4-6th Grade Virtual Book Discussion: Journey of the Pale Bear w/ Paper Horse

Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher is a juvenile fiction book best for 4-7th grade.

When a great white bear is to be a gift from the King of Norway to the King of England, she is called a royal bear. When Arthur, a twelve-year-old runaway, first comes in contact with this bear, he is terrified. Miraculously, the bear doesn’t harm him, instead she lets him near and when no one else but Arthur is able to calm the bear, he is recruited as her caretaker for the sea journey from Norway to London.

As he continues to care for the bear, Arthur realizes that there is some connection between them, an understanding he cannot name. But the journey is fraught with peril and when the bear has a chance at freedom, will she take it or choose to save this human boy she has come to care for.

Based on a true story of a great white bear who lived in the Tower of London, this book displays the bond between a boy and a bear.

Discussion Questions:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?

2. Why is this book considered historical fiction? Do you know of any other books the fit in this genre? What historical events do they cover?

3. What are some of the reasons why Arthur runs away from home? Do you think he should have put so much faith into a letter he couldn’t even read?

4. Arthur and the bear seem to share an instant connection. Think about the bear’s experience in a cage and away from his natural habitat. Why do you think Arthur relates to the bear’s situation?

5. Arthur’s father died, leaving a large hole in Arthur’s life; Arthur imagines that the bear may also have been separated from her cubs. Why is family, or the lack of family, such an important part of this novel? How does it drive the characters’ actions?

6. When Arthur finally tells someone that Hauk took his letter, he leaves Ottar out of it, saying, “I knew what it was to be the weak one.” After they are bullied, people often go on to be bullies themselves. Why do you think that Arthur wants to protect Ottar instead of getting revenge? How is Arthur’s kindness rewarded later in the book?

7. Did you already know about the King of England’s menagerie? What animals do you think the king might have?

8. Freedom is an important theme in this book. When the keeper explains that some animals “languish” in captivity, what is he saying? Can you name some of the different types of cages, real or figurative, portrayed in this book?

9. Are there potential downsides to being free, both for people and for bears? Explain?

10. What did you think of the ending? Were you surprised by how the story ended? Think back to the prologue.

DYI Paper Boat and Moving Horse

Origami is the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes and figures. Paper was first invented in China around 105 A.D., and was brought to Japan by monks in the sixth century. It was original used for ceremonial purposes and has flourished since. Today origami can employee the use of mathematics and engineering and even computer science to create these intricate designs.

Supplies needed: Several sheets of paper, scissors, a ruler and a pencil. If you have origami paper that will work too.

First, I am going to show the kids how to make an easy origami boat. The reason we are going to do this one first is because I want us to truly be successful at one of our paper crafts. The walking paper horse can be a bit difficult to get right the first or second time and I think we’ll have time to do both. So the boat is going to be a warm up.

PS. check the sources, there’s a link for the origami bear, that I would have loved to use, but it was really hard!

This is the site I am going to go off of for the folding:
https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/origami-sail-boat-tutorial-2540983

Next, we will try the walking paper horse. This one takes some precise measurements and some trial an error with the surface and incline the horse walks on. But I think it’ll be a lot of fun if we can get it to work.

This is the site I am going to reference:
https://frugalfun4boys.com/paper-horse-that-walks/

Sources:

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Journey-of-the-Pale-Bear/Susan-Fletcher/9781534420786

https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/origami-patterns

How’d it go:

Oh man, I don’t know why but I could not recreate my paper boat! I gave the kids the link to try from home. But our paper horse worked out pretty well and I think the kids are going to keep trying to perfect it. They did walk at least a little bit by the end.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Smartest Kid in the Universe

The Smartest Kid in the Universe by Chris Grabenstein is a juvenile fiction book for 4-6th graders.

Twelve-year-old, Jake McQuade, is perfectly content with living a mediocre life. He’s happy living an easy-breezy life, putting in minimal effort and his only goal is to be a likeable guy. That is, until he eats a handful of jelly beans and suddenly becomes the smartest kid in the universe!

Suddenly, Jake is in high demand. Even the government wants his help cracking codes and catching bad guys. But will Jake have enough smarts when his friends and his school need him?

This was a fun read. An easy and fairly light book, with a couple of laughs and lots of, mostly interesting, facts.

My favorite characters in this book were Kojo and Haazim Farooqi. Kojo is your typical good natured, jokester. But he is also smart and sincere in his own way. And Haazim, just had this kooky scientist vibe going on. I just loved his forgetfulness and almost cavalier approach to science.

One thing I did not like about this book, was that the topic of the morality of Jake’s new found ingestible knowledge. Only once, was it really mentioned that Jake’s smarts were akin to cheating and even then, it was only glossed over. This is something we will definitely discuss in my book club. Was it really right for Jake to be on the quiz bowl team?

Overall, I think kids will really enjoy this novel. It’s part trivia quest, part treasure hunt and part middle school fiction. This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Coop Knows the Scoop

Coop Knows the Scoop by Taryn Souders is a juvenile fiction book, good for 4-6th graders.

Windy Bottom, Georgia is your typical small southern town; everybody knows everybody and gossip rules the day. So when a body is found buried underneath the playground slide, it is all anyone can talk about.

Coop and his friends Liberty and Justice are just as curious as everyone else, and itching to take a peek of the crime scene. But first, they have to finish their chores at their parent’s Bookstore Cafe.

Excitement in the town is high, until fingers start pointing in a very personal direction. Coop’s gramps is somehow connected to the body and what was once harmless gossip, turns to finger pointing real quick!

Can Coop find the scoop before it is too late?

Oh man, if you are going to do this one, do the audio. It was so fun and I literally had to keep myself from speaking in a really horrible southern accent every time I listened to it.

This is a really easy read and a good one if your kids like mystery. It’s not the hardest one to uncover but there are some definitely hidden details that were a fun reveal at the end.

I liked pretty much all of the characters in this book. They really contribute to that small town feel.

I am going to use this one for my book club sometime. It’ll be a nice break after a longer or more serious book. There may not be a ton of discussion questions I can pull from it, but sometimes a lighter read is good for the kids.

This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

4-6th Grade Virtual Book Discussion: Boy Bites Bug w/ DIY Chromatography Butterfly 

Boy Bites Bug by Rebecca Petruck is a middle school juvenile fiction book for 4th-6th graders. 

Will didn’t intend to eat a stinkbug, but when his friend Darryl calls the new kid, Eloy Herrera, a racial slur, he didn’t think he just acted. Now will is Bug Boy and he kind of likes it. 

Intending to keep up his notoriety and title as Bug Boy, Will talks Eloy into helping him get his classmates to eat bugs. But the more Will learns about Eloy and entomophagy in general, the more sincere he becomes about his project. For Will, eating bugs is no longer just a joke but everyone sees it that way. And what’s worse, he really likes Eloy and is afraid he may have ruined this budding friendship. 

What can Will do to make everyone understand his real intentions when all anyone can see if a joke? 

Discussion Questions: 

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes? 

2. What is the difference between entomophagy and entomology?  

3. Will doesn’t intend to eat a stinkbug but he does it anyway. Why? And why is this so important to the story? 

4. In many cultures eating insects is commonly practiced. Have you ever eaten a bug? Why do you think there is a stigma around eating bugs? 

5. What do you think about Will as a character? Is he relatable, over-the-top, silly…

6. As Will’s friendship with Elroy grows, he and Darryl start to grow apart. When Will asks his dad for advice he says: “Sometimes,” Dad said, “people outgrow each other.  It doesn’t mean we stop caring or forget the good times, but maybe we realize we need different things, things that we can’t get from each other anymore.” Have you every “outgrown” a friendship? Or has anyone “outgrown” you? How did it make you feel? 

7. Will gets in the whole mess because he didn’t like how Darryl was treat Eloy but Will has his own prejudices that he isn’t even aware. What are some examples? 

8. What did you think about the “Buck-a-Bug” fundraiser? Was Will able to successfully turn Entomophagy from a joke into a good cause? 

9. In the background of this story, is Will’s longing to be on the varsity wrestling team. Before his big match his coach says, “Take a breath… Whatever’s going on, it’ll still be there when you get off the matt.” Do you ever feel like you can escape into a hobby and let everything else go? 

10. Think about cultural differences around the world. Can you name some things that would be done every day somewhere else, that might see unusual here? And vic-versa, what might we do that other would look on as “different.”  

DIY Activity: Chromatography Butterfly 

Supplies Needed: white coffee filters (large size, not Kcups); non-permanent markers; cup of water; string; scissors; pipe cleaners optional. 

Directions: 

  1. Pick a marker (try with multiple marks on your second attempt and see what happens). 
  1. Take one coffee filter and spread it out on top of a piece of paper. Draw a circle in the flat middle of the filter. 
  1. Fold the coffee filter in half and then in half again. It will look somewhat like a cone.  
  1. Get a short glass of water and stick the filter in with just the tip of the cone touching the water. Fan out the rest so it balances in the cup.  
  1. Let sit and watch what happens as the filter sucks up the water.  
  1. Flatten it out and place on your paper or newspaper to dry.  
  1. Once dry, take your filter and scrunch it in the middle. Tie the middle with string or your pipe cleaner. If you are using the pipe cleaner, the ends can still out to look like antenna.  
  1. Hang the butterfly with string and watch them fly! 

The Science:  

“Chromatography… is the science of separating mixtures. Mikhail Tsvet discovered that since different color pigments have different weights, they are carried along at different speeds, and end up in different places. So one can use different substances (gas or liquid) to carry the color, and by examining where different tints end, figure out what pigments were combined to make it.” 
-(https://kidminds.org/chromatography-experiments-with-kids-5-ways/)

How’d it go:

We had a great group for book club this month! Some new faces and some really great discussion. We had a little trouble getting the hang of how far to dip our coffee filters into the water, but it was all part of trial and error. This was a good month!

That’s all for now!

-M-

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-