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-

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-

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-