Virtual Book Discussion: The Shadow Cipher W/PigPen Cipher Challenge

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby is the first book in the York series, a juvenile fiction, historical re-imagining, series for 4-7 graders. 

 In 1855, the Morningstarr Twins, the greatest and most mysterious architects New York City has ever seen, go missing and in their place, a cryptic puzzle promising to lead to a treasure greater than can be imagined. But decades later the puzzle still hasn’t been solved.  

 In the present day, twins Theo and Tess, along with their friend Jamie are determined to solve the puzzle and save their home, one of the original Morningstarr buildings, from being torn down by rich developers.  

 Most people have given up on the puzzle and don’t even think it ever ends but Tess, Theo and Jamie believe that the puzzle is just waiting for the “right” people and time to be solved.  

 Will they solve the cipher before it is too late? 

Discussion Questions: 

1. What is this story about? What are the main themes? 
2. What is an alternative history? What are some examples of this in the book?  
3. Tess, Theo, Jamie and the rest of the residents of 354 W. 73rd Street are about to lose their home. If you were in their shoes how would this make you feel?  
4. Explain why Tess says their effort to solve the Cipher seems “adorable,” as though it were more than a coincidence. 
5. In this version of the world, people have hybrid animal pets. What type of hybrid pet would you want to have?  
6. Chapter 11 – “People like to fool themselves into thinking that they could never be fooled.” In chapter 11, Tess and her dad have a discussion about a “black box.” What is this and would you open the black box? 
7. Chapter 21 – Jamie wonders if maybe the Morningstarr creations are actually alive. What did you think of this? 
8. Does the design of a machine influence how well it is accepted? Why do people sometimes have trouble accepting scientific advances? Advances in engineering? 
9. Slant says, “the solution is not in the streets or the buildings of this city, but in us, in its people. We are the magic. We are the treasure.” By the end Tess wonders if Slant is just a little bit right by saying that “we are the treasure,” What do you think is meant by this? 
10. At the end of the book, is seems as though a battle has just begun. What war is coming?  

STEM Challenge: Decode the secret message 

STEM Supplies Needed: Pencil & Paper 

A PigPen cipher is a geometric simple substitution cipher, which exchanges letters for symbols which are fragments of a grid. For example “C” would look like an uppercase L , and “L” would look like an uppercase L with a dot in the lower left hand corner.  

First, I explained to the kids how this cipher works. Then I pinned the cipher and our first challenge, saying “using the above cipher, let’s see who can decode our secret message first.” I moved on to each cipher, making them a little longer each time.   

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” by Ralph Waldo Emerson 
“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” by Albert Einstein
“Sometimes, I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” by Lewis Carroll

 Sources: 
https://www.walden.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/YORK-THE-SHADOW-CIPHER-EDUCATORS-GUIDE-FOR-CLASSROOM-USE.pdf  

How’d it go:

Meh, this was not our favorite book or our favorite activity. But the kids got through it and are excited to here that next week we are back to our messy STEM activities!

That’s all for now!

-M-

American Dirt

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings is an adult fiction novel about a Mexican mother and son forced to flee to American.

Lydia Pérez lives a quiet life in the Mexican city of Acapulco with her husband and eight-year-old son Luca. And while the cartels are always a problem, Lydia and her family have never felt outright threatened.

When Lydia forges a friendship with the overdressed and suave Javier, she had no idea she was talking poetry with the head of Acapulco’s newest cartel. What’s worse, her journalist husband is publishing a “tell-all” profile about the man and the repercussions will change Lydia and Luca’s lives forever.

Transformed into migrants overnight, will Lydia and Luca make it to America with their souls intact?

My book club picked this one as our next read. It is not one I would normally pick up on my own, so for that I am grateful to read outside the box. But, and I may be the majority here, I did not overly enjoy the book. I felt like the author walked the middle of the road instead of pushing the boundaries one way or the other. Either go too cautious or too graphic; for a title like this, about this topic, trying to play both sides, just doesn’t work.

But the real thing that bugged me about this book, was that the final confrontation between Lydia and Javier was both unbelievable and lacking. The entire book was about Lydia’s relationship with Javier and escaping his wraith. The reader waits the whole book for a final confrontation and what we get… well it didn’t do anything for me.

I also needed a more satisfying ending. Again, it felt lukewarm–probably due to the missing confrontation I just mentioned. But seriously, they are on this whole journey and it just never felt like it ended. The ending didn’t feel like an ending but more of a place to stop.

This wasn’t a bad book and it was neat to read a book I’ve seen getting tossed back and forth in the news, but it was only OK in my opinion.

This one gets 2.5-3 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

4-6th Grade Virtual Book Discussion: The Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks

The Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks is a juvenile fiction book for 4-6 graders. 

When a young boy is found sitting at the DC’s National Gallery without any idea who he is or how he got there, no one imagined the ripple effect that would happen. As black SUVs and missing security footage start popping up, there will be a race to find out who this boy is before it is too late. 

As the boy attempts to piece his life together, he must also use what little he does remember to stop the biggest art frauds ever attempted. Will he remember in time or will his ghosts catch up to him first.  

Discussion Questions / Further Reading  
1. What is this book about? What are the main themes? 
2. This book focuses more on STEAM than STEM, but often times there is science behind the arts like music, dance and painting. Can you give an examples of when the arts use science? Hint: There are a few in our book.  
3.What is the difference between “Science” and “Witchcraft” or “Alchemy?”  
4. This book uses QR codes as an interactive element between the reader and the story. What is a QR code and how does it add or take away from the story?  
5. Art suffered from trauma driven amnesia. How would you feel if you lost all memories of yourself, including your own name?  
6. There’s quite a bit of foreshadowing in the book. What is foreshadowing and how does it help to propel a story? 
7. What did you think about the art supplies in Art and his Dad’s studio? Did you know that some artists used to poison themselves just to get the right color pigment? 
8. Why do you think art forgers have more success when they use old canvas’ by unknown artists? In thinking about this, how does the history of paintings, or a specific painting, influence the forgeries?  
9. What is the fingernail test? (pg 243) 
10.  Art and Camille use a lot of low tech ingenuity to escape their captors, who have a lot of “high tech.” Let’s talk about some of these.  

My set up

DIY: Aging Paper 

Supplies: Paper (try multiple weights), 1 cup of cold coffee, coffee grinds, tea bag, hot water, either a waterproof table cloth and/or cookie trays. 

Directions:  The first step before each of the following techniques is to scrunch the paper and then open it flat. 

  • Coffee Painted 
    -1/4 cup of hot coffee, spoon onto the paper and spread evenly. 
    -add a bit more color by taking dried coffee and sprinkling over the wet paper. 
    -Remove the excess liquid with a paper towel and leave to dry. With adult supervision you can also “bake” your paper in the oven, on the lowest temperature, for about five minutes. Keep and eye on it.  
  • Coffee Dipped: Dipping paper in coffee is also known as coffee staining is a technique that slightly changes the color of the paper. This effect is less bold then painting a paper with coffee. 
    -Make coffee with boiling water and 3:1 ratio of coffee. 
    -Fill a container large enough to hold your paper like a baking tray with coffee. 
    -Submerge the paper in the liquid. 
    -Hang the paper on a clothe line or put it on a rack with paper towel underneath to absorb the excess liquid. 
  • Tea Bags 
    -Soak your teabag in warm water, but cool enough to work with.  
    -Squeeze out the majority of the water and dab the paper with the tea bag. 
    -Rehydrate the tea bag as necessary. 
  • Finishing Touches 
    -Burn the edges of the paper. 
    -Ink the edges with a dark ink. 
    -Add stamped images or text. 
    -Wrinkle again to add extra texture. 
    -tear the edges to enhance the used old look. 

Sources: https://einatkessler.com/how-to-age-paper-6-easy-technique-to/

How’d it go:

This went really well. The kids were doing pretty good with the discussion and we all seemed to like the paper aging project. Also, my office now smells like coffee, so positives all around!

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Shadow Cipher

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby is the first book in the York series, a juvenile fiction, historical re-imagining, series for 4-7 graders.

In 1855, the Morningstarr Twins, the greatest and most mysterious architects New York City has ever seen, go missing and in their place, a cryptic puzzle promising to lead to a treasure greater than can be imagined. But decades later the puzzle still hasn’t been solved.

In the present day, twins Theo and Tess, along with their friend Jamie are determined to solve the puzzle and save their home, one of the original Morningstarr buildings, from being torn down by rich developers.

Most people have given up on the puzzle and don’t even think it ever ends but Tess, Theo and Jamie believe that the puzzle is just waiting for the “right” people and time to be solved.

Will they solve the cipher before it is too late?

This was a fun, action packed book that actually got a little dark toward the end. Going into the first hundred or so pages, I really just thought it was going to be a happy go lucky book, where the kids solve the puzzle and save their home… Willy Wonka-esq. But by the end, you find out that there is so, so much more going on and that is why this is a series.

That being said, I enjoyed the eccentricities of the children and the friendship they are forging. But I think the best part of this book is the re-imagining of certain historical facts, an alternate history, that bring a really great dynamic to the story. Little things like the Statue of Liberty being copper colored still because they used a chemical to keep it from oxidizing. To bigger tweaks like the Colonies not pushing the Indians off their land.

You also see a lot of “hints” in this book that, may not make sense or seem important at the time, but will definitely show up later in the series. Theo’s “dreams” for one, I predict that these will be more than just dreams.

Overall, this was an interesting read and is going to make a good book club discussion. I am going to give it a low 4 stars for now.

That’s all for now!

-M-

4-6th Grade Virtual Book Discussion: Sal & Gabi Break the Universe

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carols Hernandez is a juvenile fiction book best for 5-7 graders. 
 
Sal Vidon is the new kid at school and a budding magician, but it wasn’t magic that landed him in the principles office for the third time in three days, it was for allegedly putting a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker… a raw chicken that has since mysteriously disappeared. 
 
In steps Gabi Real, student council president and editor of the school paper. With her keen eye, book smarts and unwavering task oriented personality, Gabi soon realizes that Sal Vidon is hiding something big. 
 
After getting off on the wrong foot, Gabi and Sal become fast friends and it’s a good thing too because Sal is going to need all the help he can get if he doesn’t want to irreversibly break the universe for good. 

Discussion Questions:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?  
2. Sal is the new kid at a creative arts school. Why is it hard to be the new kid and how might being the new kid at Sal’s school be different than being the new kid at a public school? 
3. Sal has type one diabetes. What do you know about diabetes? Is you or your family affected by diabetes? How does this disease make life harder for Sal? 
4. This book embraces Spanish culture and is written with many Spanish vocabulary and phrases. For my Spanish and non-Spanish speakers, how did this effect/change the story for you?
5. Chapter 27 – “The key is to make your best move in the moment…” What do you think this means? How does Sal make his best move in the moment? 
6. Bonita-Dad: The Final Frontier is an AI. How would you like to have a robot for a parent? What would the pros and cons be? 
7. What is an everyman play and how does Sal and Gabi embrace the theme? 
8. Chapter 36 – “Sometimes, when it’s too hard, when it hurts too much, only silliness can save us.” How have you used silliness to defuse a situation in the past?  
9. Yasmany and Gabi both go through some hard moments in this book. How does Sal handle these situations?  
10. Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe is the sequel to this book. Do you have any predictions?  

STEM Activity:

Pringles Ring STEM Challenge

Engineering Challenge:
Pringles Ring 
Supplies:
1 full can of Pringles chips 
The Challenge:
Building a ring using only whole Pringles potato chips. No glue, paper, etc.  
Things to think about: 
-How will the base of your ring be able to support the top? 
-Will you layer your chips in a certain pattern? If so, what pattern? 
-What other strategies will you try if your first design doesn’t work as planned? 
The Science: 
“As the sides of the ring get taller, gravity pushes down on the chips causing them to slide down. In order for the chips to not slide, there must be enough frictional force on the sides of the chips so that gravity can’t push it down.” 

Source:  
https://carlyandadam.com

How’d it go:
We had quite a few kids for this one, which was awesome! AND quite a bit of discussion… that kept going back to food and was somewhat off track, but we are craving social interaction, so I take it as a win!
The Pringles ring however, was HARD. In half an hour only one person was able to fully complete it. So make sure you bill yourself some time if you are going to do it.

That’s all for now!

-M-