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Posts tagged ‘Teaching’

Christopher Mouse by William Wise

Christopher MouseThis is the tale of a young mouse on a journey. Christopher begins his life with his mother and siblings in a box, only to see his brothers sold to a laboratory and his sister sold to a young girl at a pet store. Christopher, too, is separated from his mother and siblings, and is sold to a young boy with the appearance of the perfect pet owner. But Christopher’s life is full of surprising adventures, as he ends up with a new owner, an amazing and almost devastating encounter with a cat, an escape and adventure in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and more surprises along the way as he searches for a loving, forever home.

Words of Wisdom

Christopher receives several tidbits of advice from his mother, great for discussions and predictions along the way!

“‘Certainly the world can be grim at times,’ she told us once. ‘And yet, if we try, I think we can train ourselves to bear up under our burdens.'” (page 23)

“Escape…should be thought of only as a last resort. If you’re sure your owner is either so careless or cruel that your life is endangered, then you’ll have no choice. Look for a hole in your cage, or some other way of gaining your liberty. Once outside, you must hope good fortune will smile on you, and that somehow you will survive.” (page 25)

“With people for company, you’ll never be bored. The things they say to their friends and relatives – and the other things they say when their friends and relatives have gone. Books? College? Listen to people, study them, and you’ll end up with a real education!” (page 27)

“Soon I was to be traded or sold. I would belong to someone else, and any new owner, I was sure, was bound to be an improvement on Aubrey. Which merely proved how much I still had to learn about life.” (page 86)

“I have such an odd feeling in my bones,…..our story might end the way every story should, with singing and laughter–and a poem that says that long after our separation, Anna and I lived happily ever after.” (page 152)

Discussion Questions

1. Christopher learns many lessons from his mother, though he must leave her at a young age. What are some of the important lessons he learns?

2. How does Christopher come to decide that Freddy would be a good owner? What are the clues in the pet shop that Christopher notices?

3. Why does Christopher like to write poems? What do we learn about Christopher’s character through his poems?

4. When does Christopher first suspect that Aubrey will not be a good owner?

5. Why does Christopher decide it is better to escape and be on his own – even though freedom could mean danger and peril for him? What do we learn about Christopher’s character at this point? What kind of mouse has he become as he grown up in an unpredictable and surprising world after leaving his mother’s box?

6. By the time Christopher ends up in his “forever home” with attentive and trustworthy humans, he has learned many lessons. What are some of the lessons he has learned? What surprised you the most about his lessons and what he comes to understand about the world and the people he encounters?

7. What is your favorite Christopher Mouse poem? Explain why it is your favorite and why it is a good example of Christopher’s writing and character.

 Writing Ideas

  • Write your own Christopher chapter. Give him a new adventure in the museum or in Aubrey’s house, the setting is your choice! Create an exciting event for Christopher, perhaps one in which he meets a new character or has a narrow escape!
  • Write a final poem for Christopher, after he is reunited with Anna. Or an epilogue for the book, telling us about his new life with Anna and wrapping up his final adventures with Aubrey, the cat, the museum, umbrella, sink, etc.!

It’s not a surprise that Christopher Mouse: The Tale of a Small Traveler won the Winner of the 2011 California Young Reader Medal (Intermediate). This is an engaging, interesting book that will entertain young readers as they ponder life from the point of view of a mouse!

Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee


Two girls, different and yet the best of friends, hilarious adventures, crazy antics, you will laugh out loud and fall in love with Bink and Gollie. Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee teamed up to create a fabulous duo, perfect for beginning readers. After all, who wouldn’t laugh at the idea of giving a fish a pancake, right?

When Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee met, they quickly became friends – laughing along the way and discussing books. Soon, they were planning a book together and trading letters back and forth – good old fashioned pen pals! Read about how Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee created Bink and Gollie at the StarTribune.  The chemistry between DiCamillo & McGhee is readily apparent in Bink and Gollie, who can get a tad annoyed with each other (seriously, those socks, Bink? yes, a fish is a marvelous companion, and no, I am not answering the door….I am in the Andes Mountains….but of course!) but ultimately, they remain the best of friends.

“‘Gollie,’ said Bink, ‘use your gray matter.

Don’t know you know that you are the most marvelous companion of all?’

‘Really?’ said Gollie.

‘Really,’ said Bink.”

The illustrations, by Tony Fucile, are such an integral part of the book that it is difficult to picture the words without Bink and Gollie, searching through a bin of colorful socks or planting a pole at the top of the Andes Mountains. Certain illustrations are mostly black and white, with carefully selected color for emphasis (a colorful bin of socks with a black and white sock sign, or a black and white movie theater full of people with Bink, Gollie, and a fishbowl with Fred in it, balanced precariously on Bink’s head in color)  Some pages are wordless, letting Fucile’s images say everything that needs to be said. The layouts change with each page, sometimes one full picture, other times a page is broken into three pieces of a scene – reminiscent of story boarding. This adds to the interest and engagement with each page – the reader can’t help but want to turn the page and see what is next for these two girls! Bink and Gollie are captured perfectly through Fucile’s artwork, Bink’s crazy hair, energy, positive attitude and willingness to try new adventures, Gollie’s careful, organized and also nurturing nature, and the relationship between the two is simply charming. You can’t help but want to part of their child-centered world (no parents in these books to tell them no!). Their activities and antics are appealing and fun for all — roller-skating, climbing mountains in the Andes, gardening, these girls aren’t afraid of anything!

Finally, the language is inventive, surprising, and engaging. In a land filled with mostly boring and stilted books for beginning readers (I will never forget listening to a six-year-old reader put down a text-book company created “reader” and say “This book just doesn’t make any sense! The words don’t even go with the picture!” and really there was nothing I could say other than, yes, you’re right….a heart-breaking moment) — it is lovely to pick up an interesting book for emerging readers that doesn’t shy away from using words and phrases such as:

  • outrageous
  • bonanza
  • baffled
  • marvelous companion
  • gray matter
  • implore
  • venture

The language in Bink and Gollie will surprise, delight, engage, and young readers will beg for more of Bink and more of Gollie! Thank goodness there are two more Bink and Gollie books…..Bink and Gollie: Two for One (#2) and Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever (#3).










Fun Stuff & Activities for Bink & Gollie

Check out Bink and Gollie’s home page for fun activities, book info and teacher guides

Candlewick Press Teacher’s Guide

Scholastic Treasure Coloring page

Love Bink and Gollie? Please share? More Kate DiCamillo? Check out Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures!

Dave the Potter – Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill

Dave the PotterDave the Potter tells the story of an African-American slave, born about 1800 in South Carolina. Much of Dave’s life remains a mystery, but the pottery he created helps tell some of his tale.

Dave lived in a time where slaves were not allowed to be educated, and slaves were punished severely if caught reading or writing. In his home state of South Carolina, an anti-literacy statute was upheld without question and slaves were routinely imprisoned or fined for displaying their knowledge of reading or writing.  For many years Dave wrote on his pots, sometimes just the initials of his owner, but also lines of poetry or details about the pot. In 1841, he stopped writing. During this period of more than sixteen years, he was silent, likely because of fear in displaying his knowledge. He began writing again in 1857. Some of his lines include:

I wonder where is all my relation

friendship to all — and, every nation

–August 16, 1857

put every bit all between

surely this Jar will hold 14

–July 12, 1834

The illustrations – the artwork of Bryan Collier – are simply amazing. They convey the dedication and masterful technique of Dave, his strength in creating jars that would hold more than forty gallons, and his attention to detail in creating and inscribing each individual piece of work. The illustrations convey his life as a slave and the nature of the world around him, with slaves picking cotton in the distance, working in the field, shanties, and a corner view of a slaveowners large mansion.  The illustrations are thought-provoking and moving. Not surprisingly, Dave the Potter is a 2011 Caldecott Honor Book, as well as the recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award.

The story is told in a simple narrative, focusing on the process of creating a pot. The language is poetic and powerful, often with short lines that emphasize words that convey Dave’s craft and artistry while also displaying the world in which he lived, a world of slavery and injustice. Hill references his work as a “magician” who sees something in the dirt and clay that others do not.

Dave’s pottery can be seen today, on display in museums in South Carolina. For more about Dave, you can read information at SCIWAY and University of South Carolina, AikenPottery by Dave

Books for Pairing with Dave the Potter (Picture Books & Novels)

The Listeners by Gloria Whelan

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

Freedom’s Fruit by William H. Hooks

Chains by Louise Halse Anderson

To Be A Slave by Julius Lester

Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling

The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox

A Picture of Freedom: the Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859 by Patricia McKissack


What books about slavery and the quest for freedom have you read and enjoyed? Please share!

This Is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson

This Is the RopeThis Is the Rope tells a story that will stay with the reader, along with the beautiful paintings, long after finishing this picture book written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome. Woodson refers to this book as a “fictive memoir” on her website (Jacqueline Woodson/This is the Rope). This story resonates with readers as a tale that spans multiple generations, linked by a rope that moves with the family over the years. The rope is both a link to the past lives in the South and also the opportunity and life that awaits in the North. It is hope, love and family.

During the Great Migration, millions of families moved from the South to the cities in the North, from the early 1900s through the 1970s. Woodson dedicates this book to the “more than 6 million African Americans who left the unjust conditions of the South for a better life in the North….My mother and grandmother were among them. I thank you all for your courage and for making a way out of no way.”

Woodson’s mother moved to New York City in 1968, and her siblings moved as well during the same time period. Woodson grew up in New York City, but also traveled back and forth between NYC and South Carolina for many years as a young girl. This experience and the courage of her mother and grandmother to make this move toward freedom and opportunity in the North inspired Woodson to write the story of a rope and a young girl.

The rope is discovered many years ago by a young girl in South Carolina, who first used the rope to jump rope. Later, when the young girl was a mother, the rope tied down the items she owned on top of the family car as her family drove north to New York City. The rope was used as a clothes line to dry her daughter’s diapers and clothes, then to pull toys, to skip rope with friends outside their home in Brooklyn, to tie down suitcases on top of the car as the young woman (the narrator’s mother) drives to college. Years later, after the mother has finished college and now has a daughter of her own, the young girl telling the story of the rope uses the rope for her own games, jumping rope and finally trading the old rope for a new one from her Grandmother — who was once the young girl in South Carolina, skipping rope amidst the sweet smelling pines of the South.

The story has a circular nature, and one that provides readers with the framework of the Great Migration north while focusing on one family and the generations whose lives are forever changed by the decision to move toward freedom and opportunity.

Woodson’s note:

This Is the Rope is a work of fiction. The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope.

It remains with us.”


For more information about the Great Migration, here are a couple of good websites:

Novels to pair with This Is the Rope

  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson


Love Jacqueline Woodson? Check out Brown Girl Dreaming too!

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???

Grandfather Ratoncito Perez and the Apprentice Tooth Fairy

Grandfather Ratoncito PerezTooth fairy? Money? Spanish and English? All the makings of a unique and perfect book for reading —- and learning —- with children! Right away, I was drawn to the clever story and the many potential extension activities that easily build out of this story. No wonder. Look at the author!  Virginia Walton Pilegard. Just recently, I wrote a post about her series of Warlord’s mathematical adventures. She is fabulous. As always, an enjoyable opportunity for teaching and learning.


The original tale of El Ratoncito Perez began 120 years ago, with a small rodent who leaves presents and coins for children under their pillows after losing a tooth. Spanish writer Luis Coloma wrote the story for the eight year old Prince Alphonso (more of the history and original tale). The original story included a moral about helping the poor of the country, but this part of the tale is often forgotten now, as young ones simply know of the mouse who collects teeth in a small red bag. Children in Spain still wait for the Ratoncito Perez after losing a tooth, just as others do all across Latin America and Europe. You will even find a museum for Raton Perez in Madrid, Spain (visit online at The original “home” of Raton Perez was at Calle Arenal #8 near Puerta del Sol in Madrid. Today you can still visit and find a small statue, plaque and gift shop.

El Ratoncito Perez is now known by a variety of names in a variety of locations: el raton de dientes, La Bonne Petite Souris in France, Topolino in Italy, El Ratoncito Perez in Spain and Argentina, el Raton in Mexico, Venezuela & Guatemala. Another opportunity to bring in geography and culture for little ones who want to learn more about the tooth fairies & mice around the world! For more about the original tale and the Spanish Institute for Miguel Cervantes, go to  Centro Virtual Cervantes (Spanish)


Now this story of the tooth mouse actually includes an apprentice tooth fairy – and she needs some assistance with money. Jenny is a young fairy, new to her job delivering money to children who have lost a tooth. She attempts to carry one hundred pennies, only to drop them because it is just too heavy. Among the scattered pennies she discovers a door and a voice – leading her to Grandfather Ratoncito Perez and his grandson, Miguel. Grandfather helps Jenny understand how the one hundred pennies are the same amount of money as four quarters, twenty nickels, and ten dimes. Finally Jenny decides to carry ten dimes in her bag, as this is the lightest option. She flies off to deliver her coins, much to the happiness of young Joshua. When she returns to the fairy Queen, she tells her the poem she composed while flying home.

006Four quarters make one dollar;

Twenty nickles just as well.

Ten dimes are light to carry,

One hundred fairy pennies fell.

This little rhyme is perfect for young ears and will help kids understand pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. A coffee filter works perfectly for a little round bag like Jenny’s bag in the book, and a little piece of yarn to tie the bag of money – students can practice with their fairy bags of money and Jenny’s poem as well!


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