, and acts selflessly to help other people when the situation calls for it.

Readers will have fun discussing their favorite Pippi adventures, as well as the qualities that make Pippi an interesting and fascinating friend. This book presents an excellent opportunity to discuss characters and characterization, as we learn about each character through the many haphazard events throughout the book.

Finding the Words for Pippi

An easy extension idea that will get your readers thinking about Pippi (and words!) is a simple vocabulary brainstorming session. This brainstorming idea sparked a lot of discussion – and sometimes debate – about Pippi and her antics with a group that recently read Pippi Longstocking. One reader came up with a word and then described the incident that provided the “evidence” for that characteristic, then another reader who add another word or description. Truly, one word sparked another word and another word until we had quite a list of very creative words to describe Pippi!

Some of the words my young readers discovered:

  • spontaneousPippi
  • brave
  • creative
  • adventurous
  • unique
  • nice
  • stubborn
  • silly
  • thoughtful
  • crazy
  • smart
  • foolish
  • wild
  • helpful
  • friendly
  • artistic

More Ideas

Pippi exudes energy and creativity! So why not use that energy and creativity for writing?

  • Write your own Pippi chapter. In your chapter, include: a title, a silly or new event/adventure for Pippi, Tommy and Annika, and use dialogue for each of them. Have fun!
  • Imagine a conversation between Pippi and a teacher. Select a topic or new story for Pippi and imagine what Pippi and the teacher may discuss about this new adventure.
  • Write about what Pippi will be like as a grown up. Imagine what she is doing, where she is living, and what kinds of things she does during the day as an adult. Use dialogue and be creative!

More Resources for Pippi

Pippi Longstocking – Rebel Role Model

Fun Trivia – Pippi

Astrid Lindgren Site

Pippi’s World

Scholastic book page

Children’s Books – Astrid Lindgren

Pippi.3Did you read Pippi as a child? What are your memories?

Just Juice by Karen Hesse

Just JuiceThis is a story about a girl who cannot read. It is also about a father who cannot read and a family who struggles to keep food on the table. It is powerful and moving – a must read for those at the chapter book level.

Juice is nine years old but carries the responsibility of an adult. She cares for her younger siblings, her pregnant and diabetic mother, and is the constant companion of her father, who has been out of work for quite some time. They live in a very small Appalachian mountain town. Juice is supposed to attend school with her two older sisters, but prefers to stay with her father, much to the dismay of her teacher and the truant officer who looks for Juice regularly ()bringing her to school when he manages to fin her). To complicate matters, not only does Juice feel obligated to stay with her father and help him make money fixing things, she doesn’t want to go to school because she struggles with reading. The anxiety of being discovered as a girl who cannot read keeps Juice away from her teacher and her classroom. She constantly worries about embarrassment in the classroom. She does not realize for awhile that her own father does not know how to read. Slowly she begins to see the clues about Pa’s difficulty with reading. She and Pa stand looking at an important letter, knowing that they must read it but neither of them can make sense of the letters. Juice’s older sister, Markey, reads the letter, and soon the family knows that their money situation is worse than anyone realized; they must come up with a large sum of money to pay the property taxes or they will lose their house. Geneva, the home health nurse nearby, comes by regularly to check on Ma and bring groceries provided by the government. But the family needs money to pay for the taxes. This is a burden to Pa and Juice, as they search for a way to provide income for the family.

Important Quotations for Discussion

” ‘You can’t read, Pa?’

Pa shakes his head.

He looks so hammered down lonely, like he has finally fallen through that black hole I’ve been holding him back from all this time. But I can’t let him go down that hole alone. I look at Lulu. Her face is knotted up, and I know I’m about to be tangled in the same snarl with what I have to say next, but I can’t let Pa take it all hisself. It’s too much.

‘I can’t read, either, Lulu,’ I say.” (page 119-120) *page numbers refer to Scholastic edition

Literacy is a central issue in this novel, as Juice and Pa cannot read, which has devastating consequences for the family. When Pa receives the tax letter, he cannot read it, and decides to ignore it rather than admit he cannot read. When Markey finally reads the letter for him, he is embarrassed, just as Juice is embarrassed at school when she cannot read with her fellow classmates. This humiliation is painful for both Juice and Pa. Once Ma finally reads the letters concerning the property taxes and the Juice’s attendance at school, she heads into town to resolve the problems. When she returns with a plan, she announces that everyone in the family will learn to read and the girls will all go to school.

“The thing is, I don’t have to be a famous doctor or anything fancy like that to be happy. All I have to be is Juice, just Juice. And that’s enough.” (pg. 138)

Quietly, this novel allows Juice to be herself and claim her own place in the family. Juice is torn between school and family, knowing that he current decision to stay out of school and help her father is not going to help her learn to read. Her sisters devise ways to help Juice, and make letter cards for her to study. But she also knows that she needs to be in school, though she is unhappy every time she goes to class. This quotation is an excellent starting point for discussing the moral of the story, Juice’s lessons, and what is important in life to Juice and her family.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is literacy important in Juice’s family? How does it affect the family when Pa and Juice cannot read? How do each of the family members feel about reading?
  • Why does Juice dislike going to school? How could her classmates help Juice? How could her teacher help? What ideas do you have for helping somebody who doesn’t know how to read and is afraid of embarrassment?
  • Juice’s family does not have a lot of money. What are some of the things that they do to help each other and survive without money?
  • How does the family celebrate Christmas? What does Christmas mean to each family member? What values are important in the Faulstitch family?
  • Juice learns many lessons through the course of the novel. What are the lessons that Juice learns? Of course, she is not the only one who learns lessons in the Faulstitch family. What lessons do Ma and Pa learn? Juice’s sisters?


Scholastic Discussion Guide 

Publishers Weekly Book Review

“How A Children’s Writer Survives the Newbery Award” with Karen Hesse (Institute of Children’s Literature)


Interested in more Karen Hesse books? Head over to my blog post on The Music of the Dolphins, another great book!

Music of the Dolphins by Karen Hesse

The Music of the DolphinsIt isn’t surprising to read that Karen Hesse was thinking about speech when she began writing this book. But Mila was a girl who surprised everyone, even Karen, as she told her story.

Mila is a young girl discovered by the Coast Guard on a island near the coast of Florida, alone and covered with barnacles, having lived with dolphins for an undetermined amount of time. Mila is unable to communicate initially, and we first read her story through a newspaper article.

Point of view is an interesting aspect in this novel, as Hesse decided to tell much of the story through Mila’s point of view, though her language is developing throughout the story. The typeface and diction reflect Mila’s progress in learning the English language and this technique adds to the rich language of the novel. The words gain in power and meaning as Mila learns new words to express her emotions and the difficulty of being the “feral child” studied by the government, locked in a ward from which she cannot escape, and separate from the ocean and the dolphins who have been her family for so many years. Mila is taught language and music, which Mila enjoys. Those studying her have hopes that she will teach them more about the dolphins and how they communicate. Dolphin talk is the hope of the scientists studying Mila. Yet Mila is learning much more about communication, humans, and music.

Important Quotations for Discussion

“I listen to the music. It is little sounds and little sounds together to make something so big. It is a bird singing and a whale singing and a people singing. It is so many sounds I cannot name. To hear it, it makes a little crying in my eyes.” (page 53)

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I am thinking. But I am alone. I am trapped in the net of the room. In the net of the humans. I think maybe I am drowning in the net of humans.” (page 110)

“But what do people know of me? Only pictures on the television. Only words. I am a thing to look at, to play with. Not a thing to touch and care for.” (page 126)

“They say they want me back, but I think they are not interested in the girl named Mila. I think they are not interested in the girl named Olivia. I think they are interested in the dolphin girl, only the dolphin girl. All my life with humans it will be this way. I will always be this dolphin girl. The humans will be curious the way the dolphin is curious about a piece of garbage floating on the sea. A thing to play with, a thing to drag and toss around, but in the end a thing to leave behind.” (page 156)

Discussion Questions

  • How is Mila different from others? What is most surprising about Mila? What does she find most surprising about her new life with humans?
  • Compare and contrast Mila and Shay. How are they alike? How are they different?
  • Why is Dr. Beck studying Mila and Shay? What does Dr. Beck hope to learn? Do you think it is okay to keep Mila and Shay confined so they can be studied?
  • Why do you think music becomes important to Mila? How does the music change her?
  • How does Mila first react to learning English and new ideas? Does her learning change? How does her motivation for learning change during the story?
  • Why does the typeface change during the story? The language?
  • Why does Mila want to go back to the sea and her dolphin family?
  • What do you think Dr. Beck and the other scientists learned from Mila?
  • Why do you think Karen Hesse decided to call the book The Music of the Dolphins? What does the title mean to you?

Writing Ideas

  • Compare Mila and Shay. How do each of them progress in the story? What kind of relationship do the two of them have? Why does Shay stop progressing? Is Mila right when she says that Shay is locked inside? Why is Mila different?
  • According to Dr. Beck, Mila is the first feral child to make true progress. Does Mila make progress throughout the novel? What about the end of the novel? Is her journey successful? Why or why not? What evidence from the text tells you that this is true?
  • Discuss the role of music in Mila’s life, both in the dolphin world and the human world. What is the music in each world? How is this music part of her life? How do we see Mila’s growth and change through her music? This is a great opportunity to bring in Mozart for students – as certainly Mila’s story includes music, so must the reading, discussing and writing of the novel. Music journals and writing is an excellent activity prior to starting an essay about Mila’s music in The Music of the Dolphins.


Scholastic book page

Interview by Students at Scholastic (scroll down for questions pertaining to The Music of the Dolphins)

Publishers Weekly Review

“How A Children’s Writer Survives the Newbery Award” with Karen Hesse (Institute of Children’s Literature)


Love reading books by Karen Hesse? Check out my blog post about Just Juice!

Yummy Goodness! Reading PIE by Sarah Weeks

PIE is a charming novel.PIE

Not surprisingly, it’s about pie. And a cat named Lardo. And a young girl named Alice. And Alice’s beloved Aunt Polly (famous for her pies and her selfless gifts) who passes away leaving her prized secret recipe for pie crust to Lardo, the cat. And Lardo is left to the care of Alice. Many questions arise. Where is the secret recipe? How is Lardo in charge of this recipe? And what is Alice to do with Lardo, the cranky cat who really doesn’t like anyone? Alice needs help to find these answers…and solve the mystery of the green Chevrolet and the mysterious people who show up in town…also on the hunt for the secret pie recipe….

This book will give readers the opportunity to discuss friendship and family, while reading about Alice, Aunt Polly and Lardo. Yet the book is also a mystery – a classic “whodunit” mystery – and readers will enjoy looking for clues while they make their own guesses about the green Chevrolet and the identity of the cat-napper. (Yes, this book includes a mysterious cat-napping incident!)

Questions to Ponder:


Why does Aunt Polly bake pies? Does she ever try to win a Blueberry Award? What does this tell the reader about Aunt Polly’s character?

What kind of friend is Alice? How does she treat other people? What kind of friend is Charlie?

Describe Ruth, Alice’s mom. How does Alice see her mom? How do you see Alice’s mom?

Friendship & Family

Alice and Charlie become good friends, especially after the death of Aunt Polly. Why do you think they become friends? Why is this friendship important to both of them? How does their friendship change?

Why are Alice and Aunt Polly so close? What makes their friendship special? Why do you think it is more difficult for Alice and her mother to get along?

What do we learn about Ruth when she shows Alice the scrapbook? What do we learn about Ruth and Polly’s relationship? How does Alice’s relationship with her mother change during the novel?


What are some of the “clues” along the way as the mystery unfolds? Who are the main suspects in the cat-napping? After finishing the story, can you go back and find some of the clues that led the readers to the right person?

Aunt Polly’s Wisdom – Important Quotations to Discuss

“Things do not change, we do.” ….”If you want things to be different, you have to start by changing yourself.” This conversation between Aunt Polly and Alice is found on page 122. Alice remembers this conversation, thinking about Charlie’s words “I’d rather be happpy.” Perfect opportunity for discussion (and readers can find about Henry David Thoreau).

“It’s important to be grateful for the gifts we have.” Polly tells Alice on their last evening together, after Alice tells her that she wishes she could sing better. “You are a wonderful songwriter. Don’t you ever forget that.” (page 21-22) This quote is excellent for revisiting after the end of the book. What do we know now in reading Aunt Polly’s words? What are the gifts of each character in the story? Aunt Polly? Alice? Ruth? Why are these gifts important?

“The most important ingredient in a pie is the love that goes into making it.” Aunt Polly told this “secret” to Alice (page 163). An excellent connection for discussing the reasons that Aunt Polly makes pies – and what doesn’t work about all of the people trying to make pies so that they can win the Blueberry Award.

Activity Ideas

  • A cookbook project that includes not only recipes, but also words of wisdom and tidbits about each of the characters. Match the characters with the pies and include a reflection.
  • Imagine that Aunt Polly won another Blueberry Award. Write Aunt Polly’s speech, and think about the wisdom she might want to share when she discusses her pies.
  • After reading the Epilogue, think about what Alice’s Blueberry Award speech would be if she won the award forty years after her Aunt Polly. Think about what Alice has learned over the years, about herself, about Aunt Polly, and those she loves. What would she include in her speech? Write Alice’s speech – and include a favorite pie recipe!

Sarah Weeks Info & Reading

BookPage Interview

bookbox daily (Scholastic reading club blog)

Booktrailer for PIE on YouTube

A note from Sarah Weeks on her website about why she did not include the recipe for Aunt Polly’s famous pie crust in the book….and a “Not So Secret Pie Crust Recipe” courtesy of Michele Stuart. And it DOES look like a good pie recipe if you are in the mood for baking!

Now for another question….what is YOUR favorite pie???

Florida, a Diaper Gang, the Great Depression and a Mysterious Pirate Adventure! Turtle in Paradise awaits…

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm

Lately I have been on a reading kick with historical fiction, especially for the middle grades. There are some amazing books out there and I was thrilled to discover Turtle in Paradise. How did I miss this book when it won the Newbery Honor in 2010? I don’t know! But I’m so glad that I found Jennifer Holm’s book – it is a must read! Turtle in Paradise is set in the Florida Keys during the Great Depression.turtle Turtle, our main character, is an eleven year old girl who doesn’t care for Shirley Temple and does not appreciate any comparisons! She is sent to live with her aunt and cousins (new family members!) in the Florida Keys. She quickly discovers that life in this strange place involves the Diaper gang (some of her cousins who watch babies in a wagon that they pull around town), interesting characters and nicknames (Pork Chop, Slow Poke, Kermit, Beans, Pudding), a mysterious Grandma Nana Philly and of course, secret treasure.


Right away, Holm introduces unique characters who are three dimensional and fascinating! This book presents an excellent opportunity to teach readers about characterization. Perfect for a character study!

  • Character name (and nickname) What does the name and/or nickname tell us? Why do you think this nickname is appropriate for the character?
  • List three interesting things that you learned about the character.
  • Find two important quotes in the book about your character or something that your character does. Using a double entry journal style page, write your own thoughts about why these quotes are important in the right hand column. Why are your quotes important? What do we learn about the character from the quotes?
  • Think about an image for your character (perhaps something from the book or something that you create for your character). What is the image? Draw your image and write one paragraph about why this image is a good representation for your character.

Foreshadowing and Plot

The structure and storyline of Turtle in Paradise lends itself well to discussing plot and foreshadowing. A few places for stopping to discuss and make predictions (and an excellent opportunity for open-ended journals before discussion).

  • Chapter 3: Lucky as an Orphan. This is Turtle’s arrival in Florida and introduction to the Diaper Gang. It’s a great place to stop and talk about the chapter titles and make some predictions about what might happen to Turtle in the Florida Keys.
  • Chapter 11: Ladies Who Lunch. Turtle’s introduction to Nana Philly is a good place to discuss characterization. What do we learn about Turtle? What do we learn about Nana Philly?
  • Chapter 13: Believing in Monsters. Adventure! What happens that causes excitement for the kids? Why do you think the author called this chapter “believing in monsters?” Is this chapter suspenseful? Why?
  • Chapter 16: The Rescue Party. A great chance to make some predictions! What has surprised you about the story so far? What do you think will happen after the rescue? What will Turtle’s future be when the kids return?
  • Chapter 18: Paradise Found. The final chapter when Turtle’s adventure comes to a close. Why is this chapter called “paradise found?” What are the good things that happen, even after the disappointments?

Turtle in Paradise is a novel that readers will enjoy and a great opportunity to learn about characterization, foreshadowing, plot and suspense. And if you are interested in using other books to help readers learn more about the Great Depression and the time period of Turtle’s story, check out the following picture books and history resources. A good chance to create a text set and let kids explore!

Great Depression Picture Books to Accompany Turtle in Paradise

Potato: A Story from the Great Depression by Kate Lied

Born and Bred in the Great Depression by Jonah Winter

Rudy Rides the Rails: A Depression Era Story by Dandi Mackall

The Lucky Star by Judy Young

More Resources (some longer books worth the read!)

Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman

Children of the Dust Bowl – The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp by Jerry Stanley

The Great Depression: A History Just for Kids by KidsCap

Cinderella Fun with Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

ellaElla Enchanted

Yes, here she is, Cinderella! In a slightly different form, of course. Meet Ella, who has been given the wonderful gift of obedience from the fairy Lucinda. Of course, this obedience is not a welcome gift and poor Ella has quite the time living with the curse that forces her to do whatever anyone commands her to do. Especially when two rather unkind, greedy step-sisters enter her life. What is poor Ella to do?

This is a great book for discussion with students 3rd-6th grade, and the book easily lends itself to many extension activities, including possibilities for teaching characterization, setting, point of view, and theme.

The Curse

Why does Lucinda believe that her gift is a wonderful piece of magic? Why is it actually a curse for Ella? Is Ella’s curse ever a good thing?

Does Lucinda ever give gifts that are truly good? What is the worst gift that Lucinda bestows upon a person in the novel? Why is this the worst gift? How will it affect the person’s life?

Do you think you could live with the curse of obedience? Have you tried it? How long did it take until you were not thrilled with obeying every command?

The Fairy Book

Ella’s fairy book lets her see things that others cannot. How do you think that this book works? Why can’t Hattie see what Ella sees in the book? Why does Ella see certain things at particular times? Why do the stories change? Is this small magic or big magic? Is it a curse or a gift?

The Evil Stepsister – Hattie (and Olive!)

When we first meet Hattie, it is only for a brief moment. What are the first clues about Hattie’s character and what type of person she is? How does Hattie figure out Ella’s curse? Why does she decide to keep Ella’s obedience a secret? What do we know about Hattie through her relationship with Ella? Compare Hattie and Olive. How are they alike? How are they different?


Most decidedly, languages are an integral part of Ella Enchanted. Ella has a talent for languages and is eager to learn Ayorthaian. What does this tell us about Ella? Why are there so many different languages in the book? How is this important to the setting of Ella Enchanted?

Ella & Prince Char

How does Prince Char feel about Ella? When does Ella begin to realize Prince Char’s feelings for her? What are the clues that help Ella figure out his emotions? Ella doesn’t want to let Prince Char know how she feels. Why is this? What do we learn about Ella’s character through her decisions regarding Prince Char?

Ella & Cinderella

The story Ella Enchanted is loosely based on the classic fairy tale Cinderella. What do you think are the most important similarities? What are the most important differences between the two stories? How are Ella and Cinderella different?

Lessons Learned

While this story does not include a traditional school (finishing school is certainly not the normal school experience today!), there are many lessons learned throughout the story. By the end of the story, Ella has learned many important things that help make her a courageous, thoughtful, and caring girl. Make a list of the lessons that Ella learned. Hint: think about the lessons she learned from Mandy, Hattie, Prince Char and her parents. What is perhaps the most important lesson of all? What helps her break the curse and how is this an important lesson for Ella?

Ideas for Beyond Ella

  • Characterization.  Venn diagram (or an alternate graphic organizer) for Ella & Cinderella. Ask students to record each characteristic along with a line from the text that shows the characteristic in play in the story. Also good preparation for a compare/contrast essay using characters as the topic.
  • Setting. How is the setting important in Ella Enchanted? This is an excellent opportunity to explore the depth of the setting. This goes beyond just the setting of “Frell” as a place. How is magic a part of the setting? Fairies? Ogres? Gnomes? How does the setting affect the story when Ella moves to the city – and finishing school? What are the details that make Frell (and all of the places in the book) realistic? How does the author make the setting unique and realistic for the reader?
  • Writing Project:  What is a fairy tale? With the entire class, create a list of fairy tale characteristics. Next, take a fairy tale (not Cinderella) and rewrite the fairy tale in a different setting or a different time period. This is fun to do as a class – and you should expect your students to have some very creative ideas! It is also great preparation for the students to write their own versions of the fairy tale on their own. After the students finish their writing (this will take some time!) regroup as a class and share. Now compare the original fairy tale with the new version. Ask students to record their changes for the new fairy tale. What changed in the new version? Why did you make the changes? What is still the same? Read and share!

Cinderella Picture Books

There are many, many wonderful Cinderella picture books out there, and countless versions of this classic tale. Here are a few of my favorites that work well for pairing with Ella Enchanted. You will find that they lend themselves well to compare/contrast and studies in characterization and setting.

Have you read Ella Enchanted? Have you read this book with your students? Please share!

Love, Ruby Lavender — A Map, Questions, and Letters to Discuss

Love, Ruby Lavender —-  A Map, Questions, and Letters to Discuss


Good garden of peas! What a summer! And what a novel! If you haven’t read Love, Ruby Lavender, you really need to start right away. This is the story of just one summer – but it is so much more than just one summer – in Aurora County, courtesy of fabulous children’s author Deborah Wiles. Ruby Lavender is a darling, energetic little girl who loves her grandmother. This book will make you laugh out loud (Miss Eula and Ruby are Chicken Liberators of the Highest Order – and the scene where they “rescue” three chickens is one of my favorites!) and these characters will also teach you a few things about life, finding what is important, friendship, and how to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when the going gets tough.
This book is excellent for discussion for several reasons. The story is a fun one to read, and we also have some life lessons and important topics that create excellent connections for readers, both young and old. The book also lends itself well to some engaging extension activities, that will hopefully help readers build on those connections while learning more about the characters and the themes of the novel. Readers will be able to make text-to-self connections (especially with the topic of friends, as I am finding 3rd and 4th grade girls have a lot to say about friends and friendship – and all of them have invariably experienced some complications with friends) and also make broader text-to-world connections that will allow for more discussion of topics such grief, loss, friendship, and learning important lessons in life as we grow and change.

Topics for Teaching and Exploration

Grief & Loss

This is an important topic for discussion, particularly how Ruby and Miss Eula and Melba Jane all handle the grief in their lives. Losing Grandpa Garnet is difficult for Miss Eula and Ruby. We also learn that Melba Jane lost her dad in the same accident one year ago. Ruby and Melba Jane each deal with grief differently. Why do they handle this loss differently? What did they learn about each other when they finally connect and talk (after the chicken attack)? Did each of them change by the end of the novel? How did Ruby grow and change? How does Miss Eula handle the loss of Grandpa Garnet? Does Miss Eula change also?


Miss Eula and Ruby exchange letters through their own secret mailbox and later through the US post office while Miss Eula is in Hawaii. Ruby also sends pictures. Why are letters so important to Ruby and Miss Eula? How is this different than calling each other on the telephone? Do you write letters to anyone in your life? Write a letter to someone you know that is far away – send it and see if maybe you get a letter in return!

Words of Wisdom

Miss Eula is a wise woman and gives Ruby several pieces of advice throughout the novel. She is also known for the motto “life goes on.” Why is this so important to Miss Eula? And Ruby? Is this a good motto for life? What are your favorite pieces of advice? Dove also gives some advice – and Ruby likes to offer advice too. Do you agree with the advice that Ruby tells others in the book? Why or why not? Would you give Ruby some advice?


Ruby has some important friends in the story. Even though Ruby and Melba Jane are not friends, they both become friends with Dove. Why? What do you look for in a friendship? What is important in a good friend? Why do you think Ruby and Melba Jane just cannot be friends while both of them are friends with other people? Why do people hold grudges sometimes – and what can we do to help with conflicts in a friendship? What ideas do you have to help friends and people who might hold a grudge? What do Ruby, Miss Eula, Melba Jane and Miss Mattie all teach us about friends?


Look at the different covers for the novel. Why did the illustrator include certain pictures and images? What parts of the story are included on each cover? Which cover do you like the best? Why? If you were to make your own cover, what would you create? What cover do you think Ruby would create if she were to write the story of her summer?


Ruby draws a map of Halleluia, the town in Aurora County where she lives with her family. Why do you think she included certain landmarks and places? How does the map show what is important to Ruby? What would a map of your town/neighborhood look like? What would you include on the map to share with others?

More Online Resources

Deborah Wiles website (Reading Group Guide with Question)

Scholastic website

Deborah Wiles Interview (Harcourt)


Have you read Love, Ruby Lavender? Or other books by Deborah Wiles?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


When we recently read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for our young girls book club, I couldn’t believe how many plot summaries and multiple choice questions I found online! The internet abounds with chapter summaries, spark notes (boo) and honestly, rather boring questions. Call me crazy, but why ruin such a fun, interesting book with multiple choice and fill in the blank questions? Surely there are some better discussion topics and ideas for Roald Dahl’s fabulous novel of candy and children and life lessons!?!?!?! Of course there are some great resources out there that will help you teach the story of Charlie Bucket and learn all about Roald Dahl in the process!

Right away, I knew this classic book was a hit because the girls were so excited to start talking. They were already sharing and talking with each other before everyone was seated! A teacher’s dream come true!

An obvious discussion starter is “what did you like?” and I found that the girls had plenty to say about this! Everyone shared at least one (but sometimes five or six) scenes, or candies, or just silly events in the book that they loved! Watching one idea spark another was fun – just when one girl shared a moment she loved, someone else had another to share! Brilliant.

Our discussion kept going for a long time – definitely our longest discussion of the year. The topics ranged from candy to characters to the “moral” of the story to predictions for the future. The girls were on a roll with this book – one of our best discussions! They loved Charlie Bucket! And all of the candy!

Possible Ideas for Teaching and Exploration


This book is all about imagination. (Of course there is the Pure Imagination song from the 1971 film – you can easily find the clip of Gene Wilder singing on youtube) Imagination is one of the great qualities of Willy Wonka, and so imagination is an excellent topic for your students. How is imagination part of Willy Wonka’s factory? Why is it so important for his business? Who has more imagination – kids or adults? Why? Who do you know with the craziest, wildest imagination? What candy would you want to create? What room would you want to visit at the factory and why? Can you create a new invention that the Oompa-Loompahs could use in the factory?


charlie2Quentin Blake is a British illustrator and cartoonist who brought Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to life with amazing illustrations. You can find out more about Quentin Blake and see his artwork (from Charlie as well as many other children’s book) at   Even better, when you go to the Quentin Blake website, you will also find a “fun and free” tab that will take to some great pages to download for the kids – and COLOR! What could be better?!?! Go HERE for the link to download and color. Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Charlie & the Chocolate Factory are now iconic – and perfect for discussion. The illustrations can be a great starting point for the kids’ own illustrations or “one-pager” assignment.

My requirements for a fabulous one-pager:

  • color or shading
  • use the entire page
  • create a border
  • use at least one meaningful illustration (but hopefully several!)
  • at least one important quotation from the novel
  • on the back, write the important quotation again and then explain why it is important (depending on grade level, you may want to require one full paragraph or more)

One of the reasons that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can work so well with a one-pager is the great visuals found throughout the book. Guiding your students through the process of a one-pager will also be an opportunity to discuss descriptive writing!

What If?
This is a great starting point for questions. What if Charlie did not find the golden ticket? What would have happened to Charlie and his family? What do you think of how Charlie handled the money that he found? Did he do the right thing? What would you have done? Guiding the discussion carefully, this is an excellent opportunity for character analysis. What traits does Charlie have that may help him be successful? What kind of candy factory owner would Charlie be? What will the factory be like in the future? What if Charlie did something else – if he didn’t get the golden ticket? What would he do in the future?


Kids are quick to point out the faults of some of the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. One girl told me right away, “the parents didn’t do a very good job with Veruca Salt – they should have given her more rules! And made her do some chores instead of giving her everything she wants!” This was an excellent chance to talk about why sometimes we need rules and chores. Yes, the children have their flaws, and the readers can’t help but share in the amusement of some of the interesting things that happen to Augustus, Violet, Veruca, and Mike. Why doesn’t Willy Wonka select one of the other children at the end of the book? What character traits are less than ideal for running a big chocolate factory? What is Roald Dahl telling us about the characteristics he likes to see in children?

Some other great online resources to check out:charlie3

Roald Dahl Biography at

Scholastic biography of Roald Dahl (A previously unpublished chapter “The Vanilla Fudge Room”)

Have you taught Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or read the book with your children? What are your ideas? Please share!

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Brown Girl Dreaming is Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir told in poetry. BrownGirlDreamingThis book is ideal for upper elementary and middle school. And in a word, it will leave you breathless.

Not surprisingly, Brown Girl Dreaming was awarded the National Book Award and you will find this book on numerous lists of “top children’s books of 2014.” If you haven’t read Jacqueline Woodson before, this is the perfect introduction. And then you should start reading her other books — and with 3 Newbery Awards, 2 National Book Awards, a Coretta Scott King Award, 3 Coretta Scott King Honors, among other awards, she has many books that you simply MUST read.

Teaching this book includes so many possibilities. And today is Martin Luther King Jr Day. Perfect. This is what comes to mind after finishing the book….

Thematic Topics for Exploration

1963 and the Civil Rights Movement. Woodson was born in 1963 and throughout the book you will find mentions of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., peaceful protests, sit-ins, Ruby Bridges. The events of the Civil Rights Movement are very much a part of this book, which is an excellent opportunity for students to explore these moments in history. The possibilities are endless for learning and discussing Civil Rights as your students read Brown Girl Dreaming.

Setting. Ohio, South Carolina and New York. The author’s childhood, taking place in both the South and the North, is profoundly affected by place. The smell of her grandmother’s cooking, the dirt, the Southern small town where she walked with her siblings…and the North, the New York setting and also Ohio. Setting is an important piece of this story. Pairing this story with poetry that deals with setting (thinking of Nikki Giovanni’s “Knoxville, Tennessee”) and you have a great connection for your students to explore the importance of space and setting.

The Importance of Dreams. Certainly the American Dream is alive and present in Woodson’s memoir. This is a story of dreams and how one little girl keeps her both her dreams and her family history alive through writing and storytelling. The juxtaposition of dreams and history is fascinating, as Woodson looks to the past while she writes and dreams of the future.

Race and Identity in America. Woodson’s memoir of course deals with race and identity, particularly as it shaped her upbringing in South Carolina, Ohio and New York. As Woodson discusses in a recent interview, “My grandmother would always say to me, ‘You’re a pretty brown girl,’ ” she says. “There was something about ‘brown’ that felt more universal, and it was speaking to more people than myself.” (see National Public Radio interview) And in seeking to write more books about diversity, Woodson has given readers a book that speaks to more than her own individual experience. This is a book that will encourage students to think about their own identity and place.

Picture Books About the Civil Rights Movement

Some of my favorite picture books – ideal for introducing the Civil Rights movement and excellent for pairing with Brown Girl Dreaming. These books lend themselves well to class discussions and text sets.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodsonotherside

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

The School is Not White! A True Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Doreen Rappaport

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkey

Rosa’s Bus: The Ride to Civil Rights by Jo S. Kittenger

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carol Boston Weatherfordruby

More online resources for building a unit around Brown Girl Dreaming


Jacqueline Woodson’s website

National Public Radio interview

National Book Award video

New York Times piece by Jacqueline Woodson “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke”

Please share – have you read Brown Girl Dreaming? What are your thoughts about possibilities for the classroom?

What do you read and discuss for Martin Luther King Jr Day in your classroom?

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