Grades 3-5

Grades 6-8

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Grades 3-5

THE YEAR OF MISS AGNES: Diana Enriquez, Quinton Heights Elementary
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE: Carole Hess, McCarter Elementary
JANITOR’S BOY: Marjorie Loyd, McEachron Elementary
GRACIE’S GIRL: Steve Fuller, McCarter Elementary
SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT?: Jan Gilliland, Jill Hagan, Jenny Bowman, Linn Elementary
COCKROACH COOTIES: Virginia Prather, Quincy Elementary
COYOTE AUTUMN: Virginia Prather, Quincy Elementary
WALKING TO THE BUS-RIDER BLUES: Amy Gugelman, Williams Elementary
WHEN MACK CAME BACK: Steve Fuller, McCarter Elementary
A CARNIVAL OF ANIMALS: Vicki George, McClure Elementary


The Year of Miss Agnes

The Year of Miss Agnes. Kirkpatrick Hill; Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-689-82933-7; $16.99

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Fred (Frederika) tells the story of school and village life among the Athabascans in Alaska during 1948 when Miss Agnes arrives to be yet another new teacher.

General Review: Ten-year-old Fred is fascinated by the new teacher, Miss Agnes, who is unlike any of the many teachers the school has had. This teacher doesn’t use all the textbooks, doesn’t have the students sit in rows, and even wants Fred’s deaf sister to attend school. Miss Agnes encourages the students and offers them the gift of the joy of learning. She tells the students of faraway people and lands, including her homeland of England. This is the big problem . . . Miss Agnes is homesick for her own country. Will this teacher stay or will she leave like all the others? As Fred narrates this heartwarming story of the school year, the reader learns of the culture and customs of the Athabascan village on the Koyukuk River in 1948 Alaska.

Themes: Schools, Teachers, Alaska, Indians of North America

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Why didn’t Fred’s mother think school was important?
2. Why do you think teachers always wanted to leave the village?
3. What are some differences between Fred’s school day and your? Are there any similarities?

Activities:

1. The book is dedicated to Sylvia Ashton-Warner. Research this person. (There is a website.) Standard 1, Benchmark 5
2. Research the Native American groups of Alaska and chart them on a map of Alaska. Standard 7, Benchmark 1
3. Study the sign language alphabet. Learn signs for words significant to this story. Standard 5, Benchmark 2

 

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Because of Winn-Dixie
Because of Winn-Dixie. Kate DiCamillo; Candlewick, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-7636-0776-2; $15.99

Synopsis: A motherless ten-year-old girl moves to Naomi, FL with her preacher father. She adopts a dog that got in trouble at a Winn-Dixie grocery store and names him Winn-Dixie. She confides in her dog about how lonely she is, how she misses her mother, and why her father won’t tell her about her mother. With the help of Winn-Dixie, Opal makes some unusual friends in town and learns about her mother. Opal and the Preacher realize that even though they have had some sad times in their lives they still have a lot to be thankful for.

Themes: Moving, Pets, Florida

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Winn-Dixie didn’t like to be left alone; do you think it was right to let him come to church and the library?
2. What kinds of things should the Preacher tell Opal about her mother? What do you think about the list he made?
3. How do you feel when it storms? Do storms bother you?

Activities:

1. Plan a party-set up a theme, menu, guest list, location-time and place, and design an invitation. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
2. Make a list of 10 things about the main characters in the book so that we will know what they are like. Examples are Opal, the Preacher, and Winn-Dixie. Standard 3, Benchmark 2
3. Winn-Dixie is afraid of thunderstorms. Research the kinds of weather in your area during the summer. Standard 1, Benchmark 5

 

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Janitor’s Boy
Janitor’s Boy. Andrew Clements; Simon & Schuster, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-689-81818-1; $15.00

Synopsis: Jack Rankin learns that he is going to spend fifth grade at the old high school where his father is janitor. He dreads the start of school and manages to keep his father’s job a secret for nearly a month. Jack is so angry after being teased about his father’s job that he decides to put a lot of gum on a desk. He is caught and his punishment is to assist the janitor after school for three weeks in removing gum from desks and chairs. Keys in the key cabinet lead Jack to a new understanding of his father.

Themes: Fathers and son, Coming of age, School stories

Author Information: Andrew Clements lives in Massachusetts with his wife and four children. He is a previous winner of the William Allen White Children’s Book Award for Frindle in 1999. Landry News is the 2002 winner. He has also written picture books. He taught school for seven years before becoming a full-time author.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Would you be embarrassed if your father or mother was a janitor in your school? What kind of job that your parents had would be embarrassing to you?
2. Why did Jack feel differently about his father after he discovered the tunnel?
3. Jack was being teased about his father’s job. How do you fell about being teased? Have you ever been teased? Do you ever tease your classmates?

Activities:

1. Jack made a list of how he was not like his father. Make two lists, one telling how you are like and another telling how you are different from on of your parents. Standard 2, Benchmark 2
2. Lou suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Learn more about this illness. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
3. Draw a map of Huntington according to Jack’s description while he was in the tower and other details in the book. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

 

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Gracie’s Girl
Gracie’s Girl. Ellen Wittlinger; Simon & Schuster, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-689-82249-9; $16.00

Synopsis: Bess Cunningham has parents who give all their free time to the community soup kitchen and to establishing a permanent shelter for homeless women. Her parents and her best friend, Ethan, want her to volunteer at the kitchen but all Bess wants to do is to be in the school’s play and to be the most popular girl at her new middle school. Yet Gracie, an elderly homeless women who eats out of dumpsters, captures Bess’s attention. With the weather getting colder, Bess and Ethan must try to help Gracie survive.

Themes: Homeless persons, School and family life, Identity

Author Information: Ellen Wittlinger is the author of 3 other teen novels. She has a bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois and a M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. A former children’s librarian, she lives with her husband and two children in Swampscott, Massachusetts.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. What does it mean to be “popular”? What makes a person popular?
2. Have you ever seen or known a homeless person? What makes a person homeless?
3. Willy (Bess’s older brother) and Bess have a typical brother/sister relationship. How do they work at liking/disliking each other?

Activities:

1. As a class or as a school, you could start a food drive and donate the food to the local homeless shelter or community soup kitchen. Standard 9, Benchmark 2
2. Put on a play for the lower grades in your school. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Gracie died of heart failure. Do some research on the heart and diseases of the heart. Standard 1, Benchmark 5

 

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So You Want to be President?
So You Want to be President? Judith St. George; Putnam, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN NUMBER & Cost: 0-699-23407-1; $17.99

Synopsis: So You Want to be President? is a delightful overview of our famous and not so famous presidents. It brings to the reader little known trivia about our presidents. The writer also gives the reader an idea of the positive and negative aspects of this important job. This book is fun for kids of all ages.

Themes: Presidents

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Would you like to be president? Why or why not?
2. Why do you think the majority of our presidents have been older when they took the Oath of Office?
3. What personal characteristics should a president possess?

Activities:

1. Turn to page 12 and 13. Create a bar graph comparing favorite presidential first names. Standard 3, Benchmark 4
2. Find a favorite happening or event in the book. Create a comic strip depicting the event. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Create a bookmark of your favorite president. You need to include two important facts and an illustration. Standard 5, Benchmark 3


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Cockroach Cooties
Cockroach Cooties. Laurence Yep; Hyperion Books for Children, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-7868-1338-5; $11.84

Synopsis: Teddy and his little brother live in Chinatown, attending Catholic school. Teddy knew all about the school bully nicknamed Arnie-zilla. It was sickly sweet Bobby who insulted Arnie at school one day, causing Teddy to come to his little brother’s aid. A cockroach named Hercules by Bobby, along with the aid of “Charlie” the Bug Lady, help Teddy solve the bully dilemma.

Themes: Chinese Americans, Insects, Bullies, Brothers and Sisters, Family Life

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Describe a bully’s actions and what makes a person become a bully.
2. What roles do the bystander and the victim play in the bully’s scene?
3. Discuss the action Teddy and Bobby take to stop being bullied. Can you think of any other way to stop a bully, or help the victim and bystander in a nonviolent manner?

Activities:

1. Assign students to play the roles of a bully, victim, and bystander. Act out possible solutions to help each participant solve their differences in a peaceful manner. Standard 9, Benchmark 2
2. Research bugs and find how different cultures can view the same bug. Standard 2, Benchmark 1
3. What is a bug with its skeleton on the outside of its body called? How do they grow? Draw a poster to show what happens to the insect. Report to your class your findings. Standard 3, Benchmark 4

 

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Coyote Autumn
Coyote Autumn. Bill Wallace; Holiday House, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-8234-1628-3; $21.10

Synopsis: Brad had lived in apartments his whole life, but one summer his family moves to rural Oklahoma. Now Brad asks for a dog, but all he hears is “We’ll see”. Finding an orphaned coyote pup, Brad hides the pup in a pen behind the barn. For his birthday he receives a bird dog; now Brad has two dogs. Can Brad tame a wild animal? How will his parents react to the coyote pup?

Themes: Dogs, Coyotes, Family life, Oklahoma, Country life

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Mr. Holdbrook, the former owner, comes to visit his farm one last time before moving into a nursing home. He tells Brad that he had two coyote pups as pets. One became domesticated and the other didn’t. He also told Brad, “That coyote pup will be the best pet you ever had and the worst.” Explain what you think he meant.
2. Explain why Brad decided to seek a solution in finding a home for Scooter. What were some of the possible solutions he could choose? What would have been your choice? Explain your reason.
3. Do wild animals make good pets? Why would someone choose a wild animal for his or her pet? Give your reasons.

Activities:

1. Give a map of Kansas to your students. Have them name the states surrounding Kansas. Also locate Oklahoma on an United States map. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
2. Copy a map of Oklahoma and have students locate Chickasha, Mount Scott, Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, and Medicine Park. An extended activity could include figuring the mileage from your hometown to each of these locations. Standard 3, Benchmark 4
3. Research the likeness and differences between dogs, coyotes, and wolves. Make a chart or report to share with your classmates. Standard 1, Benchmark 2

 

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Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues
Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues. Harriette Gillem Robinet; Atheneum, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0689-83191-9; $16.00

Synopsis: It’s 1956, and Alfa Merryfield’s family struggles daily with prejudice in Montgomery, Alabama. Times are changing though, and the bus boycott is a way for them to make their voices heard.

General Review: Alfa, his sister Zinnia, and their great-grandmother, Big Mama, are doing their best to support the bus boycott, but it’s difficult. Alfa is worried about Big Mama because lately she’s become so confused. Not to mention the white boys who wait for him to walk home, them steal his pay. The Merryfield’s problems only grow when part of their rent money is missing from the house, and they in turn are accused of stealing money from a prominent white family. Told from Alfa’s point of view, this book is a realistic look at the prejudices during segregation and the bravery of those who defied it.

Themes: Civil Rights, Prejudice, Segregation

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Mr. Greendale helps the Merryfield family with groceries, but fires Alfa. Do you think he’s prejudiced?
2. Would you have supported the Montgomery bus boycott? How?
3. Why did Big Mama hide the truth about Alfa and Zinnia’s mother?

Activities:

1. Read a biography of a prominent Civil Rights activist. Standard 9, Benchmark 2
2. Watch a documentary about the civil rights movement. Standard 7, Benchmark 1
3. Read The Watson’s go to Birmingham, The Story of Ruby Bridges, or Through My Eyes. Standard 5, Benchmark 1

 

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When Mack Came Back
When Mack Came Back. Brad Strickland; Dial Books, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN & Cost: 0-8037-2498-5; $15.99

Synopsis: The year is 1943, and Maury Painter has just saved a thin, weak dog that was tangled in blackberry vines. The dog, Mack, is the dog that his brother, Ben, gave to another family when Ben went off to war. Maury and Ben’s father, a hard, quiet man, is against having the dog around because it reminds him too much of Ben. Ben comes up missing in action and the family must cope with the idea that Ben may be dead. Yet Mack is a true and steady friend to Maury and the family. Ben is located and makes it back home to the farm. Mack, though, is still Maury’s dog.

Themes: Dogs, Father and Sons, Farm Life

Author Information: Brad Strickland grew up in Georgia, where he spent a good deal of time on his grandfather’s farm. Dr. Strickland is a professor of English at Gainesville College. He has written or co-written forty books. The father of two grown children, he lives with his wife, Barbara, in Georgia.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. The story takes place during WWII. What do you think about war? What about violence?
2. Why is Maury’s father such a hard, non-emotional man? What made him so and do you know anyone who is afraid to show his or her emotions?
3. Maury is able to skip a grade in school. Do you think that is fair? Would you like to do that?

Activities:

1. Talk to someone who has been in a war. What were their impressions, likes, fears? Standard 9, Benchmark 2
2. Mack is mostly a pointer, a hunting dog. Invite someone to your class who raises dogs to talk to the class. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
3. The Painter’s farm was planted in cotton, corn and sugarcane. In Kansas, we have very little cotton planted. Try to visit a cotton field or get some cottonseeds to plant. As a class you may want to visit a farm. Standard 7, Benchmark 1

 

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A Carnival of Animals
A Carnival of Animals. Sid Fleischman; Greenwillow, 2000
Grade Level: 3rd-5th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0688-16948-1; $15.95

Synopsis: Organized in six chapters, these contemporary tall tales feature various animals that have been affected by a “no-account little tornado” that has swept through the area.

General Review: Among the more memorable characters impacted by the tornado is the Windblown Child - a creature dropped in the forest sans fur or feathers. Besides being denuded – it has amnesia and its two legs on the left side are longer than those on the right. The creature is eventually identified as a “Sidehill Clinger,” an animal able to “scamper right up the mountainside, short legs on the inside, long legs on the outside.” Other chapters feature a 400-pound harmonica-playing pig; an insomnia rooster who torments his fellow animals with early wake-up calls, and winds up becoming a farmer’s porch light after gorging on fireflies until he glowed; and a klutzy frog that is unable to leap until consuming some Mexican jumping beans.

Themes: Tall tales, Humorous stories, Animals

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Can you predict what is going to happen when Stumblefrog finds the Mexican jumping beans? Or why the Windblown Child has different sized legs?
2. Reflecting on the music made by the harmonica in “The Pitchfork Giant”, what kind of music makes you happy?
3. Stumblefrog learned to leap long after the other young frogs. Has there ever been something you learned later than your friends? If so, how did that feel? What did you do about it?

Activities:

1. Read from Fleischman’s other tall tales (McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm and Here Comes McBroom!). Look for similarities and differences. Standard 5, Benchmark 1
2. Have the students write their own tall tale, taking an actual person or event and exaggerate freely. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Have the students illustrate what they think the Pitchfork Giant looked like. Consider, does he have any magical or special powers? Standard 3, Benchmark 4 


Grades 6-8

HOPE WAS HERE: Terry Christner, Hutchinson Public Library
DOVEY COE: Jennifer Bergen, Manhattan Public Library
FRIENDS AND ENEMIES: Jennifer Bergen, Manhattan Public Library
NORY RYAN’S SONG: Donna Caviness, Lachman Branch, Johnson County Public Library
STICK & WHITTLE: Arlene Wiler, Johnson County Public Library
LIZZIE AT LAST: Marquita Boehnke, Central KS Library System
BLIZZARD!: Julie Tomlianovich, South Central KS Library System
GRADUATION OF JAKE MOON: Julie Tomlianovich, South Central KS Library System
YEAR DOWN YONDER: Martha Gronneger, Topeka Shawnee County Public Library
ESPERANZA RISING: Betty Jean Neal, Topeka Shawnee County Public Library
STARGIRL: Terry Christner, Hutchinson Public Library
HOMELESS BIRD: Marquita Boehnke, Central KS Library System


Hope Was Here

Hope Was Here. Joan Bauer; Putnam, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-399-23142-0; $16.99

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Hope, who was born with the name “Tulip,” has been to six different schools and lived in five different states because of her Aunt Addie’s job as a diner cook. Hope’s mother is a waitress, but she wasn’t cut out to be a mom, so she let her older sister raise Hope. Hope’s followed in her mother’s footsteps, taking to waitressing “like a hungry trucker tackles a T-bone.” Now Hope and Addie are moving from Brooklyn to rural Wisconsin, where jobs await them at the Welcome Stairways diner. Hope dreads the move, but it turns out to be one of the best things to ever happen to her.

General Review: Bauer’s novel is filled with well-drawn characters and locations. Readers will enjoy getting to know Hope and following her adjustment to life in small-town Wisconsin. This book will especially appeal to older girls.

Themes: Diners, Leukemia, Political Campaigns, Teen Employment

Author Information: SATA vol. 117

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. What do you think is the hardest part of moving to a new town or school?
2. Have you ever participated in any kind of political campaign in your school or your community? What did you like or dislike about the process? (If you’ve never participated before, would you like to? Why or why not?)
3. Discuss the pros and cons of having an elected official with a serious disease or handicap.

Activities:

1. On a map of the United States, trace a route from New York City to Wisconsin. What highways would you choose? What states and cities would you go through? Estimate how long it would take you to get there. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
2. Create a new dish for a diner. Name it and tell how to make it. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Pretend you’re running for mayor. Make two campaign posters. Standard 3, Benchmark 4 

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Dovey Coe
Dovey Coe. Frances O’Roark Dowell; Simon, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-689-83174-9; $16.00

Synopsis: When accused of murder in her North Carolina mountain town in 1928, Dovey Coe, a strong-willed twelve-year-old girl, comes to a new understanding of others, including her deaf brother, Amos. Parnell Caraway, an annoying teen with his own car, is set on taking Dovey’s sister Caroline as his wife, attempting to avert her dream of going to college to become a teacher. After his proposal is turned down, Parnell is found dead with Dovey as the only witness to events, and it is up to the judge to decide if the feisty tomboy is innocent or guilty of murder.

General Review: Dovey Coe will find a place in her readers’ hearts as she climbs her mountain, protects her brother, stands up for her family, and shares her story with a glowing warmth and depth. Dowell’s precise writing makes you want to travel back in time to a tiny North Carolina mountain town like Indian Creek and sit on the porch visiting with some nice folk, drinking lemonade.

Themes: Family, North Carolina/ Southern Culture, Disability-Hearing, Gender Stereotypes, Court System, rich vs. poor

Author Information: www.booksnbytes.com/authors/dowell_francesoroark.html; www.dgarts.com/content/francesdowell.htm

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Dovey seems to think her father should have spoken out against Parnell (see pg. 38) and not let things go so far. Why do you think he wants Caroline to make her own decisions about seeing Parnell? Do you think his actions are wise?
2. Dovey states, “The way I seen things, us Coes had everything we needed in this world…To my way of thinking, Parnell was a prime example of riches not necessarily making a man satisfied with his life” (pg. 64-5). Do you think this is true of Parnell? How does being rich or poor affect other characters, such as Paris, Caroline and Amos?
3. Parnell laughs when he tells Caroline, “Were you really serious about being a teacher? I mean, I ain’t ever seen you pick up a book of your own volition. I ain’t even sure you can read.” Why does he say this? How does it make Caroline feel? How does it make you feel?

Activities:

1. Amos uses signals to talk with Dovey and with his dogs. Make up some symbols as a group to talk to each other without speaking. Have sure sign language books or videos available to students; then compare your symbols with the American Sign Language symbols for these things. Schedule a class visitor who can teach students some sign language; learn how to communicate with deaf people in your community. Standard 3, Benchmark 4
2. Dovey learns about the court system through the process of her trial. Learn the meanings of court terminology (“objection sustained,” etc.), what judges and juries do, and other aspects of the American court system. Visit a local courtroom for a tour or listen in on a hearing. Watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” for another look at a courtroom experience. Standard 7, Benchmark 1
3. Make a map of North Carolina with the cities mentioned in Dovey Coe, other important cities, mountain ranges, forests, lakes, etc. Write to the Governor of NC for information about the state. Find information about the wildlife Amos and Dovey might have encountered on Katie’s Knob. Standard 1, Benchmark 5

 

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Friends and Enemies
Friends and Enemies. LouAnn Gaeddert; Atheneum, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-689-82822-5; $16.00

Synopsis: In 1941 in Kansas, as America enters World War II, fourteen-year-old William finds himself alienated from his new friend Jim, a Mennonite who does not believe in fighting for any reason. William decides he cannot be Jim’s friend and sides with the school bullies, ganging up on Jim because he won’t support the war efforts. Eventually, William realizes he must deal the differences between him and Jim without turning to violence.

General Review: Gaeddert’s characters are well developed and many middle school students will identify with William’s inner conflicts, as well as his encounters with people who are as complex as he is in their range of thoughts, emotions and actions.

Themes: Friendship, Violence vs. non-violence, World War II, Kansas history and culture, Religion

Author Information: SATA vol. 20 and vol. 103; www.manhattan.lib.ks.us/kail

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. On page 154, William participates in a fight against Jim. William tells us what he is feeling at different moments before and during the fight. How do you think some of the other characters are feeling? Clive? Jim? Allen (see pg. 158)?
2. Describe a situation where 2 friends have argued about different beliefs. It could from your life, TV, movies, or other books you have read. What happened? Were the friends’ differences resolved, and if so, how? Think about why it is important to learn how to deal with differences without being violent.
3. Reactions to war are complex and can cause great disagreements, even among friends or people of the same religion. Look at some photos and stories that describe America’s reactions during WWII, the Vietnam War, the Civil War, and other historical or current wars. Discuss the issues of pacifism, patriotism, friends and family fighting on different sides, unfair treatment, etc.

Activities:

1. In groups of four, choose a controversial topic and make persuasive arguments for two opposing ways to approach the topic. For example, you might choose a hot topic like abortion, or a fun topic such as whether or not a popular musical group is good. Like Jim, each group will need to make a good argument by using facts, persuasive speech, and most importantly, courtesy to others who believe differently. Standard 2, Benchmark 2
2. Farming is mentioned as an important part of Kansas culture. Choose different students to make daily reports on farming and weather in your area of the state. How much time does your local news spend on weather and crop information? Ask adults in your household or school to tell you what they know about farming. Clip articles from the local newspaper to share. Research the economics of farming in your area. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
3. In groups, choose 3-5 different religions to compare by making a table. Research similar aspects of each religion, such as feelings on war, use of modern technology, basis of the religion (such as the Bible or Koran), and when the religion began. Add a column for unique aspects of each religion, and share your findings with the class. Standard 2, Benchmark 4

 

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Nory Ryan’s Song
Nory Ryan’s Song. Patricia Reilly Giff; Delacorte Press, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-385-32141-4; $15.95

Synopsis: This is the story of Nory Ryan and her family in 1840's Ireland. They endure many hardships, including a failed potato crop, unfair treatment at the hands of the landowner, and the absence of family members. In spite of these problems, Nory helps to keep her family together and works hard to alleviate the hardships.

Themes: Overcoming hardships, Family strength, Belief in one's self

Author Information: Patricia Reilly Giff has written many children's books, including the popular Polk Street School series. She received a Newbery Honor Award for Lily's Crossing in 1997.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. How do Nory's feelings toward Anna change throughout the story? How does she feel about Anna in the beginning? By the end of the story, they are very close. Give examples to show what causes the changes.
2. In Chapter 3, Lord Cunningham describes "filthy hovels" and "filthy people", whose houses he would like to tear down. Who lives in these houses? Use examples to describe how Nory feels about her house.
3. Nory believes in fairies and other creatures that she cannot see. How does this belief affect Nory's actions? Give examples from the book.

Activities:

1. Research Ireland’s potato famine. Present your findings in an oral presentation. Standard 3, Benchmark 4
2. Like Nory’s family, many Irish people immigrated to America. Do some research to learn what their lives were like in the “New World.” Standard 1, Benchmark 5
3. Nory and her family believed in “sidhes” and “banshees,” things that cannot be seen but still are able to cause trouble. Find out about various superstitions and their origins. Standard 7, Benchmark 1

 

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Stick and Whittle
Stick and Whittle. Sid Hite; Scholastic Press, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN NUMBER & Cost: 0-439-09828-9; $16.95

Synopsis: Melvin Fitchett (Stick) is a Civil War veteran looking for his long-lost love Evelyn Laroue. Sixteen-year-old Melvin Smyte (Whittle) is an orphan running away from his past shame. In 1872 they meet and travel from Texas through the Indian Nations to Kansas. Arriving in Wichita, Stick discovers that Evelyn has been kidnapped by a dangerous gang of outlaws and sets out against all odds to rescue her with his friends help.

General Review: A touch of the old-fashioned Western with memorable characters, this high flying story provides enough excitement to last far beyond the telling.

Themes: Friendship, overcoming obstacles, life on the trail, tall tales

Author Information: Sid Hite lives in Sag Harbor, New York and is the author of seven other novels including Cecil in Space and Dither Farm. He has traveled extensively and held a variety of jobs but has never been a cowboy.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Decide which parts of this story are tall tales and compare them to other tales of the frontier.
2. What makes Stick and Whittle’s friendship grow and develop? Which friend, Stick or Whittle, would you like to meet? Why?
3. What do you think happens next to this pair of friends?

Activities:

1. Find a map of the Chisholm Trail and use it to trace the Stick and Whittle’s journey. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
2. Look for pictures of and information about Abilene and Wichita during this time period. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
3. Research the Great Chicago Fire. Standard 1, Benchmark 2

 

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Lizzie at Last
Lizzie at Last. Claudia Mills; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-37434-659-3; $16.00

Synopsis: Lizzie Archer is starting seventh grade and she is determined that she will be normal and "fit in" with the popular girls this year and end the endless teasing from last year. In her attempt to be popular, Lizzie exchanges her long flowing Victorian dresses for jeans and tank tops, stops writing her beloved poetry, makes mistakes in math class to impress a boy and gives up her own unique personality by imitating ultra popular Marcia. Lizzie learns on a class tour to a university library that having to be the person others expected you to be isn't easy for anyone. This was the turning point for Lizzie, she will wear her Emily
Dickinson style dress to the dance, write poetry whenever and wherever it comes to her and join the math club no matter what the others think.

General Review: Mills has touched upon the sensitive subject of peer pressure and not being in the "in crowd" in a lighthearted humorous story. Reading her horoscope a day ahead and trying to make her day fit the prediction enhance some of Lizzie's misguided decisions. The parents in the beginning seem to be clueless as to the turmoil that Lizzie is facing but this is not the case and they come through for her when it counts. The reader will relate with the characters and the middle school classroom situations are realistic.

Themes: Popularity, Individuality, Boy, and Girl Friendships, Classroom Story, Growing Up

Author Information: Something About The Author, Volume 89, pg.142-146

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Have you labeled a person a nerd or any other demeaning name? What was the reason? Does a person's appearance, talents or good grades make them a nerd?
2. Would you give up a talent or hobby because your friends don't think it is cool?
3. What is your definition of a role model? Who would you choose as a role model?

Activities:

1. Write in a journal for one week. Look in the newspaper for that week and read your horoscope for each day and see if it relates in any way to what you wrote in your journal. Standard 3, Benchmark 2
2. List in two columns what you think is nerdy and what you think is cool. Standard 2, Benchmark 2
3. Find a poem you really like or write your own poem and do an art project about the poem. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

 

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Blizzard!
Blizzard! Jim Murphy; Scholastic, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-590-67309-2; $18.95

Synopsis: Presents a history based on personal accounts and newspaper articles of the massive snowstorm that hit the Northeast in 1888, focusing on the events in New York City.

General Review: From the swirling cover art to the index, Murphy has captured the intensity and deadly freezing elements in Blizzard!, told through narratives written by many of those who survived, early historical editions and newspaper accounts. Photographs from the time as well as modern ones are used to show the power of the storm and the determination of the people. This fine book reads as fiction, with its many characters, harrowing experiences, and the ultimate question of who survived and who did not. Blizzard! Is not to be missed.

Themes: Weather, Blizzards, New York City-History, Disasters

Author Information: Something About the Author Vol. 124, pp. 149-157
Children’s Literature Index Vol. 53, pp. 98-118

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. This storm led to the founding of the U.S. Weather Bureau. What are some of the changes today that would have prevented such a large loss of life?
2. Because of working conditions in 1888, people felt they had to reach their place of employment no matter the danger. Do you think people still feel that way? Give examples of both the positive and negative.
3. If a storm like this was to strike your town (city) what precautions would you and your family take? What do you already have in place in case of a storm?

Activities:

1. Use newspaper articles, magazines etc. to document a major storm that happened in your area. See if you can find people who lived through it to give first-hand information. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
2. Visit a weather station or have a meteorologist visit your school. Standard 2, Benchmark 4
3. Contact a variety of businesses, school districts, churches, organizations, city offices, banks, etc. to find out how much snow or how cold it would need to be to have them close due to the weather. Standard 7, Benchmark 1

 

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Graduation of Jake Moon
Graduation of Jake Moon. Barbara Park; Atheneum, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-689-83912-X; $15.00

Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Jake Moon recalls the last four years of life with his beloved grandfather who has Alzheimer’s disease.

General Review: Park brings to life her main character by giving him compassion, love, humor, and the flaws of anger, resentment and rage. The story paints a picture of a family suffering the disintegration from the effects of Alzheimer’s on the man who held them all together. Never maudlin, but always with a clear voice, Jake Moon is an all-too real boy with very grown-up concerns.

Themes: Alzheimer’s Disease, Grandfathers, Families-Responsibilities, School Stories

Author Information: Something About the Author; Vol. 123, pp. 115-120
Children’s Literature Review, Vol. 34, pp. 152-164

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Do you understand how Jake can be so embarrassed by, but still love his grandfather? How would you react?
2. How would your life change if someone in your family required constant care because of Alzheimer’s? What other reasons would someone require care?
3. Why do Jake and his cousin James not get along? What do they not understand about each other?

Activities:

1. Using the contact information at the end of the book, begin to find out more about Alzheimer’s Disease. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
2. If there is a local Alzheimer’s care center in the area, invite a caseworker, care giver or a family member to share their experiences and knowledge. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
3. Contact the local police department and television stations to discover how they approach a missing family member? What do they both need and how does their help differ? Standard 2, Benchmark 4

 

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A Year Down Yonder
A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck; Dial Books, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN & Cost: 0-8037-2518-3; $16.99

Synopsis: It's 1937, and the country is in the grip of a recession. Because times are so hard, fifteen-year-old Mary Alice must leave her family and Chicago to live with her Grandmother Dowdel in a "hick" town. Her brother Joey has always come with her to Grandma's before, but now he's planting trees out west with the Civilian Conservation Corps and Mary Alice is on her own. Mean Mildred Burdick bullies her at school; her beloved cat, Bootsie, is sent outdoors to live in the cob house; and Mary Alice learns the hard way how Grandma manages to make ends meet. Mary Alice survives the year with Grandma's help, and she comes to love and cherish the woman and the wild and wonderful memories they have made "down yonder".

General Review: In this sequel to “A Long Way from Chicago,” author Richard Peck once again takes us "down yonder" to a small Illinois town and a larger-than-life grandmother. In this tale, "Each season brings new adventures to 15-year-old Mary Alice as she becomes Grandma's partner in crime, helping to carry out madcap schemes to benefit friends and avenge enemies" (Publisher's Weekly). Among all the wild capers, Peck reveals Grandma Dowdel to be "...an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with 'eyes in the back of her heart'" (Kirkus). This won the Newbery Award in 2001.

Themes: Grandmothers, 1930's, Country life, Illinois

Author Information: SATA, vol. 97, pp.181-187; vol. 110, pp. 159-170.

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. What three words would you use to describe Grandma Dowdel? Tell why you chose them.
2. How is Mary Alice's life different in the "hick" town than it was in Chicago? How does she deal with these differences?
3. Why do you think Mary Alice decided to get married in Grandma's house instead of in Chicago?

Activities:

1. Find tapes of Fibber McGee and Molly, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Baby Snooks or any of the other radio shows that Mary Alice mentions in the chapter, "A Minute in the Morning", and play them for your students. See if they can "picture it" in their minds the way Mary Alice does. Ask them to describe what they see while they are listening. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
2. The Daughters of the American Revolution, Armistice Day, B-17 Fortresses, cub reporters, and Legionnaires were all mentioned in this book. Choose one of these and find out more about it. Report your findings to the class. Standard 1, Benchmark 3
3. Have students each bring an item or two from home to make a burgoo. (The definition of "burgoo" is in the chapter "A Minute in the Morning".) Cook and enjoy the burgoo. Standard 5, Benchmark 3

 

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Esperanza Rising
Esperanza Rising. Pam Muñoz Ryan; Scholastic Press, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-439-12041-1; $15.95
Awards: Pura Belpré Award 2002

Synopsis: Following her father’s death, in 1930, Esperanza must leave Mexico and her life as a wealthy niña to live in the United States as a farm worker during the depression. The chapters are titled with the names of the produce growing at that time. Esperanza becomes the wage earner as her mother becomes very ill and must be hospitalized. At the same time Esperanza fears losing her job because of the “Okies” coming in to work for even less money or from the strike proposed by some workers to raise wages. Esperanza learns the truth, that life has both mountains and valleys and that she needs to keep trying.

General Review: This book offers an interesting perspective on depression era United States. You root for Esperanza, her mother and her Abuelita and want things to work out for them. I particularly liked the fact that while at the end of the book things are going well for the family that it is not a “and they lived happily ever after” book. These characters seem to be real people who will lead real lives.

Themes: Mexican Americans, 1930s, Depression, farm laborers, family life

Author Information: http://www.pammunozryan.com/

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. After a childhood of wealth, Esperanza was a strong character. How and where did she learn to be strong?
2. What did Esperanza choose to take with her from Mexico? Why did she choose that and why did she later choose it to give away?
3. What do you thing will happen to Esperanza next? How will she handle the future?

Activities:

1. Choose a country or if you know from where your family came to America, research how people from that country traveled to the United States. Questions you could answer include; how much could they bring with them, where did they settle and what did they do when they got there? Make a map of the route they would take. Standard 1, Benchmark 4
2. Make a model of Esperanza’s home. Did you choose her home in Mexico or her home in California, or both? Standard 5, Benchmark 3
3. Research and write a newspaper article on the unions and strikes during the depression. Standard 1, Benchmark 5 

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Stargirl
Stargirl. Jerry Spinelli; Knopf, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-679-88637-0; $15.95

Synopsis: Stargirl named herself; she’s given herself various names throughout her life. She’s also been homeschooled. Now she’s going to Mica High, where she meets Leo, who finds her interesting but unusual. Leo slowly warms to her and eventually falls in love with her. The other students at Mica High, however don’t know what to make of her: first, they’re perplexed by her; then they’re enamored of her; and finally, they’re downright mean to her – just because she finds so much joy in life.

General Review: Based somewhat on his wife, writer Eileen Spinelli, Jerry Spinelli’s book is a quick read and a good story. While some adults have criticized it for being too unrealistic, middle school students should have no problem suspending their disbelief enough to be drawn into the mystic of Stargirl’s story.

Themes: Tolerance, High School Life, First Love, Arizona

Author Information: SATA vol. 110

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. If you could change your name, what would it be and why? Or, why would you keep the name you have?
2. Should Stargirl have helped the opposing team’s injured player? Why or why not?
3. If you kept a “happy/unhappy wagon” full of pebbles, how many pebbles would your wagon have in it right now? Explain your answer.

Activities:

1. Design your own porcupine necktie. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
2. Find pictures of three animals and two plants that live in the Arizona desert. Standard 1, Benchmark 5
3. Make a list of “random acts of kindness” you could do for others. Select one to do for someone. Standard 1, Benchmark 3

 

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Homeless Bird
Homeless Bird. Gloria Whelan; HarperCollins, 2000
Grade Level: 6th-8th
ISBN Number & Cost: 0-06-028452-8; $15.89

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Koly is getting married, not an uncommon custom for girls her age in India. She soon learns that her husband is younger than she was told and terminally ill, this deception comes too late and she must go through with the wedding. Her in-laws use her dowry to finance a journey to the Granges River in hope that her husband will be cured. Koly soon finds herself a widow not able to return to her parents. To make her days more bearable, her father-in-law teaches her to read. As a child she is taught how to embroidery and this skill and knowing how to read helps her survive when her mother-in-law abandons her in the city of widows and she must fend for herself.

General Review: This books portrays the harsh reality of life in modern India, it's customs, and traditions. The descriptions of the beautiful embroidery designs give the reader the insight of beauty and hope in a dark
and depressing journey to love and survival.

Themes: India traditions, Death, Perseverance, Embroidery skills, Survival

Author Information: Something About The Author, volume 85, pg. 201-204

Discussion Questions: Standard 3, Benchmark 3

1. Compare different countries wedding traditions to those in India. Are any of these customs used in American weddings today?
2. What countries today do not think it is necessary for girls to have an education or learn to read? As a girl, would you risk the danger and secretly learn to read?
3. Pretend that you are lost from your family and friends in a strange place, what skills/knowledge do you have that will help you survive?

Activities:

1. Bring in a sample of hand embroidery and tell about the history of the piece. Was it purchased? Is it a family heirloom? Give information about the person that did the embroidery. Have a day that everyone wears an article of clothing that has embroidery on it. Discuss whether it is hand embroidery or machine embroidery. Standard 7, Benchmark 1
2. The custom is that both families have to give a dowry (not money) before the marriage can take place. Divide the class into engaged couples and each person will bring pictures to class of what they think would be an appropriate dowry from the other's family. Standard 3, Benchmark 3
3. After discussion number 3, write a story about your survival in a strange place without family and friends. Standard 5, Benchmark 3