Shine! by J.J. and Chris Grabenstein is a juvenile fiction novel for 4-6th graders.
Piper Milly has a talent for blending in. She can’t sing or dance, she doesn’t excel at sports or hangs with the popular crowd. She’s smart, she likes astronomy and she’s happy with her small group of friends. So when her dad get’s a new job at a prestigious prep school, Piper is bummed that she has to transfer.
Chumley Prep is definitely a school for the rich and Piper definitely doesn’t fit in. Shortly after she joins the school, she finds out that a mysterious award will be awarded to the “best” student of winter break. Piper shrugs off the contest because she would never win that sort of thing, or would she?
Discussion Questions / Further Reading
What is this book about? What are the main themes?
What did you like and dislike in this book? What would have made it better?
What STEM themes can you pull out of this book?
Do you think Piper did the right thing when she gave back the money that she and Hannah found at the mall? What would you do? What if you only found a $1? $20? $50?
How important is it for you to get good grades and excel in school, sports, and/or the arts? How does this make you feel?
Depending on the culture and area in the world, people see the moon’s shadow as something different. It makes Piper realize that a lot of things look different depending on your point of view. Can you think of an example in your life or an issue in the world where this applies?
What do you think of Piper’s acts of kindness? Would you do the same?
Let’s think about Mr. Van Deusen’s assignment (p51-52). Who do you want to be? Not when your grown up. Not in the future. Now.
What did you think about the Excelsior competition now that you know what is it? Why do you think Chumley Prep needed this competition?
Why is this book called Shine! What message is this book meant to inspire?
First, create your moon surfaces by pouring an even layer of flour in the foil pan. Smooth it out and then lightly sprinkle a layer of coco powder on top. You may want to use a tarp or plastic table cloth underneath.
Try to select “meteors” of varying size and weight.
A small and large marble, a foil ball, maybe a nerf ball or a large bouncy ball.
Set up three different heights to drop the objects from. ie standing, on a stool from a table top.
Take turns dropping each item. For the first test, try dropping the same marble from each height. Then test your other sized objects.
Measure the size and depth of each “crater” made. Keep track on paper.
Which marble from which height made the deepest/largest impact? What does this tell you?
Dropping the marbles at various heights can show us how speed affects the size of the craters. Using different sized objects, shows how the mass of the object also affects the size and shape of the impact crater.
Piper found that “The rounder the object hitting the moon, the faster an object is travelling, the farther away an object is from the moon, the larger the crater it creates.” (p104)
This was the last one run by my colleauge while I am on maternity leave but I decided to join in because I just loved this book. Overall, this was a fun one and everyone had their supplies ready. I made my coco level a little too thick but other than that everything went great!
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.
I really enjoyed this middle grade read. It was light hearted and serious at the same time. Sal is a fun kid and everyone knows at least one Gabi in their own life. There’s something charming about the book even though there is a lot going on.
Much of this book includes Spanish culture, vocabulary and phrases. This is really neat but, for someone like me who doesn’t really know any Spanish, was a smidgen frustrating at times. It did make me want to go look up what I didn’t know, which is always a great learning opportunity. And bilingual children will just love reading a book that embraces booth English and Spanish.
A bit unrealistic in my opinion but I loved the adults in this book. Especially the Gabi-dads. At first you are wondering how this works… Was the mother married that often? Is Gabi in foster care? What is going on here? But, by the end you realize that being a “dad” isn’t necessarily something ruled by blood; the definition of what makes a family is a broad thing and we all have “aunts,” “brothers” and “sisters” that aren’t related to us, so why not dads too?
This is going to be a fun one to discuss with my book club. It gets 5 stars from me.
Eli Frieden has never even stepped outside of his hometown Serenity, New Mexico… but when you live in a town that is perfect in every way, why would you want to. At least that is what he’s been raised to believe, until one day he bikes to the edge of town and everything changes.
Now Eli is questioning everything that make Serenity what it is, even his own father might be in on it… but in on what? Together he and his friends work together to uncover what secrets a town without secrets is really hiding. And what they found out, will shift the way they think about their world forever.
Once the truth is out, will anything ever be the same?
What is this book about? What are the main themes?
Eli and his friends live in the “perfect” town. What makes Serenity perfect?
In the beginning of the novel, Hector says that he knows his parents care for him, even if they don’t show it, because he heard them say that he was “valuable.” Think about the difference between value and love. Is to be valued enough?
As Eli and his friends start to realize something is wrong in Serenity, the first thing they discover is that their internet, books and basic information is being censored. What is censorship and how would you feel if your internet was censored?
Once the kids realize that they are test subjects and that the town was build for them, the realize that they are being put under “tests of character.” What is this and how would this make you feel?
The big reveal is that the kids find out they are actually clones of criminal masterminds. How would you feel about being a clone and a clone of a criminal at that?
Each of the kids show strengths in an area that might be connected to their criminal genes? What are some examples of this?
One theme in this book is nature vs nurture—is it our genes that tell us who we will be or is it the way we are raised. Let’s discuss this. What do you think?
Each of the kids feel differently when they find out that their parents are in on Serenity’s secret. Can you understand each of their reactions? How would you feel?
Where do you think the story is heading? Will the kids run or will they seek revenge or to out the whole experiment?
STEM Activity:Erupting Lemon
Supplies: Lemons (grab a few!); Baking Soda; Food Coloring; Dawn Dish Soap; Plate, Tray, or Bowl;
Cut one of your lemons in half and place it in a bowl or on a plate with a lip to catch any juices.
Juice the other half of the lemon and put the juice to the side.
Take your craft stick and poke holes in the various sections of the lemon half. This will help spur the reaction along.
If you want to have fun visualizing the reaction, put a few drops of different color food coloring on the sections.
Pour a small amount of dawn dish soap over the lemon to add a fun bubble effect. Have a spare lemon? Try the experiment without the soap and see what the difference is.
Now sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda onto the top of the lemon. To help get the reaction going, you can use your craft stick to push the baking soda down into the sections of the lemon. You can also add some of your lemon juice if you want.
Watch what happens. Be patient, the reaction is a slow one.
What other citrus fruit can you use? Do you think the reactions would be the same? Bigger or smaller?
Why did the lemon erupt? Because of a chemical reaction between the critic acid from the lemon juice is reacting to the base of the baking soda creating a gas called carbon dioxide. The dawn dish soap is reacting to the fizz of the carbon dioxide to create bubbles and make the reaction a bit more visible.
Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile by Marcia Wells is a 4-6th grade juvenile fiction novel about a smart kid who teams up with the police to catch art thieves.
Sixth grader Edmund, aka Eddie Red, has a photographic memory and some really great art skills, which makes him the perfect tool for the NYPD to use to catch a renowned group of art thieves called the Picasso Gang. But not everyone is as thrilled as Eddie is to be working with the police.
As Eddie continues to work the case, he and his genius best friend dig themselves in deeper and may find themselves in a whole lot of trouble.
What is this book about? What are the main themes?
Where do you think Edmund got his code name “Eddie Red” from?
Edmund has a photographic memory. What advantages or disadvantages might there be to having such a memory?
It takes three things to solve a police investigation according to Edmund. What are they and how does he use them to solve the Mystery on Museum Mile?
Edmund is a pretty relatable character. What character traits does Edmund have that you might relate to?
What are your personal stakeout must haves?
What do you notice first when you meet someone? What disguise might you use to make yourself unrecognizable.
Detective Bovano isn’t a fan of Edmund working for the police. Why do you think this is so? And how might Edmund try to get on Bovano’s good side?
At the end of the novel, Edmund seems to have gained a new sense of self confidence and helps his friend deal with a bully. How do you deal with bullies?
Is there anything you would change about this novel? Anything too predictable? Any loose ends?
STEM Activity:“Non-Newtonian Fluid” experiment
Supplies: Plastic Tupperware tub big enough to put your two hands in; corn starch; water
Add corn starch to your plastic container. Keep track of how much you add.
Add 1 part water to 2 parts corn startch. I.e. if you added 2 cups of corn startch, you would add 1 cup of water.
Stir the mixture until it forms a thick mass that is no longer powdery.
Very slowly, stick your hand in the mixture. Notice that your hand comes back wet and powdery. Clean your hand off.
Now quickly hit, slap, knead, the mixture. Your hand should not go through the mass. You could run on it, hit it with a hammer and if you do it quickly enough, you should remain on the surface of the mass and not go under it.
“Non-Newtonian liquids do not obey the laws of ordinary liquids. They change their density and viscosity under the impact of physical force.” The starch particles bond with the liquid forming “chaotically interlaced molecules.” At a higher “shear” or impact rate, the tight bonds do not let the molecules separate, staying more of a solid. At a lower “shear” or impact rate, the bonds loosen and the molecules act more like a liquid. Non-Newtonian liquids do not obey the normal laws of physics. You can find out more about this experiment at MELS Chemistry.
Oh man, what a frazzled book club! Somehow the link to my Zoom meeting was broken and here I am sitting there thinking no one would come and then a colleague tells me the link is broken. So quickly emailed the crew and changed the link and by then I was a mess. We had a very speedy discussion, a small group and a messy, messy experiment. *Sigh* It was bound to happen.
Arcade and the Triple T Token by Rashad Jennings is the first book in a junveile fiction series probably best for 4-6th graders.
Eleven-year-old Arcade Livingston has some typical kid problems–he’s moved to a new city and is the new kid at school, some bullies have him in their sights and having to take the subway everywhere makes it difficult to check out all the library books he wants. But he also has one very unusual problem… a mysterious token that seems to be transporting him on some pretty crazy adventures.
Together with his older sister, Zoe, Arcade will learn to navigate his new home, while trying to uncover the secrets of this magical token that appeared out of no where.
This was a really fun read and quick too! I found the characters super relatable, each in their own way, and Arcade is someone you can definitely see being a friend. There’s almost this idea of stepping into another person’s shoes that the author is playing with, through the lens of “what do I want to be when I grow up,” a question that a lot of middle grade kids are just starting to explore. I sort of loved that each of Arcade’s adventures were tied in to one of his friends interests and desires.
Arcade is sort of this “go to guy,” the guy who knows all the answers, even if he has no idea what he wants to be himself. He’s smart in an observant way and I liked how he sees the world around him.
There’s also a secondary lesson going on in the background with this one–this idea of why should we only think inside the box, when there are other ways of looking at the world. It’s a more obscure theme, but it’s there.
The fifth book is about to come out in this series, so I think this would be a great one for both boys and girls in 4-6th grade. There’s a lot to discuss and a lot that can be explored about ones own aspirations. This book gets a high 4.5 stars from me.