Posted in Free Study Guides, Great Middle Grade Reads, Teacher Resources, Writing

Great MG Reads: Number the Stars

number-the-stars-cover Free, printable teaching materials: Here are 3 free sets of questions to assess or review plot, character, and deeper-meaning components of the great MG novel Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Feel free to change the documents to suit your needs, and please share with others!




Kristallnacht happened on this night 78 years ago. So many important stories have been written with the Holocaust as a subject or historical backdrop, many of them YA and MG works. Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars is not just a great MG read, with a well-crafted main character and positive themes; it’s also a delicate yet gripping introduction to the Holocaust for younger readers. When I taught this last year, not many of my fifth graders had a clear grasp on what the Holocaust was, and several had it pegged incorrectly in the wrong era of history. The experience of introducing them to the subject of the Holocaust taught me of the importance of being reminded, staying mindful, and never forgetting the events and facts of this dark, dark time for humanity.

Lowry’s Newbery Award-winning MG novel works on so many levels—a springboard for historical timelines, a perfectly-suited storyline for teaching the Plot Triangle, a moving and realistic character and thematic study. In the language arts or homeschool classroom, you can do as much or as little with this novel as your students are ready for. If you are lucky enough to teach multiple grade levels, it’s the kind of book students will recall easily year to year, making it a valuable tool for comparison and exemplification in more mature lessons down the road.

Posted in Free Study Guides, Great Middle Grade Reads, Teacher Resources, Writing

Great MG Reads: Bud, Not Buddy

Bud Not Buddy front coverTeachers — Here are three free resources for your use when you teach Bud, Not Buddy, a great historical choice for the classroom. Just click to open, and save and print as needed! Feel free to share these freebies with a teacher who might use them. There’s an editable  Word version followed by a pdf for each.

Reading quiz for use after Chapters 1-3:

 Bud, Not Buddy Chapters 1-3 20 pt. Quiz  

  Bud, Not Buddy Chapters 1-3 20 pt. Quiz

Planning worksheet for young writers to use in crafting their own story “pitch”:

Original fiction pitch worksheet after Bud, Not Buddy  

  Original fiction pitch worksheet after Bud, Not Buddy

Character trait/proof from text chart:

Bud, Not Buddy Character Analysis worksheet  

Bud, Not Buddy Character Analysis worksheet

The indomitable Christopher Paul Curtis came to speak at a writers’ residency I attended years ago. He talked about the importance of keeping the story at the heart of the book (as opposed to the history) when you write historicals. Bud, Not Buddy has excellent attributes for instruction: character voice and development, the “quest” or journey plot structure, great morals and themes…and history as a vivid backdrop that impacts the story without taking over.

I used this book in a 5th grade Language Arts classroom, but it would fit into a variety of grade levels and content areas, and it would be a great choice for homeschool audiences as well.

Fast summary: Ten-year-old Bud escapes a not-so-nice foster situation, but instead of heading back to the “home,” he decides to find his father. He’s never met him, but he’s certain the clues in his suitcase left by his mother before she died will be all the help he needs in finding the man. Set against the background of the Great Depression, the various lifestyles Bud experiences (as an orphan, a vagrant, a traveling musician) take the reader solidly into another time and place.

Genre: Historical Middle Grade

Note for teachers/homeschooling parents: Bud, Not Buddy has so many teachable moments! You can sidebar social studies, writing, morality, and arts topics with every chapter: What’s a Hooverville? What’s a worker’s union? Find some examples of people caring for others in the book. How does jazz music differ from music of other genres?

Real (modern) world connections: The book centers around Flint, Michigan. Students may bring up the current status of Flint, which might spur a discussion of other American cities and how they have developed over time.

Any alarms/flashing lights? (Potentially controversial facets of the book): There’s a brief scene in which Bud gets a kiss from a girl he doesn’t see again. Some discussion of race relations in the 1930s would deepen students’ awareness and understanding of Bud’s decisions and emotions. Bud imagines using a rifle he finds at the foster home, but doesn’t.

Notes for writers/readers: Study this book as a great example of voice! My fifth graders were quick to point out all the grammar “mistakes” on page one, which immediately prompted a good lesson on voice and style, what voice means for deep characterization in a novel, and descriptions of POV.

A great MG read — can’t wait to teach this one again.


Posted in Free Study Guides, Great Middle Grade Reads, Teacher Resources, Writing

Great MG read: Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

ninth-wardTeachers! Check out this chapter-by-chapter reader’s study guide I’m sharing — free for classroom or homeschooling use! Hope you find it helpful!  Ninth Ward Study Guide

Ninth Ward is a great choice for classroom or homeschooling use. It will spur at least a quick study of the events surrounding the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing tragedies that affected thousands of people.  Or it may inspire more in-depth research projects to prep for or react to a reading of the novel.

I used the book in a class of 6th graders. My students found the reading level easy but the content much harder to mentally grasp–mostly because they didn’t have much prior knowledge of Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans before we discussed it in class. They loved the characters and the pacing of the book, and I loved that it was a historical MG novel set only ten years ago. I think many kids, parents, and teachers tend to think of centuries-old eras, long-ago wars, and distant past events when we hear the label “historical novel.” Ninth Ward is recent history–history that has had a clear impact on the world in which they are living.

Fast Summary: Lanesha is a 12-year-old girl living in the Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. She weathers the hurricane using strength, resolve, and quick-thinking skills…then she must survive the floodwaters, too.

Genre: Historical MG with a nice dose of magical realism

Note for teachers/homeschooling parents: Such a great and teachable book! Rich in plot and character details, great opportunities to discuss characters’ motivations and author’s purpose. Themes of hope, resilience, and gumption with plenty of evidence in Lanesha’s words and actions.

Real world connections: Have students ask older folks (parents, teachers, friends, relatives) what news stories they recall from the days of constant media coverage surrounding the storm and its aftereffects.

Any alarms/flashing lights? (Potentially controversial facets of the book) Well, the magical realism comes in the form of ghosts… Lanesha can see the bodies of dead people from a variety of eras, and she can communicate with some of them. One of the ghosts she can see is her mother, who died after giving birth to her. There is only the faintest tone of creepiness regarding this trait ; Lanesha treats it as something normal and natural.

Mama Ya-Ya is the woman who cares for Lanesha, and though she keeps statues of Catholic saints handy, she also believes in “faiths born in Africa”… she believes in “many gods… (that) gods live in everything, in the whole wide world.” This is briefly mentioned and has little impact on the plot, though my students (in our small Catholic school) discussed how this trait contributed effectively to Mama Ya-Ya’s overall characterization.

Posters from the 1960’s with the motto Make Love, Not War are given one mention to detail a setting. This has no other role in the book.

There aren’t any instances of profane or questionable language in the book.

Notes for writers and readers: This book is an excellent study in POV and voice–immediately the reader will connect with and know Lanesha, and know and understand her existence in the Ninth Ward.

Great read! I look forward to teaching it again this coming school year.