Tag Archives: discussion guides

The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey (2010)

I want to show you something. There is no name for it; it has no human symbol. It is old and its memory is long. It knew the world before we named it.
It knows everything. It knows me and it knows you.
And I will show it to you.
I will show you (p 4-5).

Will Henry once again narrates a thrilling tale abound with monsters, those that hunt us and those we harbor. Hard on the heels of Will Henry’s encounter with the Anthropophagi, an attractive woman requests the doctor’s aid in recovering her missing husband, John. It is clear from this first interview there is a history between the Dr. Warthrop and this siren, Muriel, whose call the doctor cannot ignore, though he denies her at first.

The real story is that of Warthrop, Muriel, and John. It unfolds against a backdrop of horror, as John returns a changed man.

It has a dozen names in a dozen lands, and it is older than the hills, Will Henry. It feeds, and the more it feeds, the hungrier it becomes. It starves even as it gorges. It is the hunger that cannot be satisfied. In the Algonquin tongue its name literally means ‘the one who devours mankind’ (p 53-54).

The Curse of the Wendigo is every bit as impressive as its predecessor, a Printz honor award winner. The characterization is so impressive. Add to that the chilling but realistic style of storytelling acting metaphorically to raise questions about the darker side of humanity and it is a gripping saga whose final installment I eagerly anticipate reading.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is Will Henry refering to when he writes “God’s temple” on page 4? Why do you think he chose this turn of phrase?
  2. On page 148, what is Will Henry saying about his service with the doctor? What do you make of this?
  3. The Monstrumologist comments that “routine is a kind of death” (p 274). Do you agree? Does this apply to Will Henry?
  4. Why do you think Will Henry is so committed to the Monstrumologist? How do other characters define their relationship? How does he characterize his relationship?
  5. What is the curse of the Wendigo? Is it an actual monster, as Von Helrung asserts, or do you subscribe to Dr. Pellinore Warthop’s explanations? How do you explain John’s behavior? Why do you think Yancy leaves room for ambiguity?


culvert (prologue xvii), metronomic, discordant, offal (p 4), despotic (p 5), colloquium (p 6), scintilla  (p 7), tripe, disquisition (p 8), ceresin (p 13), profundity (p 15), sobriquet (p 22), obsequious (p 28), fecund (p 35), philocome (p 39), recalcitrance (p 41), convivial (p 49), umbrage (p 73), deputation (p 82), trammeled (p 106), rapacious (p 122), animus (p 127), suppurating (p 147), tonsured (p 152), contagion (p 185), sycophant (p 187), obsequiousness, malodorous (p 192), dolorous (p 194, 342), lugubriously (p 211), punctilious, quaintrelle, truncheon (p 212), inchoate (p 247), patina, archeronian (p 248), terminus (p 276), alacrity (p 232), proboscis (p 315), malefic (p 316), allegiant (p 340), presaged (p 367), tenebrous (p 401)

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (Oct. 19, 2010)

We were escaped slave, half frozen  and exhausted. We needed to warm ourselves, sleep and eat. But above all, we had to stay hidden. The business of returning of selling runaways  was profitable for both redcoats and rebels.

I tallied our advantages: A few coins. Food enough for a few meals. Disadvantages: No horse. No gun. No one to trust.

A large piece of ice floated down the river as the second truth crackled in me.

This freedom could kill us (p 8-9).

This is a review of an unedited bound manuscript of Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson, provided by the publisher, Atheneum.

Forge is the sequel to the brilliant book Chains (read my review), and equal to its predecessor is scope and excellence. If you haven’t read Chains, do so immediately.

In Chains, Isabelle, a teenage slave girl, narrators her story. She and her younger sister Ruth are sold to wealthy, cruel Loyalists living in New York City. Isabelle turns spy for the rebels but soon learns their promises of freedom are insubstantial. Ruth is sold away and Isabelle is determined to find her. Isabelle escapes the city after freeing Curzon, a slave sold into soldiering for the rebel cause.

Forge continues the story with a new narrator, Curzon. We soon learn that Isabelle has broken with Curzon, sneaking off in the night, because she insists on traveling south to find her sister while Curzon plans for a safer route north to freedom.

Before too long, Curzon finds himself reenlisted as an American soldier. His thoughts constantly turn to Isabelle.

Forge has several meaning in this novel: (1) Curzon worked in a forge.

“I worked with a blacksmith,” I said, which was both true and believable. “Warmest job in the entire camp. I’ll wager you right now I’ll get to do it again. Blacksmith’s don’t want clumsy oafs helping them in the forge. They need skilled chaps like me (p 138).”

(2) Valley Forge, named for an iron forge on Valley Creek, was an American Revolution War winter camp (1777-17780). Curzon and his company make camp at Valley Forge with the American army. (Read more about Valley Forge at Wikipedia). Much of the story takes place at Valley Forge.

(3) This book is as much about the American Patriots attempting to forge a new nation, free from England’s rule, as it is about two young slaves fighting even harder to forge their own free futures.

The fellows had forged themselves into an army that was ready to march and take its country back (504).

(4) And of course, Isabelle and Curzon will fight their enslavement as long as they have breath in their bodies, finally forging their futures on their own terms.

“If our luck does not turn for the good on its own,” she said, “we’ll make it turn” (p 490).

This book incites many emotions: frustration, sadness, and several beautiful moments of fulfillment and sweetness. All of it unfolds beautifully and with a veracity that places the reader in chilly half-built barracks feeling hungry with only fire cakes to eat and unable to do anything about it. Anderson is a stellar writer and researcher and this book reflects it.

And what a completely satisfying ending! I suppose she could write another book, and I’d be first in line to read it, but I’m also completely happy to end the story with Forge.

Continue reading Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (Oct. 19, 2010)

The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan

Oregon Trail GameWhen I was a child, my friends and I would huddle around a computer (I’m dating myself; computers were rare way back then) and play a game called The Oregon Trail. It was all the rage. (My goodness, how things have really changed!) I never thought about what it might have been like to actually traverse that path. McKernan’s novel brings it home, makes it personal.

This book is getting some Printz Award buzz. Here is a sample of the beautiful prose:

Aiden had somehow expected to wake up one day and just see the mountains there, tall and snowy and stabbing at the sky like the picture of the Alps in The Atlas of the World. But the horizon crept up so slowly that they appeared at first only as a faint rise on the far edge of the earth, like a line of baby teeth (p 61-62).

The Devils Paintbox by Victoria McKernan

It is the spring of 1865. Having just survived a bitter winter, Aiden and his sister, Maddy, are the lone survivors on their family’s draught-ravaged farm in Kansas. Mr. Jefferson J. Jackson is a trader looking for able men to work as loggers in Washington.

“Timber company outside of Seattle will pay me one hundred dollars for every man I bring in.” He looked the skinny boy over again and hoped he wasn’t going to regret this. “Once there, you’re bound to work it off. It’s hard work. Rough living. Plus costs of your passage owed to me. That’s another hundred dollars. Each. It takes most men a year to work it off and you got her to keep, so figure two.”

Maddy and Aiden go along with Jackson’s wagon train, ending their starvation but opening the way for new dangers. The caravan is full of different people heading west for different reasons, but Aiden and Maddy are the main focus of the narrative. While the others are well described and interesting, we never feel too attached to them. Some will surely die. Their deaths are swift and unexpected but bring home the reality of the dangers each travelers faces. When a group of Indians crosses path with the train, the story widens its scope and never looks back, extending in length even after the wagon train disperses.

The whole story was fascinating and multifaceted. Aiden and Maddy’s development was brilliantly told, the plight of the Indians was not simplified nor their characters stereotypical. I was wondering where the story was going as it dragged a little after Aiden broke off from the group, but I should have had more faith. McKernan showed her readers the rough logging community, the treacherous city and the peaceful calm of Jackson’s trading post and brought it all together with the sly and calculating puppet-master, Napolean Gilivrey, timber company owner. Magnificent.

Read another review at: BCCLS, Plymouth Staff Choices


scurvy (p 31), gregarious (p 35), taciturn (p 129), ague (p 135), desultory (p 251), totemic (p 260)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read the Recent Trends in Infant Mortality Rate in the United States (published by the National Center for Health Statistics). How does this information compare to the infant mortality rate as painted by Aiden (p 38)?
  2. After speaking with Marguerite about Doc Carlos, Maddy reflects silently, “It seemed there was no end to the complexities of hurting” (p 58). What does she mean by this? Do you find this to be true as it relates to your life? How are the surviving characters hurting at the novel’s conclusion (consider Aiden, Doc Carlos, Tupic, Annie and Polly, even Napolean Gilivrey)?
  3. The Nez Perce Indians have a different view of religion, nature, man, and the world: “Too much Bible” (p 99), Aesop’s Fables (p 110-12), “Sand Creek changes the way the heart beats in a man.” (p 125), and prayer versus action (p 144-45). What do you think of their views and their different positions on how to deal with white men?  How does Aiden react to them?
  4. The Nez Perce Indians are also confused by Aiden’s description of an orphan (p 148). How are orphans treated today and is it a good system?
  5. When Tupic and Aiden part ways, Tupic says, “In a different world, I would keep you as my friend.” Why couldn’t the two remain friends and how is the world different now? How is it the same?
  6. How does Aiden react to those who insult himself or his sister (p 17,77-78, 233-35)? How does his reaction reflect his physical/mental state, his development, his character/personality? How would you have reacted?
  7. When the army soldiers appear, the Indians are skittish and Aiden becomes suspicious and asks, “Have you done something?” “Yes, we have dome something,” Tupic said sharply. “We were born Indians” (p 115). What does he mean by this? Are there ethnic groups today that might say the same thing about their existance and why? How can we change how they are treated?
  8. Woud you have traveled the Oregon Trail, knowing its dangers and what awaited you at the end? Why do you think people did it?

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate grabbed my attention immediately. Not only is the cover gorgeous but the early descriptions are lovely:

Our house was separated from the river by a crescent-shaped parcel of five acres of wild, uncleared growth. It would have been an ordeal to push my way through it except that the regular river patrons–dogs, deer, brothers–kept a narrow path beaten down through the treacherous sticker burrs that rose as high as my head and snatched at my hair and pinafore as I folded myself marrow to slide by. When I reached the river, I stripped down to my chemise, floating on my back with my shimmy gently billowing around me in the mild currents, luxuriating in the coolness of the water flowing around me. I was a river cloud, turning gently in the eddies. I looked up at the filmy bags of webworms high above me in the lush canopy of oaks bending over the river. The webworms seemed to mirror me, floating in their own balloons of gauze in the pale turquoise sky (p 3).

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline KellyThis coming of age story follows eleven-year-old Calpurnia, the only daughter of seven Tate children, as her burgeoning friendship with her paternal grandfather opens her mind to the natural world around her and the possibilities therein. But like any woman ahead of her time, her evolution meets many obstacles. Kelly takes a timeless subject and excels. From vivid description to the subtle accompaniment of literary tools like alliteration that allows sentences to roll of the tongue, the writing is captivating and beautiful.

If not for an unsettling disconnect, this would be a perfect book. The story is told from the first-person limited point of view – Calpurnia’s. Yet the vocabulary (as evident from my list below) is mature. I don’t know any eleven-year old that wouldn’t have trouble understanding many of the words Calpurnia uses. That Calpurnia would even use them is doubtful, as evident from her difficulty pronouncing ‘prerequisite’ (p 119) and her misspelling of ‘piss’ (p 234). This was my only fault for this otherwise excellent book, even if Hemingway would balk at the vocabulary, I think he would approve of the setting. Of course, just because this is about an eleven-year-old, I don’t believe it belongs in a Children’s Department.

That being said, I could definitely see this book with a Newbery Honor sticker on it.

Here is a list of  vocabulary words used in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate that your students might need to define prior to reading:

pestiferous (p 3), benzene (p 4), chivvy (p9), torpid (p 11), loiter (p 13), envisaged (p 16), torrid (p 17), excelsior (p 18), dilapidated (p 18), consternation (p 19), curios (p 20), malacca (p 24) , laburnum (p 27), morass (p 30), transom* (p 33), cadge* (p 37), octoroon (p 50), aborning (p 58), dissonant (p 62), pedagogic (p 63), protuberant (p 74), salvo (p 76), ostentatious (p 86), petulant (p 88), interminable* (p 89), bonhmonie (p 91), pargon (p 96), daguerrotype (p 117), codger, prodigious (p 118), prerequisite (p 119), inane* (p 142), uncinate, desiccated (p 160), rank (p 167), deference, ensconced (p 172), expunge (p 179), kowtow (p 185), onerous (p 210), veritable (p 211), dross (p 213), distaff (p 218), tumbrel (p 223), quagmire, efficacious (p 230), detritus (p 231), noxious (p 232), aspics, assiduously (p 237), futile, convivial (p 238), cannily (p 240), pompously, rota (p 242), tetchy (p 245), dyspeptic (p 245), futile (p 260), redolent, tarpaulin (p 271), foofaraw (p 287), insipid, odious (p 288), citadel (p 298), perspicacious (p 321), deckled (p 329), tepid (p 330).

(* signifies a word used more than once)

Have your students find pictures of the following:

pinafore (p 3), swallowtail coat (p 4), hackberry tree (p 10), spool table (p 19), Woolly Caterpillar (p 109), spittoon (p 118), vetch (p 160), cirrus cloud (p 286-87)

Play a game with your students: Statues (p 17), Dominoes (p 118)

Origin of SpeciesDiscussion Questions:

  1. What is the Flat Earth Society (p 13)?
  2. Explain the controversy surrounding Charles Darwin’s Evolution of Species (p 13-14). Has the issue been settled or is it alive today?
  3. Has there ever been a book you wanted that the Library or your parent refused to provide you with? If so, what type of library was it: a school library or public library? What reason did the Librarian or parent give for not having the book? Do you think Calpurnia is treated fairly by the Librarian when she requests a book they do not own (p 14-15)?
  4. While pondering the gender of her pet Petey, Calpurnia remarks, “I wonder why human children weren’t given the option in their grub stage, say up through age five. With everything I had seen, I would definitely choose to be a boy grub (p 115).” Why do you think she would prefer to be a boy. Are there any perks to being a girl?
  5. Calpurnia is treated differently than her brothers by her parents and the rest of the community. In what ways is she treated differently and why? [examples: behaviour expectations (p 145), salary (page 199-200), and Thanksgiving turkey watch (p 264)] How does she react to this treatment? Are girls treated differently then boys today – at school, at home or in the workforce?
  6. While discovering the natural world, Calpurnia has some hiccups, experiences miracles and at times, is completely grossed out. Track her evolution. Would you have enjoyed her experiences? Relate your own experiences with nature.

The Deep Freeze of Bartholomew Tullock by Alex Williams

The Deep Freeze of Bartholomew TullockThis is a review of the gallery copy I received at ALA-Midwinter Conference in 2008. The book was released in 2008.

Phillip Breeze is a master craftsman. His family has always made the most spectacular fans for the people of Pinrut, and his children are following in his footsteps. When a permanent winter settles over Pinrut, the whole village falls under the control of Bartholomew Tullock, a grasping, controlling man who puts most of the town to work in his turnip fields. Only the Breeze’s resist, continuing to make fans. As the snow continues to fall, the Breeze’s must find an alternative means of surviving if they are to continue to defy Tullock. With the ‘help’ of a traveling salesman and his blue-haired terrier, Philip and his daughter, Madeline, set out to sell his fans in a warmer climate, leaving his wife and son, Rufus, to defend their unique house against Tullock.

This was a delightful, quick, clean read. The traveling magician reminded me of a similar character from Pete’s Dragon while the eternal winter/Bartholomew was reminiscent of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe/the White Witch. I can’t believe I didn’t foresee the ending but I really enjoyed this  book and I think the kids will too. It has elements of  artistry, adventure, politics and hubris.

Read Plante Esme’s review.

Discission Questions:

  1. How are Madeline and Rufus different? How are they alike?
  2. Define ‘hubris.’ What character’s hubristic decisions lead to the Breeze family’s suffering?
  3. Define ‘dictator.’ How is Bartholomew Tullock a dictator? How do the Tullock’s gain power over the citizens of Pinrut?
  4. Do you believe Bartholomew truly loves Mrs. Breeze?
  5. If you could build fans like Madeline and Rufus, what kind of fan would you build? Describe what it would look like and how it would keep you cool in the summer.
  6.  How does Rufus’s knowledge of machines aid him throughout the story? What do fans mean to the Breeze family?
  7. What important lesson does Phillip Breeze learn upon his return to Pinrut? What other characters learn important messages?

The First Part Last: Discussion Guide

The second book read and discussed through a grant funded by YALSA and the ALA: The First Part Last by two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner Angela Johnson. (Page numbers refer to the hardcover version, copyright 2003, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.)

  1. How did Bobby’s parents respond to the news of Nia’s pregnancy (pg. 12)? How did Nia’s parents respond to this (pg. 20)? How would your parents respond to this same announcement?
  2. Look at how Bobby’s friends react (pg. 37-40). How would your friends react?
  3. What does Bobby mean by saying, “I walk to my room…look around my room and miss me” (pg. 35)?
  4. How does Bobby feel about Feather? Would this be different if Nia were awake? (pg 81)
  5. What do you think about everyone’s reaction to Bobby and Nia’s decision to put their baby up for adoption?
  6. Do you agree with the way Bobby’s parents support (or don’t support) him and Feather?
  7. Imagine your room at home. What things would you have to change if you became a full-time parent? What everyday things would you have to do differently?
  8. Where do you see these characters five, ten years from now?

The reactions to this book surprised me somewhat. The students were very critical of Bobby, saying he was stupid for letting the pregnancy happen. They also saw Bobby’s parents in an odd role reversal where his father acted more like a mother, supportive and understanding, while Bobby’s mother was distant and unhelpful. Two of the boys in the discusison group were young fathers and mentioned the strong support of their parents made things very different for them. All noted the strong feelings Bobby held for Feather but there seemed to be no definitive opinion on Bobby’s success as a father. Also, the cover image was not well liked. Many thought the image was of a woman holding a baby!

The 2004 Printz Award winner.

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

I recently held an open forum book discussion on Terry Trueman’s Stuck in Neutral. Here is a discussion guide, my notes, and some tips:

1Stuck in Neutral Cover Image
Who has the strongest relationship with Shawn? Discuss the difference relationships between Shawn and his: mother, father, brother and sister.

Discuss the ending… How did it leave you feeling? What do you think happened next? Whether Shawn lives or is murdered by his father, does Shawn care? How do you think the rest of the family will react to whatever happens when they return from Paul’s basketball tournament?

Do you think Shawn is better off alive or dead? Shawn is the narrator of this novel. What is his tone? Does he seem happy, bitter, resentful, cruel, loving?

Discuss the differences between the way Paul handles his frustrations and Cindy’s actions. Why is Paul so violent? see pages 88-93. Why do you think Cindy went on the Alice Ponds Show? How is his loss of control similar/different from Shawn’s loss of control? Imagine having a brother as dependent as Shawn. How would that daily burden make you feel?

Discuss the ethics of mercy killing. Do you think Earl Detraux deserved his punishment?

Discuss the use of Labels in this book. What are some labels given to Shawn? see page 25. Why do people use labels and how do they effect the people who are labeled? Can you give examples of labels in your school?

Why do people pick on people like Shawn?

Play the audiobook while reading this novel to help those for whom this reading level is advanced.

Shawn’s father abandoned him and his siblings. What convinces you that he actually loves Shawn? That his mercy killing would be for love of his son?