Discussion Questions: Beyond the Bright Sea

bright seaDiscussion Questions for Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk:


  1. Where do you think Crow has come from?


  1. Compare/contrast the arrivals of Osh and Crow to the island.


  1. Think about their names. Osh is also known as Painter and Daniel. Do you think perhaps he has had another name, too? Does Crow also have other names? Are these names important?


  1. Why might the other islanders be afraid of Crow? Why was Miss Maggie never afraid?


  1. In Chapter 3, Crow mentions treasure. Is that what Crow is really looking for?


  1. Crow learns the truth about the hospital that was once on Penikese. How does Crow feel about this? Do you blame the other islanders for their fear, especially since Daniel and Miss Maggie are not afraid of her? Do you think Crow is really from Penikese?


  1. Do you think it is important for Crow to learn about her past? Will it make a difference in her life? Will it make a difference to others?


  1. Penikese is going to be a bird sanctuary. Will this make people feel differently about the island?


  1. Who is right about the campfire on Penikese – Miss Maggie, Osh, Crow? Could it have real significance to them?


  1. Osh has a part of a letter and a ring that came attached to Crow. Why did he not tell her about these items sooner?


  1. Crow learns that Miss Maggie had previously done research into the hospital on Penikese. Why did Miss Maggie do this? And why didn’t she share this information earlier?


  1. When Crow, Osh, and Miss Maggie visit Penikese, they meet the bird keeper. What do you think about this meeting?


  1. Do you, like Crow, believe there is a connection between the lamb in the cottage and on the headstone?


  1. Crow writes the letter to Dr. Eastman looking for information. Osh tells her, “What you do is who you are” (pg. 75). What does he mean by this?


  1. Now that Crow has received the reply from Dr. Eastman, do you think she comes from Penikese? She has further clues to follow, including the possibility of having a brother. Osh tells her, “But I think you should look in as much as you’re looking out” (pg. 87). What does he mean by this?


  1. Crow writes a cryptic letter to the nurse, Evelyn Morgan. Do you think the nurse will understand?


  1. Crow realizes that the man that she, Osh, and Miss Maggie met on Penikese cannot be the bird keeper. They make a return trip to the island and find the real bird keeper bound and gagged. Who is the other man and why is he there? Is he looking for treasure? Something else?


  1. Crow remembers that the imposter bird keeper had mentioned a nurse. Do you think this is just coincidence or a connection?


  1. Crow wants to look for her (possible) brother, Jason. Do you think she will be able to find him?


  1. Crow asks Osh, “If you had a brother somewhere and might be able to find him, wouldn’t you go looking?” (pg. 137) Osh does have a brother (and other relatives), but chooses not to look. What is the difference?


  1. Crow goes to New Bedford alone to look for Jason. Was it right for her to do this? What does she learn about Jason? the bird keeper imposter?


  1. When on the ferry to New Bedford, Crow sees a sailor on another ship, The Shearwater, who looks like her. She believes he may be her brother. Do you think he might be?


  1. Crow receives her response from Nurse Evelyn. She learns several things:


  1. Who her parents were
  2. Who the imposter bird keeper really is and what he is after
  3. She does have a brother


How might all of these things affect Crow?


  1. Is Crow still Crow – or is she Morgan now? Are they the same? Different?


  1. Decide: Is Osh’s name important or not?


  1. Now that the police know what Mr. Kendall was looking for, other treasure hunters invade the island. Do you think Crow really knows where the treasure is hidden?


  1. Miss Maggie, Osh, and Crow go to Penikese to get the treasure. They meet the police officers looking for Mr. Kendall. Do you think he will return?


  1. When they find the treasure, it brings unexpected problems. It is a burden. What do you think they should do? Turn it in? Hide it? Give it away?


  1. Will the treasure change Crow? And if so, how?


  1. Benson touches Crow and allows her to handle the chocolate. He behaves as though she is not different at all. Has something changed?


  1. Crow sees a sail leaving Penikese harbor. Is danger coming her way and is there anything she can do to stop it?


  1. When questioned by the police, Crow admits she is the daughter of people who died on Penikese. When this news gets out, will things change for Crow?


  1. Osh, Crow, and Miss Maggie identify Mr. Kendall for the police. Do you think it is over between them? Are they now safe that Mr. Kendall is in jail?


  1. Just as a storm is coming, they learn Mr. Kendall has escaped. Do you think he is coming for them?


  1. During the storm, a ship is wrecked. It is The Shearwater. The young sailor that Crow hopes will prove to be her brother is injured and nearly drowned. Do you think he is Jason?


  1. While Crow is tending the young sailor, Mr. Kendall returns. His anger is worse than the storm. Can Crow do anything to save herself and help Osh and Miss Maggie?


  1. The young sailor is not Jason. It is possible Crow may never find her brother. How does she feel about this?


  1. “What you do is who you are.” (pg. 283) Who is Crow? Osh? Miss Maggie?


Review: Fish in a Tree


Fish in a Tree

Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Publisher: Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2015

Source: Library

Ally Nickerson is called many names: freak, dumb, loser. The truth is that she is simply different, and she thinks she knows why. She has a problem which she tries desperately to conceal even though this secret “is like dragging around a concrete block” (pg. 69). Ally can’t read. No matter how hard she tries, she simply can’t make sense of those squiggly, little symbols.

So far she has been able to fool her teachers, though not without consequences which include regular visits to the principal. When her teacher goes on maternity leave, her substitute, Mr. Daniels – a grad student studying special education – discovers the truth. Ally is dyslexic. Ally begins to realize that different is not stupid.

The intriguing title comes from a quote that reminds us all of this fact: If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its life believing it is stupid.

This book celebrates students with all kinds of abilities. It explores the importance of friendship and family and offers hope to those who struggle academically. At the end of the book is a wonderful set of discussion questions and a journal of sketches of “impossible things.”

Check out Lynda Mullaly Hunt at: http://www.lyndamullalyhunt.com/


Discussion Questions: Touching Spirit Bear

Touching the Spirit BearDiscussion Questions for Touching Spirit Bear:


  1. Do you think that spending a year completely alone on a remote Alaskan island is going to be easier than jail time?


  1. Cole is angry with his parents for letting this (facing jail) happen to him. Is it their fault?


  1. Do you think Cole truly understands Circle Justice? Do you think he knows what it means and how it works?


  1. Cole thinks that if someone (Garvey) is scared of him, he can trust them. Is this how trust works?


  1. According to Edwin, in order to survive, Cole will need to learn “patience, gentleness, strength and honesty” (pg. 17). How will these traits help Cole to survive in the wilderness?


  1. Cole also learns about Spirit Bear from Edwin. Spirit Bear has “pride, dignity, and honor” (pg. 17). Cole responds by saying he will kill the bear. Why would he do this? Edwin responds to Cole by saying, “Whatever you do to the animals, you do to yourself” (pg. 18). What does he mean?


  1. Garvey shares his at.óow with Cole, but do you think he can really trust Cole?


  1. Cole thinks that his stay on the island is a “game” of which he is in charge. Is he really? What do his actions show?


  1. Cole thinks that if Peter forgives him, his punishment should be lessened. Garvey tells him, “Forgiving isn’t forgetting” (pg. 33). What does he mean?


  1. Cole thinks he can escape the island by swimming to another nearby island. He quickly realizes that Nature is not something he can control. How does this make him feel? Does he truly understand Garvey’s comment: “Try manipulating a storm or lying to your hunger. Try cheating the cold” (pg 57)?


  1. When Cole sees the Spirit Bear, he challenges it. Why does he do this?


  1. How does Cole feel when he sees the baby sparrows after the storm? Has his experience changed him?


  1. Why does Spirit Bear return to the spot where Cole lay? Why doesn’t it attack him? Cole feels that at least before his life ends it is important that “He had trusted and been trusted” (pg. 97). Has he really learned about trust?


  1. Why has Garvey helped Cole? Is it for Cole or for himself?


  1. Edwin has told Cole that “anger was a memory never forgotten” (pg. 112). Are there other memories, too, that are never forgotten?


  1. After six months of medical care, Cole is once again going to face sentencing. Since he broke his first contract with Circle Justice, it seems unlikely he will get another. However, with Garvey and Edwin’s help, he does. Do you think Cole should be given this chance? Do you think it will turn out differently?


  1. What is the lesson to be learned from Edwin’s stick?


  1. In addition to building his own shelter on the island, Edwin gives Cole other daily tasks. These include the early morning swims in the pond, carrying the rock, and animal dances. Why are these tasks so important?


  1. When Cole finds the log, his first thought is to make a canoe and escape. However, he changes his mind. Why? And what do you think of his plan for the log?


  1. On one of Edwin’s check-in visits, Cole asks about Peter. What does this show about Cole?


  1. What do you think about the two questions that are haunting Cole? “What was the one thing that would help him heal? And how could he become invisible?” (pg. 188)


  1. What has Cole learned about his anger?


  1. Describe Cole’s relationships with his mother and father. How have they changed?


  1. As Cole heals, Peter’s situation worsens. What do you think of Cole’s plan to help Peter?


  1. Moving forward, beyond the island, what do you think will be the outcome for the boys? How has Spirit Bear helped each of them?

Discussion Questions: The Someday Birds

The Someday BirdsDiscussion Questions for The Someday Birds:

  1. Charlie admits that he is no expert on feelings, but knowing that he is going to visit his dad in the hospital after sustaining a brain injury, how do you think he might feel?
  2. When Charlie tells people he is ‘fine,’ he says it because he thinks this is what they want to hear. Do you think he is right?
  3. Do you think that Gram is right about Ludmila that she has a story to tell?
  4. Why does Gram get angry with Charlie when he says, “Even if I did say hello… Dad doesn’t hear me” (pg. 17).
  5. What do you think of Charlie’s bird book and his list of someday birds?
  6. Gram cries when she gives the family the “great news” that their dad is going to be receiving treatment from a world-class research hospital for free. Do you think she is happy or sad?
  7. After Gram and dad go to Virginia, Gram’s babysitter plans fall through. Davis and the twins take the opportunity to do as they please, but Charlie is upset and calls Grams to inform. She calls in a backup babysitter. What do you think of her choice?
  8. Now that Ludmila is at their house, Davis decides to make other arrangement for the family. What do you think of her new plan?
  9. After the accident, the twins disappear and Charlie goes to look for them. Charlie makes a find at the junk shop. The twins also come back with a “find.” What do you think of these new items?
  10. Ludmila is back on the scene but instead of heading back home, she is going to take them on a road trip that will bring them to their father. How do you think Charlie – or any of them – feels about this plan? Do you, like Charlie, think she is heading for some scary cult headquarters?
  11. The road trip may not have been Charlie’s idea of a good rime, but it is one that turns out to have unexpected birding opportunities. Joel complains that checking off birds on a list will not help dad; it will only satisfy Charlie. Ludmila says that might just be a good enough reason to do it. What do you think?
  12. At Yellowstone, Joel and Jake discover that bison are not tame, and Davis discovers a new interest. This interest mystifies Charlie. It also seems to point to changes in the relationship between Charlie and Davis. What do you think these changes mean?
  13. Charlie makes an unexpected friend. Why do you think Charlie and Tiberius become so close?
  14. They stop at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where a reenactment is scheduled to take place. Ludmila doesn’t like war monuments and is strangely quiet after the visit. What do you think is going on?
  15. Ludmila begins to tell her story. Do you think she is like the fire bird?
  16. At Wall Drug Charlie has a run-in with a very unusual bird. Would this encounter make you scared or would you be like Charlie and feel braver?
  17. We learn a little more of Ludmila’s story. How do you think it is going to end?
  18. Charlie’s next experience is with a “bird” of another kind. What do you think of his Duck tour?
  19. What do you think about Charlie’s ride at the waterpark? What does he learn? How does this change things between Charlie and his brothers?
  20. Charlie compares his Someday list to a hundred hand-washings of calm. Why does Charlie need this right now? With that in mind, has it been worth his time keeping the list? Is that the only reason?
  21. At the Hall of Birds at the Field Museum, Charlie gets more new experiences with birds – and people. Why is he frustrated with himself?
  22. What do Joel and Jake do for Charlie that points to the change in their relationship?
  23. While staying with Ludmila’s friend Mariana, Charlie and Davis overhear their conversation and finally learn the connection between Ludmila and their father. What do you think of Davis’s decision to share her father’s files with Ludmila. And after she does, how do you think Ludmila feels? What about Charlie and Davis?
  24. Ludmila finally finishes her story. Do you think she will now be able to take her brothers advice and find that “bit of good” that exists everywhere (pg. 250)?
  25. In the Amish country in Pennsylvania, Charlie has yet another wild experience in the corn field. Yet instead of being overly frightened and running away, he uses it as an opportunity to sight another bird. How does he feel about this opportunity?
  26. In Colonial Williamsburg, Charlie gets involved in the act. Does this surprise you? Would this be something you would expect of Charlie at the beginning of the story?
  27. While trying to plan the last few days of their trip, the family gets a call from Gram. Dad is going in for surgery. Their plans are scrapped as they head for the hospital. How are the children feeling? Do you think Charlie will ever get his opportunity to speak with Tiberius Shaw and have his questions about bird behavior and human behavior answered?
  28. How might Charlie feel when even Davis and Gram struggle to understand the behavior of the doctors?
  29. Charlie is very disturbed by the actions of those around him. Is running away the answer? And what do you think of his choice of location?
  30. What do you think of this quote from Tiberius Shaw’s journal: “Change is possible. It is not to be feared.” (pg. 272) Now think of all the things that Charlie has faced. Think of all his new experiences. Do you think Charlie would agree with Tiberius Shaw?


Discussion Questions: Race the Night

race-the-nightDiscussion Questions:


Chapter 1 – The Sea That Was


  1. Who do you think Robin is?


  1. Why is it important to Teacher that Eider get “the sea out of your system” (pg. 4)?


Chapter 2 – The Desert Ranch


  1. We learn that the world has ended at least three years earlier. Why is structure so important now that the world has ended?


  1. Why do you think the Word Books have missing pages?


  1. If the world has really ended and there is nothing beyond the desert ranch, why would anyone need to keep making the fence taller and stronger?


  1. Why would Teacher interpret meanness as confidence?


Chapter 3 – Fairytales


  1. If you were one of the only people left in the world, how would you feel? Special? Important? Lonely?


  1. Why should Eider feel the need to keep her papers secret?


  1. Why does she still think (hope?) Teacher is mistaken about things, for instance, the sea?


  1. An alarm sounds. If you are the only people left in the world, what kind of danger could there be?


  1. Paper is to be conserved only for important things. Is Art important?


Chapter 4 – The Night Lesson


  1. What does darkness help the kids to do?


  1. While looking up at ‘star soup,” Eider faints. Why do you think this happened?


Chapter 5 – Nonsense Things


  1. The storage room is filled with food which never seems to diminish. Where does the food come from?


Chapter 6 – Bone Deep Kind of Wonder


  1. Who is the Handyman? Where do you think he comes from? What about the stuff he delivers?


  1. When Eider is discovered at the fence by Teacher, Teacher comments, “I just want to make sure you’re looking inward instead of outward” (pg. 47). Is looking outward bad? Is looking inward good?


  1. Later when Eider goes to the fence, she is more careful. Why does she feel the need to hide her curiosity?


  1. When Eider goes through the gap in the fence Beyond, what does she find?


Chapter 7 – Extrasensory


  1. When practicing the mazes, Teacher is trying to learn whether or not the kids are ‘a natural’ at certain activities. What are Eider’s natural talents? Are these valuable things?


Chapter 8 – Welcome Home


  1. Teacher has begun sharing the results of her lessons with the kids. Eider thinks she did better in the mazes than Linnet, yet she scored lower. What might this mean?


  1. What do you think of the paper that Eider found Beyond?


  1. Teacher claims she can’t control what the kids think, but she can guide their thoughts. Do you think she is controlling them or is she really guiding them?


  1. Families are a distasteful topic. Teacher claims, “Families aren’t special… they were common” (pg. 64). Does the fact that something is common mean it is not special? What do you think of Teacher’s ideas?


Chapter 9 – The First Step


  1. Eider encourages Finch to go beyond the fence with her. Is this wise?


  1. Eider finds a shard of ceramic. She keeps it because she thinks it is pretty. Finch says it is not useful, but Eider asks, “Does everything need to be?” (pg. 71) What do you think?


  1. What do you think Finch’s secret is?


Chapter 10 – Something Special


  1. What do you think of the third Extrasensory lesson?
  2. What do you think of Teacher’s comment: “Brains are like clay. They can become almost anything with the right pinching and prodding.” (pg. 77)


  1. Eider gives the pretty shard to Linnet. Why does Linnet think it is so special when it is not useful?


Chapter 11 – All That World


  1. Finch builds a radio. Why does he think there may be something “out there?” When the results are disappointing, why doesn’t he just give up?


Chapter 12 – War Games


  1. The kids are all playing pretend war games. During the play, Jay mentions that soldiers sometimes go M.I.A. – like Robin. If Robin is an imaginary sister, why would Jay say this?


  1. What is the cause of Teacher’s disappointment?


  1. Teacher doesn’t often talk about when or why the world ended. When she does, she says it is because “the world was going rotten” (pg. 95). And she says it doesn’t matter what happened to the Other People. Why do you think Teacher doesn’t want to discuss the topic more thoroughly and deeply?


Chapter 13 – Natural Causes


  1. Why doesn’t Eider trust Jay? Why doesn’t he trust her? If they are the only ones left in the world, shouldn’t they trust each other?


  1. What do you think of Jay’s collection? Why does he hide it?


  1. Finch’s radio works and they hear the voice of someone broadcasted loud and clear. What does this mean?


Chapter 14 – Other People


  1. Now that the kids have proof of Other People existing, Eider feels more confused than ever. Why?


  1. Eider guesses that Jay’s word is scorpion. Do you believe this is telepathy?


Chapter 15 – The Point


  1. Teacher explains the point of all their lessons. The world is beginning again and one of the kids is going to be the leader, not only of each other but all the Other People. Teacher claims the Other People are dangerous and evil. How do you think she can know this?


Chapter 16 – Allies, Not Enemies


  1. One of the kids is “better and more brilliant and more special than the others” (125). Why is it Teacher’s job to figure out who that is? Who do you think it might be and why?


  1. Eider becomes much more focused on her lessons. After all, she wants to be the best she can be. She thinks about Robin much less often. She isn’t interested in the radio any more either because the Other People didn’t matter. She considers them “pointless.” What do you think of this change in Eider?


Chapter 17 – Secrets


  1. What do you make of Nurse’s words: “the world didn’t end just once”? (pg. 132)


  1. Someone has taken Teacher’s permanent marker. She accuses them, saying someone is keeping secrets. She claims keeping secrets, even for someone else, is dangerous. Who is keeping secrets and what are those secrets?


Chapter 18 – Intrepid Explorer


  1. Eider decides she must get rid of her book and papers. Will this really get rid of her secrets?


  1. What is more important to Eider: exploring or earning Teacher’s approval?


  1. In the Beyond, Eider meets a hiker. Does he seem evil to you? He talks about his children. Does he seem like someone for whom the world has ended?


Chapter 19 – A Disease of the Mind


  1. When Teacher discovers Finch’s radio – and that all the kids know about it – she says his curiosity is “a disease of the mind.” Is curiosity a bad thing? Why would Finch’s curiosity make her so angry?


Chapter 20 – The Space Between


  1. Finch has been disciplined. What do you think of Teacher’s punishment?


  1. Why does Eider think that it is a relief that Robin is not real?


  1. How does Eider know that Robin is real?


Chapter 21 – Once Upon A Time


  1. Eider clearly remembers what has happened to Robin. Why has Teacher lied and told her that she has no sister?


Chapter 22 – Memories That Were


  1. What do you think has happened to Robin?


Chapter 23 – Lies


  1. What do you think the point of Teacher’s lies are? What about the lies of the other kids and Nurse?


Chapter 24 – Missing Things


  1. What does Eider learn during the drill?


Chapter 25 – Only Here


  1. Where has the world ended? Why has Teacher lied about it to them?


Chapter 26 – Choices


  1. Eider confronts Teacher about her lies. What do you think of Teacher’s responses?


  1. Teacher admits to telling the kids lies, claiming that it was for their own good. Do you think this is a valid argument?


Chapter 27 – Darkness


  1. The other kids distract Teacher so that Eider can make her escape. Do you think their idea will work?


  1. Do you think Eider can make it across the desert?


Chapter 28 – The Sea That Wasn’t


  1. Would you feel nervous if you were Finch or Eider?


  1. How far do you think Robin could have walked?


Chapter 29 – Real Leaders


  1. Let’s talk about choices. Eider realizes we all have choices: “You could choose to trust. You could choose to listen. You could choose to believe” (pg. 244). What do you think of her choice to jump?


Chapter 30 – West


  1. Do you think Eider is going in the right direction?


Chapter 31 – Birdsong


  1. There are clues all around Eider. What are they?


  1. What do you think has happened to the other kids as Eider hikes away from the desert ranch?


Chapter 32 – Like A Fox


  1. What do you think of the world Eider finds? How do you think she feels?


Chapter 33 and 34 – Wish You Were Here/Ever After


  1. What do you think of Eider’s (and Robin’s) fairytale?


Don’t forget to check out my review of Race the Night from earlier this week!


Guest Post: Searching Blindly for the “Right” Books

Sarah O’Reilly is a high school Humanities teacher at New Liberty Innovation School in Salem, MA, teaching traditional ELA skills as well as dabbling in history and librarianship. Her master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College regularly helps her reframe her expectations for herself and her students, as well as providing resources to find the wide variety of books she needs to do her job well.

I just spent an hour digging into two of this year’s issues of The Horn Book magazine in the hopes that the ad that I SWEAR I saw back in August would reappear. I had thought I had seen an ad for a website that reviewed and developed lists of books that would appeal to the populations that I have the most trouble serving through the library – low-skilled young men, especially those of color. Unfortunately, I had no luck, necessitating this post.

When I started at my first-year teaching job last fall, I discovered that my classroom was also the school library – an odd collection with an even odder organization method – and that I had funds to order books and would essentially be fulfilling the role of a librarian, without the degree or training for it. I was THRILLED, genuinely! And then quickly realized how in over my head I was. And still am.

As I got to know my students, I realized how difficult it is to find the “right” book for each student and that the term “reluctant reader” can be the biggest cop-out in publishing and education. That umbrella term covers almost all of my students, for so many different reasons – low-skill, learning disability, gender norms, disinterest, discomfort, and being unfamiliar with the tools many readers use to determine what to read are just a few that come to mind. I am pretty good at finding a book in our library or in the four other local or online libraries I can access for any student who needs one – finding one for an entire class, well, that’s another story. But I have my limitations. My own reading history leans heavily towards romance and fantasy. And while I have enough knowledge and skill to match most of my students with reading material, I almost always fail to successfully engage the low-skilled young men in my school, students who are the least successful in my school – our fault, not theirs – and in many schools in America.

We have the industry-recommended staples for this group in our library – Walter Dean Myers, Matt de la Pena, Hatchet, Holes and The Outsiders, and a plethora of nonfiction of all kinds. But what do I recommend when these standbys, many decades old, don’t capture their attention? I bring articles, I’ve solicited publishers and authors at events for ARCs of books I think might appeal to one of my students. My two proudest moments this year – getting a kid hooked on American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang when all I had to go off of was that he’s read a few volumes of Inu Yasha (and didn’t even know it was an anime too!) and getting a student who hasn’t read or written anything for me for over a year to read and respond to analysis questions about Steve Sheinkin’s upcoming Undefeated. But those are two glimmers of success amongst my midden pile of defeat.

I’m going into this year’s library ordering with some trepidation. Where do I turn to find the best books to hook my highest need group? WNDB is great for suggestions but they are often fantasy, romantic, middle-grade or younger. And I’m sorry but I may love The Great Greene Heist and it may be the perfect reading level for my boys but you try giving a book about middle schoolers to a 19-year-old-almost-drop-out. And with limited time and budget, I can’t afford to buy and read all the major publications reviewing new literature. And the internet has let me down.

It baffles me that there is no group or organization that compiles lists specifically for books that have been vetted as appealing to young men at different skill levels. Ideally, I’d find a site that has curated lists of books put together by industry professionals – teachers, librarians, tutors, marketers – that is organized around interests, skill-level, audience appeal, diversity of creators, characters, and readers. Where is the list of books that librarians in areas with high minority populations just can’t keep on the shelves? Where is the list of books that teachers have used to springboard further reading with different reluctant readers? Maybe these exist, and I just haven’t found them yet (please do find them and tell me where they are!). But I feel like reviewers, publishers, even authors, don’t know how to create and then market books for the audience that has the biggest need for books targeted to them in my school. Where is the book on par with “Remember the Titans?” Or a Michael Crichton or James Patterson for readers intimidated by high page count? And if they’re out there, who is supposed to tell me about them? Who is giving teachers or librarians sabbaticals or grants to do this or create non-profit organizations to do it for them?

I am always keeping an eye out for the next book to really grab someone’s attention, but I feel like I keep missing the mark, mostly because my resources feel tapped out and I haven’t struck information gold yet. In this age of information and mixed media, it does and does not surprise me that the world of literature seems to keep leaving my boys behind. And it overwhelms me to wonder what I can do to help them meet up with the rest of the world.

So please, open your brains and your archives; go out and create lists and reviews and send them all to me because I want the young men in my school, in all schools, to see themselves as capable and engaged with the world. I want that for all students, but let’s be honest, we know who we’re letting down right now.

Discussion Questions: Watch the Sky

Discussion Questions for Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbardwatch-the-sky


  1. Caleb is always seeing signs. What might these signs mean? Who do you think will arrive and when?


  1. What is the family preparing for? Will these preparations keep them safe?


  1. Who do you think Kit really is? Where might she have come from? Do you think the family should keep her a secret?


  1. What might be the reason that Kit does not speak?


  1. Caleb claims that some reasons for parents’ homeschooling children are acceptable; others are unacceptable. Who makes this decision?


  1. School is a way for Jory to “hide in plain sight.” It exposes Jory to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Is this a good or a bad thing? How does Caleb feel about it? Do you think it will keep Jory hidden or endanger the family? Why might Caleb really want Jory in school?


  1. Jory doesn’t trust anyone enough to have friends. Why not?


  1. What are some of the reasons that the canyon represents Danger. Are these valid reasons?


  1. When Mom marries Caleb, she no longer has to work. She can stay at home where she feels safe. Why doesn’t she want to leave home? Does Caleb really make everything safe?


  1. Who comes to the house asking about the family, and why does Caleb lie about Kit?


  1. Is it safe to keep secrets?


  1. What do you think of the plan to dig a tunnel in the canyon at night? How does Jory feel?


  1. Caleb and Mom have obviously been preparing and planning while Jory is in school. How does this make Jory feel?


  1. Why did Kit and Jory try to keep Worldbuilding a secret from Mom and Caleb?


  1. Caleb’s warning about Worldbuilding is to not let their imaginations get carried away. How do you feel about this statement, especially from Caleb?


  1. Caleb says you can’t save everybody, though Mom feels that people should try. Who is right?


  1. When Mom thinks Kit needs special help but Caleb thinks she is just a problem, Kit’s behavior changes. What could this mean?


  1. Reread Caleb’s story on page 78. What do you think of Caleb’s actions? Does this change your opinion of Caleb?


  1. Jory decides to use “tunnels” as the topic of his school project. Do you think this might give away the family’s secret?


  1. Was there anything wrong with Jory stopping over at Alice’s house? Why does he seem to feel so guilty about it?


  1. Alice tells her mother a lie about Jory’s computer not working. Why did she do this? Is it ever OK to lie?


  1. What do you think of Jory hiding in the doghouse? Caleb approved; do you?


  1. What is Kit’s first sentence after three years of not speaking? What do you think of her choice of words?


  1. During the family’s game of Survival, Kit seems to intentionally knock over a glass of milk. Caleb believes it was done deliberately and becomes angry. Do you think Kit did it on purpose? If so, why?


  1. When researching tunnels, Jory realizes that tunnels have a purpose: they lead to something. What will the family’s tunnel lead to?


  1. Jory is becoming more familiar with the night now that he spends most nights digging. Yet it still does not seem safe. Why not?


  1. Do you think Kit really does not remember where she comes from? Is Kit hiding something?


  1. Jory and Kit both admit that they hate to dig. Is this a betrayal?


  1. Jory brings Kit to meet his friends, and they go to the park. Why does he do this when Kit is supposed to be a secret?


  1. Mom tells Jory, “Caleb will tell us everything as soon as it is safe” (pg. 161). Do you think Jory believes her?


  1. When Jory snoops in the barn, Caleb finally tells him the truth. How does Jory feel now?


  1. What do you think of the statement: “Innocence encourages trust, and trust breeds obedience. With knowledge, however, come questions.” (pg. 170)


  1. Caleb claims that Kit never has any ideas (pg. 172). Do you believe him? Why or why not?


  1. Jory wonders if anybody else (his school friends, for example) knows about the danger. Why doesn’t he just tell them? Explain his dilemma.


  1. Jory wonders how you know a sign is really a sign. Does he believe Caleb any longer? Does Mom? What are her reasons for believing Caleb?


  1. What do you think of Alice’s statement: “When you spend so much of your life worried about the future… you forget to live.” Afterward, when Jory “lives” with Alice, he becomes a bubble of glee. Has he forgotten how to live? Has he ever had a chance?


  1. Jory realizes that he does have friends. Why does he feel so guilty? Is it because he thinks he shouldn’t have friends or because he doesn’t think it is fair that they have no one to warn them of the danger.


  1. “Trust was a fragile thing. So was belief” (pg. 200). If you don’t trust a person, do you believe them? Can Jory trust Mom? Caleb? Kit? His friends?


  1. When Officials show up at the door looking for KIt, Jory tries to say it was his friend Alice who was at the house. The Official tells him it couldn’t have been Alice because it was Alice’s mother who called them.
  2. If you were Jory, how would you feel?
  3. Do you think the Official can be trusted? Did he tell the truth?


  1. Caleb claims that Kit isn’t special. He calls her subnormal. He claims she has brought unwanted attention to the real family members. Then he asks Jory not to tell Mom about the Officials. He claims Mom is too compassionate and that makes her weak. What do you think of Caleb’s words?


  1. Jory sees a sign himself. He knows that it means the danger is real. What do you think the real danger is?


  1. Jory doesn’t think Mr. Bradley will chase him, but the teacher does come after Jory. What do you think of the line: “Hiding is much harder when someone is seeking” (pg. 219). What do you think the consequences of this incident will be?


  1. Jory knows that danger is brewing. Then Kit is taken by the Officials. What do you think of Mom’s promise that they will get Kit back?


  1. What do you think of Kit’s message?


  1. “A mother’s love is an invisible cord linking her children heart to heart” (pg. 239). Is Kit Jory’s sister?


  1. Jory has to make choices: between daylight and safety, between friends and family. Is it possible to have both?


  1. How does Jory feel when he explains to his mother that it was Caleb who called Protective Services? How does Mom feel?


  1. What do you think will happen to Jory, Mom, and Ansel? What about Kit?

Round-Up/Activity: Pumpkins

Hi everyone,

For the last round-up of this month, we’re getting ready for carving our jack-o’-lanterns with some pumpkin-themed books.



The Pumpkinville Mystery

By Bruce B. Cole

Illustrated by James Warhola

Aladdin Paperbacks, 1987

This spooky tall tale explains the origin of the jack-o’-lantern with mysterious magic and bright, colorful illustrations.

For more information:

http://www.jameswarhola.com/ James Warhola’s official website



Pumpkin Pumpkin

By Jeanne Titherington

Mulberry Books, 1990

With simple text and plenty of white space, this book works perfectly as an early-reader leveled text. The simple story of the slowly growing pumpkin reminds of classic stories like The Carrot Seed.


Seed, Sprout, Pumpkin Piesprout-seed-pumpkin-pie

By Jill Esbaum

National Geographic, 2009

This picture book is perfect for a simple, introductory look into different pumpkins, how they grow, and their different uses with National Geographic’s characteristically interesting, high-quality photographs.

For more information:

http://www.jillesbaum.com/ Jill Esbaum’s official website


The Pumpkin Bookpumpkin-book

By Gail Gibbons

Holiday House, 1999

Gibbons provides a clear but detailed explanation of how pumpkins grow, discusses some relevant historical information, and lists the steps to complete different activities, like pumpkin carving or drying pumpkin seeds.

For more information:

http://www.gailgibbons.com/ Gail Gibbons’ official website


I especially like The Pumpkinville Mystery from this round-up. I love the tall tale format and think the mysterious atmosphere is a lot of fun. However, there’s a lot of non-fiction available at different reading levels and with different levels of content, and I think the books suggested above might be a good starting point before making your trip to the pumpkin patch.

donutfeedEvery year, I carve a jack-o’-lantern right before Halloween, but I also like to try something a little unusual. Last year, I tried the melted crayon pumpkin – which was surprisingly messy – and this year, I have a lot of little pumpkins to decorate. I was inspired by this photo from @thedonutfeed on Instagram and wanted to try making my own donut-inspired pumpkins.

I think mine look more like cupcakes because I decided to attach “sprinkles” rather than paint them on. To make these little pumpkins, I painted the bottoms with tan paint and, once that dried, used the colored paints to add the frosting. You might need to do this step a few times to completely cover the pumpkin, depending on the type of paint you used. While the paint was still wet, I sprinkled different decorations on top. The glitter on the white “cupcake” holds really well on wet paint, but larger objects might need a stronger glue to hold them in place. I think the white “cupcake” is my favorite with all the sparkles, but it can also be one of the messiest if you’re not careful with your glitter. I also love that the stems look like little candles!

For more pumpkin-themed activities, head over to our Pinterest!

Help us decide what kind of literary-themed pumpkin carving we should attempt this year! Leave your suggestions in the comments below!


Event: Meet Jon Klassen and BBF 2016 Part 1

Hi everyone,

This past weekend was pretty exciting for BookWorms in our area! On Saturday, we attended the 2016 Boston Book Fest, and on Sunday, I went to Jon Klassen’s book signing at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. In today’s post, I wanted to share a few of the things we learned at those events!


Event: Meet Jon Klassen

Location: Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

This event celebrated the newest in Klassen’s series of “hat” books, We Found a Hat. Throughout his presentation, Klassen read aloud each of the three hat books, sharing insight into his process for creating each spread. One of my favorite parts of the presentation was actually seeing some of the ideas that didn’t make it into a final book. Klassen showed sketches, book dummies, and a hysterical cover with nothing but the title “Something Happened” and a turtle flipped on his shell and looking distinctly unimpressed. The presentation was funny for both adults and children, and it was so interesting to see how these books developed over time.signed-sam-and-dave

The presentation was followed by a book signing, and it will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following this blog for a while that this drawing is my favorite. Sam and Dave is one of my absolute favorite picture books and one that I love to read aloud. Check out our review and suggestions for using Sam and Dave in your own classroom!

You can also check out our review of Pax, which in a novel illustrated by Klassen.

For more information:

Jon Klassen:


Eric Carle Museum:



Event: YA: Give Me the Creepsbbf-2016

Location: Boston Book Fest, Boston Public Library

This panel is perfect for the Halloween season and put three different YA horror authors in conversation about the genre and their work. The panel featured authors Margot Harrison, Dawn Kurtagich, and Kim Savage with moderator Laura Koenig.

One of the things I found most interesting about this discussion was that each of the authors talked about how their subjects frightened them. They focused on psychology and mood, even pulling in aspects of their own lives. However, they also discussed the cathartic process of writing about their fears and how, because their work deals with traumatic events, it can be a source of healing.

I also think it’s worth noting that some of these authors, in particular Dawn Kurtagich, credit horror with helping her to become a reader. Although she struggled with dyslexia, she found that the emotion and the separation from real life in horror books was a gateway to helping her develop an interest in reading. Kim Savage also noted the importance of classic horror stories in getting her interested in horror as a teen. It’s always exciting to hear of books that might work well for a reluctant reader, and I think some horror texts – Kurtagich recommends the Goosebumps series – might be perfect for that purpose.

For more information:

Margot Harrison: https://margotharrison.com/

Dawn Kurtagich: http://www.dawnkurtagich.com/, https://www.youtube.com/user/WritaholicDK

Kim Savage: http://www.kimsavage.me/ (Some deleted chapters of Savage’s book After the Woods are available here, but you may want to wait to read them until after you’ve finished the book! https://www.bustle.com/articles/146814-in-kim-savages-after-the-woods-bonus-content-anti-hero-gets-to-tell-her-story-exclusive)

Boston Book Fest: https://bostonbookfest.org/


In tomorrow’s post, Barbara will be discussing a couple more of the panels we attended at BBF!


Discussion Questions: Not As We Know It

Discussion Questions for Not As We Know It by Tom Averynot-as-we-know-it


  1. What do you think that the creature Jamie and Ned find is? Why might it have “a flickering of recognition” (pg. 9)
  1. Describe some of  Jamie’s and Ned’s emotions concerning their “find.”
  1. Why do you think Ned names the creature Leonard? Is it simply because Leonard “Bones” McCoy is his favorite character or is there something more to this decision?
  1. Why does Ned want to escape? Why does this upset his parents so much?
  1. Do you think Leonard is a merman? Is he dangerous or harmless?
  1. What do you think happened to the captain of the Japanese ship who has had a heart attack?
  1. Why do you think Ned does not want to share Leonard’s presence with Granddad? Why must this be between just Ned, Jamie, and Leonard?
  1. Why is Jamie jealous of what is happening between Ned and Leonard?
  1. Jamie tells Ned that he can’t keep Leonard and Ned replies, “You can’t keep anything forever.” Discuss this comment.
  1. Do you think that a miracle is coming?
  1. Ned appears fearless but Jamie says, “I don’t go anywhere boldly.” (pg. 50) Is this true?
  1. Ned plays the game of Risk “Kamikaze” style. Why? Is Leonard another form of Risk?
  1. Why is Jamie afraid of Leonard?
  1. Do you think Leonard is here for Ned? Is this idea scary – or not?
  1. We hear another mermaid story. It is called “Mathew’s Choice.” What is this title suggesting?
  1. Why does Ned continue to hesitate in letting Leonard go?
  1. Fomalhaut (Fish’s Mouth – the lonliest star) has arrived. What might this mean for either boy?
  1. Jamie feels that “Leonard has promised so much with a touch and a look.” (pg. 107) “I thought he brought hope.” (pg. 108) Has Leonard really done this?
  1. Ned tries to release Leonard on his own, but this plan is thwarted by Jamie and Officer Taylor. Ned seems “transformed.” Was this supposed to be his final message?
  1. What do you think: Does Ned jump, fall, or was he pulled to the water? Did he go boldly?
  1. Do you think Jamie should have revealed Leonard to someone (Granddad, parents)? What do you think the message of the song is telling Jamie?


Extension Activities

I loved Granddad’s game of Risk (Answer questions about the territory you win)!

Study old mermaid legends.