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!


The Van Gogh Deception

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.

This book was action packed from the beginning. It has a quick pace and the kids are basically on the run from the get-go. I think The Van Gogh Deception has a lot going for it. There is action, there is drama and there is also a lot of interesting facts about art, art history and art restoration.

I wanted to pick a different type of book for my STEM Book Club and I thought this one might do the trick. It is definitely more STEAM then STEM but there are definitely some STEM elements that we can pull out of it–art restoration, tech and chemical compounds to name a few. There is also a QR code for each of the pieces of art mentioned so that kids can see the pictures of the art and learn a bit about them. Once could even talk about what and QR code does.

Like most action packed juvenile fiction stand alone books, I this one ended quite abruptly. Not in an unsatisfying way but I would have liked like a two page epilogue or something. Just more than the hint of a happy ending.

Overall, this was a quick and easy read that I think would appeal to both boys and girls. This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!


Drop-In STEAM Fun!

Hi Guys,

This summer we are running two separate drop-in STEAM programs. For those who don’t know, STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math. Basically, we plan fun crafty or activity activities for the kids that are about an hour long. We target these programs toward elementary aged students.

For this one, I decided to go with the Engineering theme but you could definitely make a case for the other STEAM elements as well. I adapted this program from FamilyVolley.com. Broadly, we are going to be working together to build “shelters” out of news paper and masking tape. But don’t worry, there’s a catch!

Give your attendees a few minutes to show up. Once you have a nice sized group of kids, split them up evenly into groups of four. You may have to make bigger groups depending on the number of kids you get. In my case, I have enough masking tape rolls for between 6-8 groups. Once you have your kids grouped nicely, you give them their prompt…

Imagine, you are trapped on a deserted island. There are no trees, no big rocks, nothing but sand and ocean. The sun is beating down on you! You need to build a shelter. Good thing you were shipwrecked with a boat full of newspaper and masking tape, right?!

Along with your fellow castaways you must use the newspaper and the masking tape to build a shelter that has a roof and everyone in your group must fit in it. You have ten minutes to build your shelter using the supplies in front of you. 

BUT WAIT!!! You’re on a deserted island with NOO water. You are thirsty. So thirsty! You’re so thirsty, in fact, that you can’t speak. You and your group must build your shelter without talking. If you talk, a typhoon –in the form of Ms. Maranda’s watergun– may come and destabilize your shelter. 

Are you ready? GO! 20180726_191625

Yes, you read that right. The kids have ten minutes to build a fort out of news paper and masking tape that MUST have a roof and the all have to fit under it. AND they have to build it all without talking or I will shoot their fort with a squirt gun. Best, STEAM activity ever!

You definitely want to reiterate the rules. The fort must have a roof and everyone must fit inside.

After the first ten minutes if no one is successful you can mix it up by telling the kids they can talk or if they really need help, that they can build off of their first shelter.

How’d it go: 20180726_191342

This program was an example of going with the flow. I started everything just how I said and I never had to use my water gun!! Seriously, I said they couldn’t talk for 10 minutes and they didn’t! I was literally shocked. After 10 minutes though, no one was even close to building their shelter, so I gave them another 10 minutes where they could talk and the adults could help.

By the end of the twenty minutes, I had one group make it and just barely. I never specified that their whole bodies had to be in the shelter did I? This helped a lot of the groups and by the end of the hour all the groups had shelters that could stand on their own for 30 seconds, had a roof and they fit in, in some way.

This was a lot of fun and took literally no prep!

That’s all for now!


Fort Night

Hi Guys,

So one of our requirements for this summer was to swap a program with another library.20170727_184334 That’s where I got this fun fort night idea. I mean really, who doesn’t remember building forts out of blankets and cushions when they were little? That and we are building a better world, so fort night fits perfectly in with the summer reading theme.

This was a pretty easy actually. I spent about $25.00 on cheap plastic tablecloths in a variety of colors and we used some table clips / binder clips. About a day before the program I realized that plastic tablecloths were probably not the best choice but it was the most bang for my buck. That being said, I did sit the kids down before we got started and we had a little safety chat.

20170727_185241How we did this was by putting out a bunch of tables and chairs in our large meeting room that the kids could use as the base of their structures. I then let them pick out a few tablecloths and get building. This was actually a great teamwork program because we only had so much supplies so the kids had to work together to build their tents. I know another library who actually let the kids build their tents in the stacks, but our branch is too big for that and I was too nervous to be honest.

51zh4rf3k5l-_sx392_bo1204203200_After we finished building our tents, the kids brought in books and had some reading time. We finished up fort night by gathering around my fo-campfire and I read two camping themed stories: A Camping Spree With Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen & One-Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova.

Although hectic, this was a really great and unique program. I think it would also work really well if you incorporate some type of tent building into a PJ storytime.

51bngl7vkcl-_sx362_bo1204203200_This is definitely one I would consider doing again with just a little tweaking.

That’s all for now!


Story Yoga

Hi Guys,

A while ago I had to develop a STEAM program without any funds or supplies. We were at the end of our supply budget for the year, so we wanted to see what we could come up with that would still fall under the STEM or STEAM category but take very little materials.

I came across Cosmic Kids Yoga one day and thought this would be perfect. Cosmic Kids Yoga has a ton of awesome videos and lesson plans and just some really great goodies for making yoga fun for kids. Seriously check it out.

I was totally sold when I saw a lesson plan for We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. This is a storytime book we use all the time and I thought the repetition would be great for getting the kids used to the moves as we got further along in the story. This lesson plan has all of the moves laid out for you and even comes with some picture poses, so even a novice yogi will be able to do it with the kids. 51r454qvsal-_sy440_bo1204203200_

I changed a few things around in the lesson plan, but for the most part stuck with the majority of the poses. When promoting this program I targeted it for kids 2 and up and said that yoga mats are welcome but optional.

I started out by getting everyone to gather around and we all sat on the floor. I told them what we would be doing today and explained how we were going to combine our love for books with some fun yoga moves. (The parents were pretty impressed!) Then we read through our story first, to give the kids a feel for the story. From there I asked if we were ready to give the story a try with some yoga poses.


We started out real slow and each move we did together while repeating the line before moving on to the next one. There was quite a mix of ages so I wanted to make sure that the little ones were getting it before we moved on. Then, as we started to get familiar with the story and the poses that repeated, we were able to move a little faster. By the end we were laughing and the kids were asking for more.

That was really all I had planned and when I practiced it took a lot longer. Only 15-20 minutes had gone by and everyone wanted to do some more yoga, so we repeated some of our moves from the story and sort of played follow the leader, while I told them what to do.

I am doing this program again next week, so I am definitely going to tweak a few things to prepare to make it longer. I think I will start off with the story again, then the lesson plan all-but a little slower, and then I am going to show one of Jamie’s 15 minute videos and we can all do it together.

Overall, this was a really fun and pretty easy program with plenty of room for adjustment.

That’s all for now!