Discussion Questions: Maybe He Just Likes You

maybe he just likes youDiscussion Questions for Maybe He Just Likes You


  1. For her friend Omi’s twelfth birthday, Mila and her friends plan a special birthday surprise/celebration. During this time, the “basketball boys” give Mila a hug – of sorts. But is this really a hug? And do you think these boys are just being friendly like Zara claims?


  1. During band, Callum gives a “hand swish” that brushes against Mila’s shoulder. She feels it was enough to deserve an apology, yet no one else seems to feel that way. Do you think Mila is right or is she overreacting?


  1. Mila is trying to disguise her developing body by wearing a concealing fuzzy green sweater. Is this strategy working?


  1. In band, Dante offers to let Mila use her music if she gives Leo a “birthday hug.” Do you think this is a fair offer? When Mila questions whether it really is Leo’s birthday, she finds they almost blame her for not believing them. However, Callum won’t meet her eye. Does this behavior seem sketchy to you or is Mila once again making too much of it?


  1. Mila finds out from Zara that the boys lied about it being Leo’s birthday. Why doesn’t Mila feel comfortable sharing this information with Zara?


  1. Another of the basketball boys – Tobias – is looking for a hug. He gives the excuse that Mila’s green sweater contains some kind of magic, that the boys who touched it achieved their personal best after touching it. Mila feels relieved – mystery touches explained! But do you really believe his explanation? And do you think Tobias or Callum both might just like Mila?


  1. On the bus, the boys are giving Mila lots of attention, but very little of the bus seat. Does this crowding seem fair? Normal? And do you think the boys are really interested in the fuzzy green sweater?


  1. Do you think the plaid shirt Mila borrowed from her mom is going to help the situation with the basketball boys?


  1. Samira noticed what happened on the bus and told Mila she wouldn’t allow the boys to treat her that way. Samira seemed to be blaming Mila for the incident. Do you think Mila “allowed” it? What else might Mila done?


  1. As Mila was leaving the band room, Callum made a comment about her butt. Was this appropriate? And how would you have handled this remark?


  1. Mila’s friend Max has noticed the way the boys are treating Mila and he offers to help. Max has been bullied in the past. Is what the basketball boys are doing bullying?


  1. What do you think Zara’s problem is? Is Mila’s guess that she might be jealous correct?


  1. Mila tries to go to Guidance to get some help. Was Mr. Dolan helpful? Should Mila have been more honest with him?


  1. After the chair incident in band, Mila is accused of overreacting. Is she? Do you think Ms. Fender is blaming Mila for the incident?


  1. Mila arrives home late and wants to hide the real reason from her mother. Do you think this is a good decision?


  1. Mila runs into to Tobias in the park. She considers confronting him about the behavior of the basketball boys, but changes her mind. Were her reasons valid? Would this have been a good way to solve her problem? And why are things different when it comes to Mila?


  1.  What do you think of the karate class at E Motions? And what about Mila’s thoughts and concerns after her first experience?


  1. Mila wonders: Does her mother know she needs “coverage”? What do you think?


  1. Zara apologizes to Mila for not sticking up for Mila during lunch. Do you think everything is right between them now?


  1. At her locker, Mila feels Tobias grab her butt. Then he denies it and says it must have been her imagination. When she tries to talk to her friends about the incident, she gets all kinds of mixed reactions. Describe some of their reactions. Who is right?


  1. Mila runs into trouble again on Friday afternoon when she and her friends plan to go to CVS. Zara says she has to deal with the situation herself because Mila is not dealing with it. Is Zara’s accusation accurate? Is Zara’s idea the right solution? And did her actions really solve Mila’s problem?


  1.  Mila becomes aware her mother has some issued going on as well, both at work and with her father. This makes the family’s situation  – especially from an economic standpoint  – difficult. Should Mila confide her own problems at this time? What do you think of Mr. Fitzgibbons?


  1. Do you think that karate may be the solution to Mila’s problems? And does any of the initial training seem like it will be helpful?


  1. Through Omi, Mila finds out the real reason the boys have been so anxious to touch her. What do you think of this game? What do you think Mila should do?


  1. How might Mom losing her job affect Mila and her situation?


  1. Do you think Mila should have apologized to Zara? And should she have expected an apology in return?


  1. Callum says the scorecard on Mila is just a game. Is it? And is Mila’s reaction the right one? The result was Ms. Fender changing her band position. What do you think Mila should have done differently?


  1. In karate, Mila and the other students get a lesson in self-defense. What does she learn? Do you think this is going to help her?


  1. When Callum grabs Mila’s arm, she comes back with some of her new techniques learned in karate. Does this seem to help Mila’s problem?


  1. What do you think about Zara’s reaction when she learns about the scorecard? What do you think of Max’s suggestion to go to Mr. McCabe?


  1. Mila spills some of her frustration to her mother, complaining she doesn’t know what to do when others won’t listen. Mom suggests finding a way to speak their language without physical attacks. How might Mila manage this?


  1. Is Omi brave? Is Mom brave?


  1. In a conversation with Erica, Mila might have found an opportunity for Mom. Did she learn to speak Erica’s language or was it something else?


  1.  Max has a conversation with Mila about her problem. He wants to help, but Mila responds with the comment that it is her problem. Is it? Should she follow Max’s advice and go to an adult? Is she a bully victim? Or is it really something else?


  1. What do you think of the game of Untag? Why is blame for the situation shifted to Mila?


  1. Mila admits to her friend Samira that the situation is out of her control. Even with her friends’ support, it doesn’t seem to be enough. What do you think she should do?


  1. Mila gets through her days by practicing karate, thinking about karate, and attending karate classes. She is making progress. How has this helped her? Do you think it will be enough?


  1. What do you think of Callum’s comment at the band concert? How does it affect Mila? What do you think of her response at the band concert?


  1. After the concert, Mila has to face Ms. Fender and the truth of the situation finally comes out. Was the response from Ms. Fender what Mila (or you) expected?


  1. What do you think of Ms. Fender’s solution? Should Mila agree to this?


  1. How does Mila’s conversation with Liana affect her decision?


  1. What did you think of the “community meeting”? Do you think this was an effective way to deal with the harassment? Was it better than, say, a traditional punishment (detention, suspension)?


  1. Have you ever had a problem that you think might have been solved in this way?


  1. Talk about how the perspective of the characters – Mila, Callum – has changed. Do you think these changes would have taken place without the community meeting?

Review: Butterflies in Room 6


Butterflies in Room 6

Author: Caroline Arnold

Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2019

Source: Public Library

If you are looking to combine reading and an activity, this book provides a delightful inspiration. Raise butterflies! This book will help young readers learn about the process of metamorphosis in an understandable way.

Now I know there are those blog readers who will think, “Oh, no, this is probably complicated and will require too much work on my part.” Really, it is not bad. I have raised butterflies many times, both at home and in a classroom. It is very doable. Just order from a reliable supplier (I always used Insect Lore, but I know there are others). They provide instructions. Nothing is terribly difficult. It happens within a few weeks. There is no huge daily time commitment. And it is pretty awesome.

One problem, however, is that you might not get to see your own butterflies emerge from the chrysalis. It happens unexpectedly and quickly. The first couple of times I raised butterflies, we completely missed the emergence. One minute there was a chrysalis. The next time we looked, there was a butterfly. I love how Caroline Arnold’s photographs capture the process.

Although this book focuses on painted lady butterflies, the process is the same for other types of butterflies, too, so it remains a good resource even if you select a different type of butterfly to raise.

At the end of the book, Arnold answers a few butterfly questions. I am glad she addresses “How do you hold a butterfly?” Youngsters are curious and sometimes they can, unintentionally, hurt a butterfly. By teaching them care and respect, children can have the experience in a way that is safe for the butterfly.


Discussion Question: The Next Great Paulie Fink

paulie finkDiscussion Questions for The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin:

Ok, ok – everybody knows that when I really like a book, I start in with the discussion questions.  This story is hilarious. Maybe I find it more so than some because I have met a number of Paulie Finks in my years of working for a school. (And some of the Paulie-esque pranks have impacted me more directly than others.) The Paulies of this world certainly give us topics for interesting dinner conversations. However, what makes this story really special is that there is so much more to it than a few laughs. I tried – unsuccessfully – to limit myself on these questions. There could have been more! Great selection for classroom study or book club meetings. It’s fun, but there is also so much to learn and absorb.

  1. Even from Caitlyn’s initial interviews, a picture of Paulie Fink begins to emerge. What do you think he was like?


  1. When the class meets Caitlyn Breen for the first time, one girl (Fiona) comments, “Well, you’re not Paulie Fink.” How does Caitlyn feel about this remark? How would you feel?


  1. Caitlyn’s new classmates don’t react as positively toward her as she had hoped. Why not?


  1. What do you think about Caitlyn’s Rules of Life (pg. 30)?


  1. How would you feel if you were Caitlyn when she was knocked down by a goat? For that matter, how would you feel about being in a school that has goats?


  1. Caitlyn is worried about who she will sit with at lunch and then finds out she will be sitting with her “Mini” (a kindergartener). What do you think of this system? Together they pledge not to ring the Good Day Bell. Do you think they will ever change their minds?


  1. What do we learn about the characters in the game Underlair in the interview with Sam (61). Can you apply this to anything else? During this interview we also learn Paulie’s actions on his first day of school. What do you think of this prank? Of Paulie?


  1. On page 64, we learn something about Jadelicious, contestant from The Search for the Next Great Megastar. She, too, has some rules about life. How are they different than Caitlyn’s rules? Is there anything Caitlyn could learn from Jadelicious?


  1. In Gabby’s interview, she explains that what made Jadelicious so memorable was her personality type. She is a Disruptor. Paulie Fink also appears to be a Disruptor. Is it good or bad to be a Disruptor?


  1. Paulie’s gym bag is found in the Lost and Found. It is filled with treasures. What do these things tell us about Paulie?


  1. Apply the lesson of the cave to life at Mitchell School (77).


  1. In the interview with Sam, Willow, Lydia, Thomas and Timothy (80-81), we learn that Paulie was very convincing and made things seem real just by repeating them over and over.  Does this ever really work?


  1. Caitlyn decides to tell her Mini a story (94). What do you think of her story?


  1. Caitlyn has an essay to write about the allegory of the cave (96). Do you think Caitlyn is the only one who has ever been outside the cave of Mitchell School?


  1. How does Caitlyn feel about her actions to former classmate Anna Spang?


  1. Miss Mags issues the challenge that she can connect anything relevant in her students’ lives/the present to ancient history. Do you think she will be able to do it?


  1. What do you think of Caitlyn’s question (105)? Is her question relevant only in the present – or it a challenge that always exists?


  1. The first week of school is nearly over (and already Mitchell students are talking about the Land of Blah!) They begin to discuss rules. They decide that if something is not written down, it is not a rule. Do you think this is true? Do people sometimes act differently?


  1. What do you think Henry means when he says, “…different doesn’t have to mean bad. And as long as it is here, maybe we should try and have fun” (110). Is he talking about the Paulie scarecrow?


  1. Do you think Caitlyn should ditch the soccer game for the sleepover with friends from her old school?


  1. Discuss: “… our understanding of history is never objective truth. It always depends on who does the telling” (123). How might this be true at Mitchell School? In your own life?


  1. According to Mags, Paulie’s best pranks contained the power of surprise (and we learn about another of his infamous pranks!) (124). Think about the pranks we have read about so far. Which do you like best and why? Is it because, as Mags claims, that surprise is the important element or is it something else that makes them memorable?


  1. Zucchini Day certainly gives us new perspectives. Normal vs. abnormal/Expected vs. unexpected. Rules may help us find our place, but does it mean something is wrong because it is different/abnormal/unexpected?


  1. Farabi is talking about natural ecosystems when he says everything is connected (132), but could think idea be applied to other “ecosystems”?


  1. Farabi points out an aspect of Paulie that no one else, so far, has brought up. He claims Paulie was the school’s unlucky charm, especially considering his soccer skills. What do you think?


  1. The students are studying kleos (hope that someone might be remembered when they are gone). What are some ways this is achieved? (Think beyond Paulie.) What do you think of the idea of The Search for the Next Great Paulie Fink? What do you think the Mitchell School 7th graders will be able to achieve?


  1. During Caitlyn’s interview of Henry, he admits how he feels about Paulie not returning to school. Would you feel this way, too?


  1. We learn more about Paulie’s exploits – which leads us to the competition. What do you think about the Shakespeare competition? (And does it change your mind – at least a little bit – about reading Shakespeare?)


  1. Caitlyn’s friend Mira has changed the date of her sleepover party – without telling Caitlyn. How does Caitlyn feel about this? Where is Caitlyn’s real home now?


  1. We have a new list to consider: The Megastar Creed by Gabby. How does this compare to earlier lists? And how does it make you feel?


  1. We learn some bad news. How do you think the Mitchell School 7th graders will feel about this?


  1. WWJD? (What Would Jadelicious Do?) The real question is: What Would Caitlyn Do? The search for The Next Great Paulie Fink has begun! Caitlyn has made it official. What challenges do you think Caitlyn will face?


  1. What do you think of the Mini Challenge and all its repercussions?


  1. Mags presents a lesson about scapegoats. What are Caitlyn’s feelings about this topic? And what about Henry’s thoughts, which he shares in his interview (207-209)?


  1. Caitlyn announces the next elimination challenge. It involves banana peels. However, this challenge is different. How and why is it different from Paulie’s pranks and the earlier challenges?


  1. Why does Henry come to Caitlyn’s aid when Principal Glebus finds out what they are up to?


  1. When Caitlyn first started at Mitchell School, she felt like she didn’t belong. It was too different. Now she learns they are going to close the school. How does she feel about this? And what does she do to show that her feelings have changed?


  1. What does Caitlyn learn when she visits Gabby.?


  1. What does Caitlyn realize about the fable of the elephant?


  1. What do you think of Caitlyn’s conversation with Mags (Among the Statues, 241-245)? Is Mags a Disruptor? Are there different ways to be a Disruptor?


  1. What do you think of the next challenge? And are the results what you expected?


  1. Do you think the Originals can save the school?


  1. What do you think will be the result of the upcoming soccer game against Devlinshire?


  1. Caitlyn joins Fuzzy with Real Rabbit in the fort. What are the lessons of the fort?


  1. When the Devlinshire team arrives, what is the biggest surprise of all?


  1. How do the Mitchell School students feel about the return of Paulie Fink?


  1. The first half of the soccer game isn’t the best for Mitchell School. What changes things?


  1. What does the game between Mitchell School and Devlinshire do for the following people? (a.) The Mitchell School 7th grade class (b.) Paulie Fink (c.) Mitchell School


  1. Do you think Caitlyn will ever become brave enough to send her letter to Anna Spang? Does it matter?


  1. Caitlyn explains what has been going on to Principal Glebus. How do you think the principal feels?


  1. What do you think about the choice for the Next Great Paulie Fink?


  1. Our last look at Paulie Fink gives us some different options about who Paulie Fink really is. Which one is the true one? And what does his action tell us about him?


  1. What do you think will happen to Mitchell School? Does it matter? And what do you think will happen to the 7th grade class?


  1. Answer this one last question: Doesn’t everybody need a little Paulie Fink in their life?



Discussion Questions: Night Wings

night wingsDiscussion Questions:

I often like to do discussion questions on newly published books. Although this book was published some years ago, I think it warrants discussion questions. There is so much meat to this story that I can’t help myself!


Chapter 1

Paul’s mom is being deployed to the Middle East and during this time he will be staying with his Grampa Peter. How do you think he feels? Is her departure the reason for his dream? Could there be something more to it?


Chapter 2

Paul’s parting from his mother is pretty emotionless. He explains why he must do this. What do you think this says about Paul? Could you manage to do the same?


Chapter 3

Paul describes Grampa Peter: “What my Grampa knows is both as old as the wind and as present as the breath in our lungs” (16). What kind of impression of Grampa do you develop based on this description?


Chapter 4

What do you think is the meaning of Paul’s dream?


Chapter 5

Do you think the name Darby Field is a coincidence?

When Grampa is unwilling to help Field, why do you think Field doesn’t simply find another guide?


Chapter 6

Grampa tells Paul that they won’t do anything about Darby Field. Do you think this is a wise decision?


Chapter 7

Revisit pages 39-40 in which Paul explains how anger and greed can affect a person’s character. Paul reads these traits in Field. Do you think Grampa Peter has missed this? Why does he react the way he does?


Chapter 8

Field and his crew have shown up for a little “persuasion” in order to obtain Grampa Peter’s help. Do you think this will work?


Chapter 9

Paul’s parents have taught him several important lessons (see page 53.) How are these going to help Paul? What about Grampa’s lesson? (Reread pages 54-55.)


Chapter 10

Paul needs to make a decision about what to do. Do you think he makes the right choice? Is it the one Grampa Peter would have him make?


Chapter 11

Paul has a plan, but why do things go wrong?


Chapter 12

Grampa and Paul are caught – or are they? Do you think either one has a viable plan?


Chapter 13

We now know how dangerous Field really is, but do you think he will kill either Paul or Grampa Peter (at least at this point in time)?


Chapter 14

It becomes obvious that Field is not ready to kill Paul – yet. Do you think Grampa should agree to help him?


Chapter 15

Do you believe the old stories of Paul’s ancestors? Are they just superstition? Do you think there is really treasure hidden somewhere on Mount Washington? And do you think Grampa Peter knows where it is?


Chapter 16

Do you think the “things could be worse” method is really very comforting? Is it comforting to Paul?


Chapter 17

Do you believe that Grampa Peter is really a scared and beaten old man?


Chapter 18

What is the point of the Little People story? How does this help Paul? What do you think Grampa Peter is planning?


Chapter 19

Field’s GPS isn’t working. What reasons are given? Do you believe this?


Chapter 20

Do you think the avalanche was started on purpose? By whom?


Chapter 21

Should we believe that Grampa Peter is really hurt?

Should we take Tip’s concerns seriously?


Chapter 22

What do you think has frightened Tip? Is it a bear? Or something even scarier?


Chapter 23

Grampa Peter is an admirer of Houdini. Why? And isn’t Grampa a bit like Houdini himself? What tricks does he have up his sleeve?


Chapter 24

What are the diversionary tactics used by Grampa Peter and Paul? Do you think they will work?

What do you think about Paul’s version of going back in time? Do you think this is what has happened?


Chapter 25

Although Paul catches Stazi, he is fooled by Louise. Look back to Chapter 9 and decide if Paul has repeated his earlier mistake.


Chapter 26

Louise has been paying more attention to the signs (no planes) than Paul has realized. Do you think she understands the truth?


Chapter 27

What do you think of the proverb, “Give an angry man a gift?” (See page 164.) Do you think Paul’s “gift” is going to help him buy him some time?


Chapter 28

Paul tells an Abenaki legend of a time when the people were out of balance and Ktsi Nwaskw, the Great Mystery, sent a flood to cleanse the earth. Obviously, Field and his gang have forced things out of balance. What do you think is the purpose of the mist? What – or who – is the winged creature Paul sees as the clouds part?


Chapter 29

Paul is trying not to panic, but do you think his actions are successful?


Chapter 30

Paul finds Pmola’s treasure – and Pmola. What do you think of his reaction? What happens after this encounter?


Chapter 31

Talk about the changes that have taken place in Paul. This was a dangerous experience, but could you also say that it was a positive one?


Extension Activity

I find the Abenaki stories shared by Bruchac fascinating. Learn more about these legends. You might want to  specifically research Pmola (various spellings include Pamola, Pmolai, Bmola).




Review: Water, Paper, Paint

Review:water paper paint 2

Water, Paper, Paint: Exploring Creativity with Watercolor and Mixed Media

Author: Heather Smith Jones

Publisher: Quarry Books, 2011

Source: Personal Purchase

Today’s selection is not a children’s book, but includes great activities that certainly could be geared toward any age. When I worked with preschool students (age 3), we incorporated variations of some of these explorations in our program, so I feel this is a book well worth checking out no matter what the age and stage of your kids. (Note: I purchased this book in the bookstore at the Eric Carle Museum for Picture Book Art.)

The supplies are pretty simple, and the projects are clearly explained and adaptable to many levels. I also like that there are suggestions for making something with the art that wasn’t necessarily a picture. Smith Jones gave an idea to make some “paintings” into name tags for gifts. I did some simple experiments with water colors and then punched shapes (more on this in a minute) which I used to decorate plain gift bags. A couple of examples are pictured below.

water paper paint 1

Now, more about punches. Smith Jones used a large circular punch to make her Though gift tags and I must say that punches, in various shapes and sizes, are one of my craft “secret weapons.” When I first started working in the preschool, the other teachers would prep the craft projects by cutting everything out by hand. Imagine! One hundred tiny eyes or fifty little noses were all done with a clunky pair of scissors! It took tons of time and the type of patience which I entirely lack. I went out and bought a series of good quality circular punches in multiple sizes. Every time I saw paper punches on sale at the craft store, I added one or two to my collection. It was an investment I have never regretted. I could crunch out those eyes and noses in a matter of minutes. I am still using the various shapes in all types of projects.  Though they can be expensive, I highly recommend purchasing at least a few. They can save a lot of time and elevate some of your kids art projects into nice, usable, decorative items.





Discussion Questions: The Vanishing Act

vanishing actDiscussion Questions for The Vanishing Act


  1. We learn that Minou’s mother and father have differences in philosophy. Her father believes one must look at the big picture to find absolute truth, the reason that things happen. Her mother believes that truth is in the details. “…the tiniest brush stroke matters” (10). Who do you think is right?


  1. Minou’s father says that “A philosopher sees with his rational mind, Minou, he does not engage with the imagination. It takes us to unpredictable places, it follows our wishes and wants, not what really is.” Do you think he is right? And what does that tell us (in his opinion, at least) about imagination?


  1. Minou’s father is looking for absolute truth because then everything would be explained or understood. His father (Minou’s grandfather) found truth, but that did not help her father. One must find the truth for oneself. What does that tell you about truth?


  1. Minou’s father says that she should not be afraid of the dead boy. “Death is a natural part of life….It’s perfectly logical” (24). Do you think that because things are logical we should never be afraid of them?


  1. Minou’s father said, “Great coincidences wake you up; they shake you like the wind shakes the apple tree. They point you to something you might have forgotten” (25). Think of coincidences in your life. What have they pointed you to?


  1. Papa also says, “Life is not about being happy. It is about being prepared.” Again we see Mama’s different reaction when she calls him a ‘poor man’ and comments that you cannot be prepared for everything. Who is right?


  1. Boxman the magician has come to the island to mend a broken heart. He thinks that magic tricks are one of just a few good reasons to live. “I believe in love… and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more beautiful who has just been rescued from a box.” Do you think living on this remote island, far away from other people, will mend Boxman’s broken heart?


  1. Boxman tells Minou that the trick to juggling is to put your mind elsewhere, as long as you are able to find it again. What does he mean by this?


  1. Mama says that Boxman’s magic tricks remind her that the war was over. She called the people monstrous, because they didn’t understand magic. “They didn’t know what it means to have imagination” (33). She adds, “They had forgotten how to use their minds properly” (34). What must Mama think about Papa’s mind?


  1. Minou believes she cannot sing. Boxman claims that to sing she must simply pretend to be the “centre of the universe.” Is he right?  After this incident, Minou claims that neither Mama nor Boxman understood logic the way that she or her father did. Do you believe she is right? Or are there, perhaps, different types of logic?


  1. Papa, who claims to be a descendant of Descartes, says that the more you know, the more you are equipped to find the truth. Do you believe, as he does, that learning is the only way to find or understand truth?


  1. Minou’s grandfather once said, “When you find the absolute truth it’s like finding the beginning. It’s like a string. You pull and pull and pull some more. And then it falls into place” (44).  Do you think that truth always works this way? Do you think that everything can be understood in this linear fashion?


  1. Reread the story of the black fish (page 55). Mama would have nothing to do with the fish and when Papa ate it, he became sick. Was this story truth? Or was it imagination?


  1. Minou, Boxman, and Mama put on a circus performance and the very next morning, Mama disappeared. Was this a coincidence?


  1. During the circus performance, Mama performs the vanishing act with Boxman. Although the Priest claims the circus was just lighthearted fun, Boxman says, “The vanishing act changes people” (66). How could a magic trick change someone?


  1. Two months after Mama’s disappearance, one of her shoes is found on the beach.  Everyone believes she is dead – except for Minou. Is this logical? Is the shoe really proof of anything?


  1. Mama once wrote a note which she placed in a bottle and threw into the sea. It read: “Help me. I am trapped on an island in the middle of the sea.” What do you think of this note?


  1. Papa once said that when there was something Minou didn’t understand, she should approach the problem with logic. Does Papa understand Mama? Do you think logic would help him understand her better?


  1. Mama felt that daydreaming was important, that the mind should travel. She also felt that one should only lift their pencil after observing. Is this philosophy as Papa sees it? How are they the same – or different?


  1. Mama thinks religion has too many rules and regulations. Papa says that philosophy is the pursuit of truth without expectation, but religion is based on expectation. People want something in return for their faith.  After Mama’s disappearance, Minou goes to the church regularly. One day Priest asks her if she would like to do confession – and she almost lets slip the secret of the night of the circus. What do you think happened that night that Minou cannot tell Priest?


  1. Mama once told Minou that her feet would carry her far, that no one should be destined to stay on one island alone. Why does Mama say this? Minou cannot imagine being anywhere but on this island. Does this mean she has no imagination?


  1. Theodora, founder of the little island, was also a philosopher. Priest had read her journals and knew all about her. She lived alone with just a goat for companionship. She wrote sermons that she tried out on her goat. How does this life seem to others? Compare the thoughts of Priest, Boxman, and Minou.


  1. Papa admits that he never understood what Mama wanted and why she would change her mind about the things she did want. Boxman, however, seems to understand what Mama liked. What about the two men is different?


  1. Why do you think Minou keeps forgetting to tell Boxman about the dead boy?


  1. Why do you think Minou writes a story and why would she want to read it to the dead boy?


  1. At one point, Mama tells Minou that it is good to do something that makes you feel alive. Mama is baking a cake, and she makes lovely orange cakes. But then something goes wrong and Mama’s cakes are a failure. She cries that she just wants things to be the way they used to be. Is Mama talking about cakes? What might be going wrong?


  1. Minou continues her story in which Pirate says that “no one is destined to stay on one island forever”(114). Is this story Minou’s way to work on the truth? Or is it just a work of imagination? Can the two be the same?


  1. The day before the delivery boat arrives and will be taking the dead boy’s body away, Minou makes a discovery. She finds a postcard hidden away in a bottle tucked into his shoe. What do you make of its message?


  1. Minou’s grandfather was also a philosopher and just before his death, he burned  the thirty years worth of pages he had written. After his death, Minou’s father received a box with a note, “your father’s life work,” and it contained nothing but ashes. Why would her grandfather burn all of his papers? What do you think her father felt to received the box of ashes?


  1. Minou is continuing work on her story and trying to find some meaning from the dead boy’s postcard. Checking her mother’s atlas, she comes across a message (page 130). Minou remembers something that happened during a circus rehearsal. Mama had found an article about China and though she is interested in an accompanying picture of a birdcage, she tells Minou that birds are not for keeping. They must be allowed to fly free. Is it only birds that Mama is talking about? Do you think Mama has gone to China?


  1. Uncle comes to visit and although he is not a philosopher (he is a researcher of paranormal phenomena) like his father and brother, he does tell Minou much about Descartes. He also tells her about Rousseau, who left his wife and five children to go out into the world and serve the Enlightenment. Papa says his did this because he wanted the best for everyone, but Minou can’t help wondering how his five hungry children might have felt about this. And Minou realizes that logic has nothing to do with either kindness or love. Which is more important?


  1. One night while playing his accordion, Boxman stretches the instrument so far that he dislocates his shoulder.  What do you think Boxman is sad about? What do you think of Papa’s reaction?


  1. Boxman has a box that has the words “Transformation or transfiguration, you choose?” painted on the side. What is the difference?


  1. Do you think it is metaphysically impossible to vanish (150)?


  1. Papa tells Minou that logic is the shield against scary things. Uncle admits that he used to be scared of ghosts, but he isn’t anymore. When Minou asks him why he is no longer afraid, he tells her, “I started looking straight at them….Then they stopped coming so close” (153). Is this logic?


  1. When they are preparing for the circus, Boxman tells Minou she should expect surprises. Is this logical? Should she do it anyway?


  1. The circus performance is a great success and afterward, Priest has tulips to throw to Mama. Does he also possess magic?


  1. While visiting the Priest, Minou is certain she sees Mama. She is convinced Mama will be waiting for her in Boxman’s barn, but when she arrives, Mama is not there. Boxman tells Minou she sees her Mama because she misses her. Minou seems to blame Boxman for making Mama disappear. Is it his fault? And is he right that Minou sees her mother because she misses her?


  1. On page 190, we finally learn the secret that Minou has been keeping since the night of the circus.  Is logic a shield for Minou at this time? Do you think that this is the reason that Minou’s mother has vanished?


  1. After the circus, Papa says, “I am beginning to believe that magic is more enjoyable than I first thought” (194). Can logic and magic mix?


  1. Papa tells Minou that Mama had once told him that you couldn’t reason about war, because it was not a reasonable thing. She told him that one should search for love instead. Papa didn’t understand her and thought logic might help him understand. Does he understand after her disappearance?


  1. Do you think Papa’s reason for not drinking milk is a good one (page 202)?


  1. What do you think of Minou’s story ending? What has happened to Minou?


  1. What do you think the dream of Minou and Priest means?


  1. At the end of the story, the supply boat is coming to take the dead boy away and Minou has changed. What are the truths she has discovered? Have these truths come from logic? Magic? Love?



Review: Henry is Kind

henry is kindReview:

Henry is Kind: A Story of Mindfulness

Author: Linda Ryden

Illustrator: Shearry Malone

Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers, 2018

Ms. Snowden’s class takes their seats in order to practice mindfulness. They also practice heartfulness, a compassion meditation that increases feelings of empathy, happiness, and connection to others. Everyone enjoys the practice, but when Ms. Snowden starts The Kindness Project, Henry hits a snag. Each student is to make a picture of something kind they have done during the week and Henry can’t think of a single kind thing he has done. He is upset and yells, “Kindness is stupid!”

Luckily Henry has his fellow classmates to help. He has done plenty of kind actions, but he hasn’t been aware of them. When his friends point out all the kind things he has done – from sharing his snack to inviting a new student to join in a game – Henry realizes that he has been kind. He just needed to learn to recognize his actions. He realizes that helping others makes him feel good, too.

As she explains at the end of the story, Linda Ryden has been teaching mindfulness and heartfulness to her elementary students for the last fifteen years.  These practices have contributed to a more caring classroom and a more positive school environment. There is plenty of research to back up her personal findings.

I am hearing about a lot of mindfulness and kindness practices popping up in schools. My own school has started a Kindness Club and some of the teachers practice Zen-day Wednesday (a practice I personally like so much I wish it happened every day). For anyone looking for ideas to start a mindfulness/heartfulness practice with their students (or, in fact, in any kind of a group), this book is an excellent starting point. With a story to share and tips and resources for the leader, it’s a great beginning.


*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Discussion Questions: Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

elektra's adventuresDiscussion Questions for Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy by Douglas Rees


  1. On the trip from Mississippi to Guadalupe Slough, Elektra complains that the trip is “running away” while Mama sees the trip as an “adventure” and a “rescue from Mississippi.” Who do you think is right?


  1. Elektra claims that Mama has left her father because he wouldn’t leave Mississippi. Could Elektra be mistaken?


  1. When Mama, Elektra, and Thalia arrive at their new home, Elektra feels a ray of hope. She is sure they will be returning to Mississippi pronto. Do you think this will happen?


  1. What do you think of the new neighbors?


  1. Once again, we see a difference of opinion between Elektra and Mama. Mama couldn’t handle Mississippi because it was “rigid, hypocritical, and, worst of all, boring.” Elektra feels that life in Mississippi was “rich as delta soil and sweet as molasses” (pg. 41). What might be some of the reasons behind their differing opinions?


  1. We meet more neighbors and Mama’s tone of voice makes it clear that they, at least, are not boring. How might Elektra feel about this?


  1. The family receives a rather unique gift from one of their new neighbors (Ralph). How would you feel about receiving George?


  1. The girls explore the town by going to the library. They meet more of the residents of the area. How would you feel about these people? Interesting or boring? Elektra thinks they might be interesting, but do you think that will make her want to stay?


  1. Thalia likes their new town, but Elektra feels trapped. Why do they have such different opinions?


  1. Elektra meets Carlos Gonzales. How do you think she feels about him at this first meeting?


  1. After multiple tries to reach her father, he finally answers one of Elektra’s calls. Instead of saying she should return to him, he claims it is best for her to stay with her mother. He refuses to let her go home, but doesn’t really explain his reasons. Why do you think he feels that Elektra belongs with her mother?


  1. After this conversation, Elektra convinces herself that her father needs her and was just confused about what he really wanted. Do you agree with this?


  1. Elektra begins to wonder: What Would Odysseus Do? “Odysseus never complained unless he thought it would do him some good” (pg. 111). Elektra has done plenty of complaining. Has it done her any good?  Has it changed her situation? What do you think about her plans for action?


  1. As Mama evaluates her prospects for employment, Elektra responds with a smart-ass answer about their outlook. Mama slaps Elektra’s face. How do you feel about Mama right now? What about Elektra’s response?


  1. Elektra knows that to get back to Mississippi, she will need money.  How successful do you think she will be earning enough in Guadalupe Slough?


  1. Even as she plans to return to Mississippi, Elektra suddenly remembers a family trip to the Aegean Sea. Looking back, she now wonders about her father’s behavior toward her mother during that time. Do you think that summer caused this summer to happen? Do you think this revelation will change Elektra’s mind?


  1. How does Elektra feel about Carlos now that he is no longer Carlos-the-geek but Carlos the nineteen-year-old Stanford grad? Obviously, there is more to Carlos than she first realized. Could this be true of others, too? Evaluate the ways this is both good and bad.


  1. Mama comes home to find the girls missing. They were at get-together with the neighbors. Mama is angry, even though she learns that Ralph has fixed her car. Does she have a right to be?


  1. Thalia believed the incident was just her and Elektra having a good time with good people. Elektra explains that Mama was upset because she went by what she saw – Thalia and Elektra in a room full of adults where there was drinking going on – not by what they (Elektra and Thalia) knew. Could Elektra be making the same mistake in some of her relationships? Do we all do this at times?


  1. How do you think Thalia knew how to handle the situation with Ralph? (pgs. 157-159). We haven’t discussed much about Thalia, but what do you think about her outlook on everything – the change in her life, her new circumstances?


  1. Elektra knows that her actions in trying to get home are not truthful or honorable. She rationalizes that she can start being a good person again once she gets home. Do you think it is right for her to be “skeevy” just because she didn’t get what she wanted?


  1. Mama claimed she could never write because she never had a day to spend on her work. She couldn’t just walk away from taking care of her family. Will this new living situation really change that? Do you think that was Mama’s real problem?


  1. Elektra reads the following quote in one of her mother’s books on writing: “Your characters are defined by their actions…” (pg. 179). What do Elektra’s actions say about her? What about the actions of Mama and Thalia? Carlos or Ralph?


  1. Mama goes off on her interview and Elektra uses the opportunity to make her escape. En route, she finds out that her father has resigned his job, moved, and has a new wife. What do you think about Elektra’s plan now? What do you think about her father?


  1. At the same time Elektra receives this shocking news, she also learns her mother has been in a terrible accident on the way home from her interview.  What do you think of her next actions?


  1. What do you think about the neighbors after Mama’s accident? Has your opinion of them changed at all?


  1. Elektra wants to earn Ralph’s respect. She also needs to respect herself. Is this important?


  1. Mama finally comes clean about the circumstances of the divorce. Do you think she should have explained to the girls sooner? Was her plan to wait until they were older reasonable?


  1. What do you think of Elektra and Thalia’s plan to get some money? And what of their plan to tell Mama the truth, but slant?


  1. What do you think about the relationship between Rob and Mama. And what do you feel about the way Elektra and Thalia handled the fact that he “likes our Mama” (pg. 270)?


  1. Carlos thinks Elektra belongs in Guadalupe Slough. “The slough can be a good place for people who aren’t trying to be someone they’re not” (pg. 275). Was Elektra trying to be someone else when she arrived in California? What about now?


  1. Elektra’s father finally calls and admits he has been “remiss.” What do you think of Elektra’s response (pg. 281) to him?


  1. Elektra says Mama could have played it safe, but didn’t has Elektra come to understand her decision? Does Elektra always play it safe? Do you think that even though they don’t play it safe, they will be safe?

Review: Try This! Extreme


Try This! Extreme” 50 Fun & Safe Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You

Author: Karen Romano Young

Photographs by: Matthew Rakola

Publisher: National Geographic Kids, 2017

For Ages 10 and Up

For science-y kinds of kids, this week you might want to try some of the cool experiments in this offering by National Geographic Kids. It will provide plenty of days of activity!

I will admit, I thought this book was one of the most awesome science experiment books I have seen in a long time. True, it is not for anyone under 10 and even then adult supervision may be needed. Some of the necessary ingredients are not things you will have on hand. I would have liked to try the experiment which required sodium alginate but didn’t have any on hand – and can’t tell you where you might purchase any, either! – but the idea looked so cool. (I won’t tell you what it was. Check out page 136.)

There are plenty of other experiments that can be done much more quickly and with easily-located supplies. Learn how to make frozen bubbles (I was so disappointed that it is currently not cold enough for me to test right now!). You can make a color explosion, test the effect of cold water and ice on a glow stick, or make string from a bottle.

Each experiment gives the appropriate safety information right at the start. Scientists-in-training will know right away how complicated an experiment is and who they will need for assistance, as well as how long the process will take and what supplies are needed. Parents can check out the concepts being taught and each experiment is explained in full, just in case your chemistry or physics facts aren’t completely fresh in your memory.


Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Discussion Questions: Restart

restartRestart Discussion Questions:

  1. Chase Ambrose has amnesia due to a fall from the roof. He can remember some things – like how to talk. He doesn’t remember other things – like his own name. He doesn’t recognize his parents. He has one memory of a girl in a blue dress, but no idea who she is. How would your feel if this (memory loss) happened to you?


  1. Shoshanna Weber’s brother has been sent to a boarding school because he was the target of school bullies. And the biggest bully of all was none other than Chase Ambrose. Yet when he sees Shoshanna after his accident, he actually smiles at her. How would you feel if you were Shoshanna?


  1. Chase discusses the yogurt-over-the-head incident with his mother (pgs. 20-21). Do you think his mother is being entirely honest with him?


  1. At school Chase meets his friends again. What do you think of them?


  1. Since his accident, what are the first indications of major changes in Chase?


  1. In the principal’s office Chase sees two framed photographs – one of himself and one of his father. In these pictures, both were captains of the state champion football team. How might have Chase felt about these photos before his accident? What do you think he feels now?


  1. What do you think about Dr. Fitzwallace’s conversation with Chase? Do you agree with him that the accident, while terrible, may also provide Chase with an opportunity?


  1. Brendan Esponoza was bullied by Chase and his gang almost as much as Shoshanna’s brother. What do you think makes him ask Chase to be the cameraman for his YouTube video stunt?


  1. At the park, Chase sees his half-sister, Helene. What do you think about her reaction to Chase? What do you think about his father’s comments?


  1. Chase realizes that he has been famous at Hiawassee Middle School, yet some students seem afraid of him. Chase can’t understand what he has done. Explain the difference in the explanations between Aaron and Bear and his mom. How would you feel if you learned that you had been arrested for your actions? Who should Chase believe?


  1. At the car wash the manager immediately jumps to the conclusion that the stunt was Chase’s idea/fault until Brendan explains the truth. Is the manager’s conclusion justified?


  1. What do you think of Chase joining the video club?  What do you think of Shoshanna’s reaction to Chase becoming a member of the video club?


  1. Chase attends a football game but this time he is a member of the video club. What do you think about his interactions with his dad? With Helene? Watching the game, Chase’s memory about how to play begins to return. Do you think Helene has forgotten the teddy bear incident? Do you agree with Chase’s analysis: “Helene is perfectly happy now. No harm, no foul” (pg. 67).


  1. After the game, Chase goes to the locker room for interviews. Compare the reaction of the players to Chase’s questions to the answers they give Hugo.


  1. Chase was exempt from his community service at the Portland Street Assisted Living Residence due to his accident. So why does he go back to do it?


  1. After the pep rally incident, do you think that Chase has changed or, like Shoshanna, do you think he is still a “goon?”


  1. Do you think Kimberly Tooley’s reason for joining the video club is a good one?


  1. Aaron Hakimian asks the question: Is Chase Ambrose really the same person? What do you think?


  1. As more memories return, Chase remembers bringing his older brother Johnny to school. What do you think about this memory? “I am starting to wonder if that person is still inside me, emerging from the darkness, bit by bit, along with my memories” (pgs. 93-94). What do you think?


  1. Are Chase and Mr. Solway alike or different? How and why?


  1. “I hope I never hate anybody as much as that girl (Shoshanna) hates me” (pg. 101). Why does Chase say this and what does it show?


  1. Shoshanna goes to meet Mr. Solway about her video project. She doesn’t get far with him and is astonished at the change in Mr. Solway when Chase arrives. Chase and Shoshanna become partners on the project. Should Shoshanna tell her brother and parents?


  1. Ambrose tells Chase that he is taking Chase to a new doctor and then Chase will have his old life back. Should Chase agree to this plan? Is it a wise decision? Does Chase really want his old life back?


  1. Chase suspects Aaron and Bear of stealing Mr. Solway’s Medal of Honor. Do you think he is correct?


  1. The project with Mr. Solway and Chase has become the biggest thing in Shoshanna’s life – and yet she feels she can’t tell Joel. Do you agree with her? Do you agree with her new view of Chase or do you think her parents are correct?


  1. Chase’s friendship with Shoshanna is growing. Even her family is beginning to believe that Chase is someone different now. But what is happening to his relationships with his other friends?


  1. Bear and Aaron set up the incident to frame Chase. Why doesn’t Chase tell the truth to Dr. Fitzwallace? What do you think of his father’s attitude? Why does Chase regret his choices?


  1. Although Chase “gets away” with the fire extinguisher incident, what is the cost?


  1. When Chase gets the OK from the new doctor to play football again, does he have a choice? What are his choices?


  1. What do you think about the revelation about who stole Mr. Solway’s Medal of Honor?


  1. Brendan discovers the truth – with evidence – about Chase’s true actions in the fire extinguisher fiasco. What do you think will happen next?


  1. Chase discovers the girl in the blue dress with the lace collar and the full memory of what happened came back to him. How with this memory make you feel?


  1. What do you think of this statement made by Joel Weber just as Brendan shares the video evidence with him: “I’ve been victimized, but I don’t have to let that define me as a victim” (pg. 212).


  1. In the end Chase tries to do the right thing and return the Medal of Honor. What obstacles does he face? What help does he have?


  1. Chase takes full blame and ends up back in court. Does this seem fair? What do you think of the outcome?


  1. Do you believe that Chase has really changed? Do you think he can ever live down his reputation as a bully?