2015-2016 Discussion Questions

The Read On Wisconsin Advisory Committee and CCBC librarians have developed sample discussion questions for all the Read On Wisconsin titles from September – May of each year. These discussion starters can be used to encourage children and teens to think more deeply about Read On Wisconsin books.

In developing questions, we kept the Common Core State Standards broadly in mind, trying to make sure every book (especially for kindergarten and older) had at least one or two questions that required a response based on information/evidence that can be found in the text itself, rather than merely asking readers to provide an opinion or to use the book as a launching point for personal reflection (although we included questions like those as well).  We emphasized open-ended questions, although we occasionally deviated from these, especially when asking younger students to find facts in a work of non-fiction.

For Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers, we offer up early literacy activities for caregivers to share with children. These activities align the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read II (ECRR2) which encourages caregivers and parents to share with children five behaviors essential to developing language and pre-reading skills: reading, talking, singing, writing, playing. Find more early literacy activities from the Youth Services Section of the Wisconsin Library Association’s 2016 Early Literacy Calendar created by Youth Services librarians across Wisconsin.

We bet readers and listeners will have plenty of insights and observations of their own to share as well!

The books and questions are listed in chronological order (September – May) for each group.

[Preschoolers|Primary|Intermediate|Middle School|High School]

Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers[top]

The Discussion Questions for the Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers books include a mix of questions and suggestions for building early literacy behaviors with young children while sharing the books. Not every question or suggestion will be suitable for all children—use what makes sense based on the age(s) of the child or children you are with.

Find more early literacy activities from the Youth Services Section of the Wisconsin Library Association’s 2015 Early Literacy Calendar created by Youth Services librarians across Wisconsin.

 My Bus by Byron Barton. Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2014.

  • Talk: About the traffic signs in the book. Ask children to point to signs they recognize.
  • Sing: Sing the Wheels on the Bus with your child.
  • Write: For letter awareness, point out the traffic signs in the book. Ask children to trace the shapes and letters on the sign.
  • Play: Try a round of Red Light, Green Light or Mother May I.
  • STEM: Count the dogs on the bus? Count the cats on the bus? Count the total. Caregivers: Notice the use of ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) Discuss, other first, second, and thirds in daily routines.

Mommies and Their Babies (Black And White) by Guido van Genechten. Translated from the Dutch. Clavis, 2012.

Daddies and Their Babies (Black And White) by Guido van Genechten. Translated from the Dutch. Clavis, 2012.

  • Talk: The language of books is richer than the language of conversation, more rare words are used. Point out new words to your child as you read these books.
  • Write: Draw a picture of your own family and label who is in it.
  • STEM: Count the number of people in your family.

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton. U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2014.

  • Talk: Ask children why the character with the plan kept saying “Shh!”
  • Play: Hide a toy and give your child some clues as to where it may be. Now have your child hide a toy and give you the clues.
  • STEM: Take a walk with children and look for animals. How many different type of animals did you see? Talk  about how the animals are similar and how they are different.

Go, Shapes, Go! by Denise Fleming.  Beach Lane, 2014.

  • Talk: Letter knowledge begins with shapes. What shape does the letter A look like? Think about other letters and their corresponding shapes.
  • Write: Draw shapes in sand, shaving cream or pudding
  • Play: Act out the actions from this book – slide, bounce, roll, slither, flip, march, leap, scoot, fly, twirl, hop!
  • STEM: Discuss the different shapes you see in this book and talk about the shapes you see in your daily lives.

I Am So Brave by Stephen Krensky. Abrams Appleseed, 2014.

  • Talk: Ask your child what they can do now that they couldn’t do when they were younger. How does that make you feel to be able to do all of those things now?
  • Sing: Sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. Replace happy with different emotion words like grumpy, scared, or excited.
  • Play: Take turns with children acting out different emotions and guessing the emotions.

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio.  Illustrated by Christian Robinson.  Atheneum, 2014.

  • Talk: Talk about manners. What are examples of good manners? “Oui” is the French word for yes. What other ways can you say “yes”?
  • Write: Draw a map of your home and label the different rooms.
  • Play: Play a matching game or game of memory.
  • STEM:Challenge your senses by comparing and contrasting different textures. Look at the illustrations in the book. How are the dogs the same and how are they different?

We all count: A Book of Cree Numbers by Julie Flett. Native Northwest, 2014.

  • Read: Find other books about the animals shown in this book.
  • Talk: What languages do you speak? Who are the people in your family? Do you have cousins, aunts, uncles?
  • STEM: Point and count as your share the book. Count to 10 with your child.

Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg. Disney / Hyperion, 2014.

It Is Night by Phyllis Rowland. Illustrated by Laura Dronzek. Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2014.

  • Read: Find other books about plants, animals, and the solar system.
  • Talk & Write: Talk about your bedtime routine. Make a list of your bedtime routine as your child describes the routine and hang the list by your child’s bed. Encourage your child to draw a picture of each routine.
  • Sing: Sing a favorite or traditional lullaby together. For example, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
  • Play: Have your child get their favorite doll or toy ready for bed.

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Duboc. Translated from the French by Claudia Z. Bedrick. U.S. edition: Enchanted Lion, 2014.

  • Read & Talk: On the wordless spreads, ask your child to describe what is happening. Let your child have time with this activity. Use a bookmark so you can come back to the story. Ask your child what their favorite season is and why?
  • Write: Together with your child, write a letter to someone they love that lives far away and take a trip to the post office to mail your letter. Create a bookmark for the book.
  • Play: Take care of a friend, toy, or imaginary friend by hosting a tea party. Find out what they like they to eat. Act out some of the activities in the book like fishing, sledding, and gardening.
  • STEM: Provide dried beans or seeds. Feel them, count them, sort them or plant them in a cup. While sorting, create charts and graphs.

Nest by Jorey Hurley. A Paula Wiseman Book / Simon & Schuster, 2014.

  • Talk: Talk about the four seasons with your child.
  • Sing: Sing “2 Little Blackbirds Sitting in a Tree”. Now replace blackbirds with robins and other birds.
  • Write: Collect leaves. Ask children to trace the different parts of leaves – stem, outline, veins – with their fingers. Point out curved and straight lines on the leaves and how letters are made of straight and curved lines.
  • STEM: Go for a walk and observe nature. When spring comes, place four inch strands of yarn on tree branches for nest building. Discuss the order of the events in the book.

The Mouse Who Ate the Moon by Petr Horáček. U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2014.

  • Talk: Talk about the different foods and their shapes. What are some special things you do with your family? Are there special foods you eat with your family?
  • Sing: Play a recording of “I’m Being Followed By a Moon Shadow” and sing along.
  • Play: Play peek-a-boo! Create finger shadow puppets. Host a tea party for family, friends, toys or dolls.
  • STEM: Discuss the different shapes and phases of the moon.

Mooncakes by Loretta Seto. Illustrated by Renné Benoit. Orca, 2013.

  • Talk: Talk about holidays that your family celebrates. What foods does your family eat on these special occasions.
  • Sing: Sing a favorite holiday song with children.
  • Write: Draw different holiday foods and let your child decorate them with crayons, paint, sequins, beads or sprinkles.

Socks! by Tania Sohn. Kane Miller, 2014.

  • Talk: Talk about the patterns and colors on the socks in the book. What colors are the different socks?
  • Play: Make sock puppets. Let your child make names and characters for their puppets. Put on a puppet show for each other.
  • STEM: Sort laundry, find pairs, and talk about patterns.

If You Were a Dog by Jamie A. Swenson. Illustrated by Chris Raschka. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014.

  • Talk: Talk about the different words and phrases used to describe the animals in the book. What words would you use to describe yourself, a pet, or a friend.
  • Write: Do some watercolor painting in the spirit of this book’s style.
  • Play: Encourage role play and pretend to be the different animals depicted in the book.

Baby Animal Farm by Karen Blair. Candlewick, 2014.

  • Talk: Talk about animals sounds and encourage your child to make some.
  • Sing: Sing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”.
  • Write: Find some pictures of farm animals and have your child trace the outlines of the animals. Talk about the size and shape of each animal.
  • Play: Visit a farm. Enjoy a picnic.

Call Me Tree = Llámame árbol by Maya Christina Gonzalez.  Translated by Dana Goldberg. Children’s Book Press / Lee & Low, 2014.

  • Talk: This book is written in English and Spanish? What other languages do you hear or speak. What is the Spanish word for tree?
  • Write: Practice writing with a tree branch in some sand or dirt.
  • Play: Try the yoga tree pose. What other yoga poses can you try?
  • STEM: Go for a walk and observe different trees.

Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell. Boyds Mills Press, 2008.

  • Talk: Reinforce new vocabulary by labeling the body parts on a picture of a wolfsnail.
  • Write: Take photos and write some words to describe them.
  • Play: Move slowly and crawl like a snail or a slug.
  • STEM: What were some interesting facts you learned about a wolfsnail? Drip some water on a leaf and watch it roll. Try other liquids like cooking oil, milk, juice and syrup. Find a recipe to make some slime.

Mommy! Mommy! by Taro Gomi. Translated from the Japanese. U.S. edition: Chronicle, 2013.

  • Talk: What do you call the grown-ups you live with?
  • Sing: Sing “Where is Thumbkin?”
  • Play: Play hide and seek.

What Will Hatch? by Jennifer Ward. Illustrated by Susie Ghahremani. Walker / Bloomsbury, 2013.

  • Read: Find other books about the animals in this book.
  • Sing: Put some dried beans in a plastic egg and create an egg shaker. Dance and sing along to your favorite songs.
  • Play: Take a plastic egg and hide something inside and have your child guess what it is. Now, have your child hide something inside the egg and you guess what is inside.
  • STEM: Name animals that hatch from eggs. Count all the eggs in the book.

See What a Seal Can Do by Chris Butterworth.  Illustrated by Kate Nelms.  Candlewick Press, 2013.

  • Read: Take a look at the index at the back of the book and go back to the pages of the various topics. Visit the websites mentioned on this page.
  • Talk: Name things a seal can do and name things you can do.
  • Write: Seals eat fish. With your child, make a list of the things your child eats. Encourage them to draw a picture of the things they eat. Take this list with you when you go grocery shopping.
  • STEM: Talk about the seals’ habitat. Test what floats and what doesn’t float in your sink or tub.

Primary (Grades K-2)[top]

The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin. Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Lee & Low, 2014.

  1. What conflicts does Kameka face in the story? What is the result of these conflicts? How are these conflicts resolved?
  2. In the book, what do you think Kameka learns? What makes you think this?
  3. The author uses comparisons such as “Momma stands as still as water in a puddle” to describe characters and situations. What other comparisons did you notice in the book?

Ling & Ting: Twice As Silly by Grace Lin. Little, Brown, 2014.

  1. What does Ting plant in the garden to see if it will grow? Why does Ting plant this?
  2. What words do Ling and Ting change in the last story? How does this change the meaning of the story?
  3. The author/illustrator outlines the pictures in either straight lines or curvy lines? Why do you think?

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Candlewick Press, 2014.

  1. Before reading: What are some reasons why Sam and Dave dig would want to dig a hole?
  2. The characters say, “We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular?” What do you consider spectacular? Did they find something spectacular? What about the dog, did it find something spectacular?
  3. What story does the text tell? What story do the pictures tell? How are they different?
  4. In the pictures, how is the place where Sam and Dave begin their adventure different from where they end up?

Gravity by Jason Chin. A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press, 2014.

  1. This book is about gravity. What does this book want us to know about gravity?
  2. How do the illustrations help you to understand gravity?
  3. This book combines fiction and non-fiction to relay information and to tell a story. Which parts do you think are fiction? Which parts are nonfiction?

Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press, 2013.

  1. Why do you think the bull picks on the other animals? Which animal makes the bull change?
  2. What does the bull say to insult the animals? How do these words relate to the specific animal being insulted? How are these words insulting and not insulting to the animals?
  3. Why do you think the illustrator shows the bull growing larger with each animal it teases?

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Clarion, 2014.

  1. Before reading: How would you feel if you had to live in a shopping mall?
  2. What are some differences between Ivan’s life in the jungle and in captivity?
  3. How do the author and illustrator show you how Ivan feels throughout the story?
  4. Why do you think the shopping center owner let Ivan leave? What in the text and illustrations shows you this?

 The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert. Beach Lane Books, 2014.

  1. Before reading: What do you like to create or make?
  2. How did the author’s parents help her to become an artist? Show examples from the text.
  3. Where does the author get ideas and materials for the picture books she writes and illustrates?
  4. What kind of art technique does the author/illustrator use? How is this described in the book in text and in images?

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales. Photographs by Tim O’Meara. A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press, 2014.

  1. Before reading: What verbs would you use to describe yourself?
  2. The author uses strong verbs to describe Frida? What do you learn about her?
  3. What do you learn about Frida from the illustrations?
  4. This book is written in both English and Spanish? Why do you think the author writes in both languages?

Blizzard by John Rocco.  Disney / Hyperion, 2014.

  1. Before reading: What would you not want to be without in a snow storm?
  2. What visual clues show you the depth of the snow?
  3. How do the illustrations tell you about the passage of time?
  4. Which member of the family saves the day? How does he or she save the day? Show examples of this from the illustrations.

The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan McCarthy.  Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

  1. What is the setting for the book or when and where does Balto’s story take place?
  2. In what ways do you think Balto was a hero? Show examples from the book to support your opinion.
  3. Kimble did not have enough money to buy Balto, how did he manage to pay for him?

Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Illustrated by Susy Pilgrim Waters. A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press, 2013.

  1. What three animals does Grandma meet on her way through the forest?
  2. What problems does Grandma need to solve? How does she solve them?
  3. How do Grandma’s dogs help her?
  4. How might this story be different in a different setting? Give an example of a different setting and resulting story.

Little Roja Riding Hood by Susan Middleton Elya. Illustrated by Susan Guevara. Putnam, 2014.

  1. Have you read other versions of Little Red Riding? What is similar and different in this version?
  2. The duendes are in many of the illustrations. What do you notice about them?
  3. How do the illustrations help to tell the story? What do the illustrations tell you about Little Roja, her mother and her grandmother?

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems by Paul B. Janeczko. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Candlewick Press, 2014.

  1. How do the illustrations help us to understand the words in the poems?
  2. Describe how the words and illustrations identify the seasons?
  3. What are the differences between the fog in Carl Sandburg’s poem (p. 36) and Ever Merriam’s poem (p. 37)?

What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon. Illustrated by August Hall. A Richard Jackson Book / Atheneum, 2014.

  1. Who or what do you think is Forest? Show examples for your opinion.
  2. In what season does the book begin? In what season does the book end?
  3. Identify words in the story that describe or show action?

Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas! by Philippe Coudray.  Toon Books/Candlewick Press, 2013.

  1. What are some of the problems that bear solves?
  2. How would you describe the relationship between bear and rabbit?
  3. Which of the stories is the most realistic and which is the least realistic? Show examples for your reasoning.

Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry by Joyce Sidman. Illustrated by Michelle Berg. Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

  1. What story does the book tell about the dog and cat?
  2. Give some examples of how the print looks like what it’s describing or representing? Why do you think the author and illustrator chose to show the words this way?
  3. What are some of the different voices expressed in the poems?

 Me … Jane by Patrick McDonnell.  Little, Brown, 2011.

  1. Jane is curious about the natural world? What are some ways that she learned more about what interested her?
  2. What attributes did Jane have as a child that would make her a good scientist?
  3. Describe the different types of illustrations in the book? Do they tell you different types of information?

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies. Illustrated by Emily Sutton.  U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2014.

  1. What do microbes look like? How do you know? How is this information evident in the text and illustrations in this book?
  2. Name some of the helpful or good things microbes do?
  3. What are some examples of how microbes change one thing into another? How is this illustrated in the book? Does it help to have illustrations as well as text to explain this science information?

Icon for the Intermediate (Grades 3-5) readers

Intermediate (Grades 3-5)[top]

El Deafo by Cece Bell. Amulet, 2014.

  1. If you could have any super power, what would it be?
  2. How do the illustrations add to your understanding of the book and of the author? Why do you think the author chose to illustrate herself as a rabbit?
  3. In many ways this is a book about friendships. How does Cece find a best friend?
  4. This book is a memoir – a story about the author’s life. In memoirs, authors find ways to talk about their lives in colorful, creative ways that might bending the truth a bit. What parts of this book do you think are nonfiction? What parts do you think are fiction?

Lend a Hand: Poems about Giving by John Frank. Illustrated by London Ladd. Lee & Low, 2014.

  1. What kinds of things do you do to help around your community?
  2. How do the illustrations and text work together throughout the book?
  3. The author tells about helpful acts using poetry. Do you think this format works well for the author’s purpose? Why?

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams, 2014

  1.  Why is separate never equal? What are some examples of this from the story?
  2. How do the illustrations help tell the story?
  3. What changes from the start of the story to the end of the story?
  4. Both these books (Separate is Never Equal and The Madman of Piney Woods) talk about inequality? How do the authors show the inequalities? How do the inequalities affect the main characters’ communities? How are communities different due to inequalities?

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis. Scholastic Press, 2014.

  1. This story is told from the perspective of two different characters, Benji and Red. How would the story be different if it was told by Grandma O’Toole or the Madman of Piney Woods?
  2. How do the traumatic experiences in Grandma O’Toole’s and the Madman’s lives affect them, their families and their communities? How do these experiences change the choices each makes in life? How are the grandmother and the madman alike? How are the different?
  3. How does the setting of the book help in the development of the characters and the difference in their experiences?
  4. Both these books (Separate is Never Equal and The Madman of Piney Woods) talk about inequality? How do the authors show the inequalities? How do the inequalities affect the main characters’ communities? How are communities different due to inequalities?

Arcady’s Goal by Eugene Yelchin. Henry Holt, 2014.

  1. Before reading: What makes a family?
  2. This story takes place in Communist Soviet Union in the 1950’s. How does this setting help explain the characters’ actions?
  3. Why does Arcady believe Ivan is a soccer coach? What makes Arcady believe this?
  4. How does the author show that Arcady is learning to trust Ivan? What causes Ivan to open up to Arcady?

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth. Scholastic Press, 2014.

  1. What makes Jarrett and Kevon kind of like brothers?
  2. How did the author use foreshadowing in the narrative? Cite examples.
  3. How do Jarrett’s feelings about Kevon change? At what point in the story, did you notice these changes?
  4. How would this story be different if told from Kevon’s perspective? What makes you think this?
  5. What role does community play in this story?

What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren. Penguin Group, 2014.

  1. Before reading: Do you have any superstitions?
  2. What is Esther’s life like on the farm? How is it different from her siblings?
  3. How does Ma’s background affect Esther?
  4. How is Esther different in the beginning of the story from the end of the story? How is Ma different?

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown. Houghton Mifflin, 2013.

  1. What do you think the author wanted you to know about the dust bowl? What are some of the things he included in the text and the images to tell you that?
  2. How did the illustrations help tell the story?
  3. How does the graphic novel format differ from other informational text formats? What are the benefits of the graphic novel format in relaying information?

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay. Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont. U.S. edition: Albert Whitman, 2013.

  1.  Before reading: What would you do if you found a cat on your doorstep?
  2. What role do pets play in the family in this book? What role do pets play for the main character?
  3. How is the grandmother different at the beginning of the story from the end of the story? Why did the grandmother change her mind about the cat?
  4. How does the setting affect the story? What setting might create a different ending for this story?

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy. Delacorte, 2014.

  1. How is each brother featured as a protagonist? How does that change the story?
  2. This book features messages and emails at the beginning of each chapter. How does that affect your understanding of the narrative? What do you learn about the characters from these notes?
  3. Why did Mr. Nelson appear to be grumpy for much of the story?
  4. Which character changes the most throughout the story? Why do you think this? Cite examples.

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Little, Brown, 2013.

  1. Before reading: Do you like your name? Why or why not?
  2. Why does Sugar still feel like she is not free even though she is no longer a slave?
  3. What makes Billy seem as though he is also not free?
  4. Why is Sugar so able to make friends with people who are not like her?

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick Press, 2013.

  1. Before reading: Both stories (Flora and Ulysses and Stubby the War Dog) use headlines. What would be the headline for your life today?
  2. How do the text features affect the story? How do the illustrations affect your understanding of the story and the characters?
  3. How does the mother change throughout the story? Why does the mom want to get rid of Ulysses? What does the mom say that’s hurtful and why?
  4. Why do you think that the boy pretends to be blind? How would the story and characters change if the boy didn’t pretend to be blind?

Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum. National Geographic, 2014.

  1. Before reading: Both stories (Flora and Ulysses and Stubby the War Dog) use headlines. What would be the headline for your life today?
  2. Can you identify any primary sources in the book? How do the primary sources affect the story?
  3. Make a timeline of Stubby’s Story.
  4. How do animals help people through difficult times? What examples can you find in this book? Which of Stubby’s feats impressed you most?

African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways by Avis Harley. Photographs by Deborah Noyes. Candlewick Press, 2009.

  1. Before reading: Both of these books (African Acrostics and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library) feature puzzles. What is your favorite type of puzzle?
  2. How do the text and pictures work together to add meaning to this book?
  3. How did the acrostic part of the poem add to the meaning of the poem?
  4. How does this book use puzzles? To enhance setting? To share information? To add detail?

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. Random House, 2013.

  1. Before reading: Both of these books (African Acrostics and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library) feature puzzles. What is your favorite type of puzzle?
  2. Solving puzzles helped the characters win the challenge. What else helped them?
  3. Teamwork gave some kids an advantage. How did the book show this?
  4. How does this book use puzzles? To tell a story? To create tension? To enhance setting?

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate. Candlewick Press, 2013.

  1. Before reading: What adventures can you have close to home?
  2. If you went birding and found ten birds, how would you classify them?
  3. What story does the map tell?
  4. How does this book combine information and narrative?

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic, Inc., 2014.

  1. Before reading: What are your rules of summer?
  2. How do the illustrations and text work together to tell the story?
  3. How can the illustrations change the meaning of the text?
  4. Do you ever get told not to do something and you don’t know why?

Books for Middle School Age

Middle School[top]

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

  1. A theme of this book is family relationships. How do these relationships change over the course of the book?
  2. Evaluate the format of the book. How does the novel in verse format help to develop the characters and the story? How does the use of different fonts and typefaces affect the reader’s understanding of the story and characters?
  3. The author uses three style of poems to tell the story. One style uses the twin’s SAT vocabulary homework; another style acts like Josh’s rap. What do these different styles show us about Josh? Pick one of these styles to tell your thoughts about the book.
  4. Describe a particular scene or character that you are able to visualize vividly in your mind. What did the author do to create that vivid image?

The Screaming Staircase. (Lockwood & Co.: Book One) by Jonathan Stroud. Disney / Hyperion, 2013.

  1. In what time period do you think this story is set? What evidence can you cite?
  2. Secrecy is a theme in this book. How do the secrets affect the plot?
  3. This book’s setting mixes fantasy and realism by imagining that ghosts are real. How do the fantasy aspects of this book affect the realistic parts of the world?

The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter. Tundra Books, 2014.

  1. Fear is a recurring theme in this story. What are the different kinds of fears that the characters experience? How does this affect the pace and tension in the story?
  2. Explain the way that different characters in the story feel invisible.
  3. The swallow is a symbol throughout the book. What does the swallow represent? What is the significance of the swallow? Why do you think the author used the title, The Swallow?

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng. Lee & Low, 2013.

  1. Why do you think the author chose to use various points of view to tell Dave’s story? What affect do the different points of view have on the reader’s understanding of the story and Dave’s life?
  2. The author also used poetry to tell Dave’s story. Why do you think the author chose this format? Did you find it effective in relaying information, developing characters, telling a story? Why or why not?
  3. How did Dave rebel against slavery while still remaining a slave? How does the author show this? What risks did Dave take in creating his art? Cite examples for the story that show why he took these risks?
  4. In what way is Dave’s story part of the story of the struggle for Civil Rights?

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. A Neal Porter Book / Roaring Brook Press, 2013.

  1. Do you think George was unrealistic for continuing to make pottery despite the fact that no one bought it? Why?
  2. How does George’s pottery reflect his personality? Cite examples from the book.
  3. In George’s time, fairs were a place that people visited to discover and explore new ideas and inventions? What fills that role today?

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson. Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic, Inc., 2014.

  1. This book is a classic con or heist story. Different genre elements are present in Great Greene Heist that make it recognizable as a heist or con story. What are some things that make this book fall into the heist genre?
  2. Some passages in this book make Keith seem sympathetic. Provide some examples of this from the book. Did you ever feel sorry for him? Why or why not?
  3. Jackson is a student, a friend and a con man. What qualities does Jackson possess that makes him a good con man? What are some qualities that Jackson a good friend?
  4. Do you agree with the actions that Jackson takes to help his friend? Why or why not? Is it ever okay to break rules?

Patient Zero: Solving the Mysteries of Deadly Epidemics by Marilee Peters. Annick Press, 2014.

  1. What does Patient Zero mean? Do you think this is fitting title for this book? Why?
  2. What were some of the similarities of the different epidemics? How does the time period each epidemic was set in influence how each epidemic was handled?
  3. What are some elements of this informational text (text size, organization, design, illustrations) that are engaging to you as a reader?
  4. Which disease would you like to learn more about? Why?

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone. Candlewick Press, 2013.

  1. What are specific ways the author shows how racism was a barrier and a burden for individual members of the Triple Nickles and the group as a whole?
  2. How did the Triple Nickles change history and people’s perceptions of African Americans? Cite evidence from the book.
  3. Do people of color experience the same kinds of prejudice today?

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. Disney Hyperion, 2014.

  1. How does Grayson different at the end of the story than from the beginning of the story? What are some turning points for Grayson?
  2. How did the adults in Grayson’s life react to him being in the play? What are the different adult perspectives? Why do you think the author shared these points of view?
  3. Discuss the relationship between Grayson and Mr. Finnegan.

The Scavengers by Michael Perry. HarperCollins, 2014.

  1. Why does Maggie change her name to Ford Falcon? What is the significance of her name change? What does it mean when her father calls her Ford Falcon at the end of the book?
  2. Why does Ford Falcon stay in the car instead of in the shack with her family?
  3. Why does Ford decide to stay out of the Bubble at the end of the book? Would you have the courage to do so? Would you choose to live InBubble or OutBubble? Explain.

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth. Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic, 2013.

  1. Lewis and George’s lives intersect for a brief period of time in their seventh grade year. How does the author chronicle their friendship as the plot develops? How does each one of them change over the course of the story?
  2. Identity and friendship are major themes in the story. Do any specific elements (scenes, interactions, etc.) stand out when you think of how either one of these themes was explored in the story?
  3. What role did music play in the lives of the characters? How is it woven into the story?

The Bird King: An Artist’s Notebook by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic Inc., 2013.

  1. Choose a sketch and tell its story.
  2. Did you notice any common themes among the drawings? Tell about one theme using examples from the book to support your argument.
  3. What thoughts, ideas, or information do you think the author/illustrator wants readers to take away from engaging with this book.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin, 2014.

  1. This book is the autobiographical. The author shares her experiences, feelings and memories from her life as well as factual information. How can memory differ from things that really happened? How does affect the story the author is telling?
  2. Choose a poem from the book. What does this poem tell you about the author? Explain your answer with examples from the poem.
  3. How did the author’s experience of Jim Crow align with or differ from other stories you have heard?

High School [top]

The Milk of Birds by Sylvia Whitman. Atheneum, 2013.

  1. What events and actions contribute to Casey’s change of heart regarding the “Save the Girls” program?
  2. How does the author suggest that taking action, either for yourself or others, makes a difference? Conversely, what are the consequences of being a bystander? Provide examples from the text.
  3. Which one of Nawra’s proverbs is most relevant to the problems of teenagers today?

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. Henry Holt, 2014.

  1. Using evidence from the text, explain one character’s perspective of how it went down.
  2. What is Tina’s role in the story? Why does Magoon include non-witness characters like her?
  3. After having read this book, how will this novel effect your view of events in real life similar to those in this novel?

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci. Roaring Brook Press, 2014.

  1. How are insider/outsider lines defined in this book and in what cases are they blurred?
  2. Where do Tula’s loyalties lie? How do her loyalties change throughout her experience on the space station? Cite examples from the text.
  3. Make a text-to-world connection relating the political figures and issues in Tin Star to historical or contemporary events.

House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle. Cinco Puntos Press, 2014 (c2013).

  1. Explain the significance of the title, House of Purple Cedar.
  2. Decisions to perform acts of violence and nonviolence play a pivotal role in the course of the book. For example, Amafo’s response to the marshall’s attack was deliberate. Argue how this was or wasn’t an effective strategy.
  3. Find two examples of symbolism in this novel. Explain the importance of each to the narrative arc of the story or development of a character.

Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids by Deborah Ellis. Foreword by Loriene Roy. Groundwood / House of Anansi Press, 2013.

  1. This book is entitled, Looks Like Daylight. Why do you think the author chose this title? How does it reflect the overall tone of the stories the author chose to include? What do you think it suggests about the long term prognosis for Native youth in America? Provide examples from the stories to support your opinion.
  2. In each chapter, Native youth describe some of the challenges they face. Frequently, these challenges include alcohol abuse, discrimination, and suicide. How has the history of Native Americans (i.e., repatriation to reservations, boarding schools, language extinction) contributed to these challenges? In what ways do Native youth cope positively with these challenges? How are these challenges similar or different from the experiences of non-Native youth or even from your experience?
  3. Many of the Native youth describe their relationship to Native history. Give examples of how this has been a positive experience as well as a negative experience for these youth. Are there examples of your personal history, or the history of someone you know, that affect your behavior or life outlook today? Discuss why it’s important for these Native students to remember history and, equally, why it’s important to identify with the present and plan for the future.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin. Roaring Brook Press, 2014.

  1. The first chapter in the book, “First Hero,” describes an African American naval kitchen worker who saves many lives during an air raid in 1941 at Pearl Harbor. In what ways does this story foreshadow the events and personal experiences during the Port Chicago 50 disaster?
  2. In the chapter “The Verdict,” the author describes the court proceedings against the Port Chicago 50. The author reports that testimony “ignited” the prosecutor’s “biggest tantrum” thus far (p. 137).   How do words like “ignited” and “tantrum” influence the reader’s perspective about the prosecutor and the court proceedings?   What feelings does the author elicit in the reader in using these descriptors? How would your reaction be different if the author had used the words “prompted” rather than “ignited” or “frustration” rather than “tantrum?’
  3. Have you or someone you know ever been in a situation where you needed to disagree with someone in authority? What were the consequences of that disagreement? How was that situation alike or different from the Port Chicago 50 situation? If you had been on that naval base, would you have continued to load ammunition or would you have joined the 50?   Why or why not?

Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang.  First Second, 2014.

  1. The book ends with a short history of the comic industry in the 1940s and, in particular, how a comic called “The Green Turtle” was created by an Asian American artist. In retrospect, how did this information influence your understanding of the story? Do you think it was necessary to provide this backstory? Did knowing this information change how you felt about the story? In what ways?
  2. This book examines issues of immigration and race in addition to crime and its consequences. How do the images in the book reinforce the story’s treatment of immigration and race? Examine the panels on page 118. In one image, Hank pulls his eyes into slits. How does this image reinforce the accompanying text and the story’s treatment of race? Do you think it adds or detracts from the text’s message? How?
  3. Some people believe graphic novels teach “visual literacy” whereby you examine the images in context with the text, rather than simply reading the text alone. How does the visual representation of immigration and race contribute to or detract from your understanding of these issues? Would your reaction be different had you simply read about it without pictures? Did you find the use of visuals and the graphic novel format effective in examining these issues? Why or why not?
  4. On page 118, the police detective calls the Chinese gang, “Those sneaky slant-eyed bastards.” How does his word choice reflect the time and place in which this story takes place? Why do you think the detective is surprised that the Green Turtle is also a “slant-eyed” bastard? Why do you think the author used those words to describe the criminals?

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang. Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2014.

  1. Why did Zhang tell Liz’s story in a non-chronological format? How would a different plot structure change the tension and pace of the story?
  1. What techniques does Zhang use to take an unsympathetic protagonist and make the reader care about her?
  1. How does Zhang’s inclusion of an unknown narrator influence the plot development?

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

  1. Silver People is an historical novel in verse. How would this story be told differently if it were a [prose] novel? A textbook?
  2. The story is told from the perspective of different people. How do the different voices add to the readers understanding of the story? Whose voice resonated with you and why?
  3. Hollywood called and they are doing a casting call for Silver People. Who would you recommend for the main characters and why? What elements of this story would lend itself to the big screen?

The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston. Carolrhoda Lab, 2014.

  1. How does having a bard support the cause of the dragon slayers? Additionally, how does the role of the bard shape the structure of the story?
  2. Dragons are the personification of petroleum gluttony. What geopolitical details in the story support this idea?
  3. Associating personality with the sound of a specific musical instrument is a technique the author uses to help develop the story as well as characters. Siobhan calls Owen a “French horn.” What instruments would the other main characters be and why?

Vango: Between Earth and Sky by Timothée de Fombelle. Translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone. U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2014.

  1. How does the backdrop of WWII create tension in the story?
  2. What is Vango’s destiny? What in the story convinces you of this?
  3. How do the female characters in Vango contribute to his development as a character?





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