Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
Tracie's NEW BOOK!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bicycle Madness

Bicycle Madness By Jane Kurtz
Illustrated By Beth Peck

Note from the author, Jane Kurtz:

When I stumbled onto a picture of Frances Willard wobbling on her bicycle around the turn of the century, I was instantly curious.  Who was this woman and why was she trying to ride a bicycle in her long skirts?  After I discovered she was the most famous woman of her time, I became even more curious.  Why hadn't I ever heard of her?  Curiosity is a good thing for a writer.  Luckily, Frances Willard left behind a lot of writing about her own life and her dreams of a better life for women and children in America--including votes for women and schools for children.  Since I had one smart son who struggled mightily with spelling, the idea popped into my head to give the real Frances Willard a made-up next-door neighbor facing a terrifying spelling bee.  And that was the beginning of Bicycle Madness.

Pre-reading Activity:

Look at the cover of the book: What do you think is going on between the girl and the older woman? How do you think they know each other? What can you tell about the time period of the book?

Prediction Guide
Great readers keep themselves involved in the story while they’re reading by making predictions about what might happen next. These guesses are based on evidence that the author gives you and what you know about stories (like things usually get worse before they get better). The important thing is not whether you answer the questions correctly but that you think about them. After answering each question at the end of a chapter make a reasonable question that you’d like to see answered in the next chapter or two. This prediction will help keep you tuned-in when your brain tries to take a commercial break!

Ch. 1
Why does she think it is “completely impossible?”

Ch. 2
What will happen if Lillie falls?

Ch. 3
What will happen between Miss Frances and Lillie?

Ch. 4
Predict what will happen if Miss Frances continues to ride her bicycle.

Ch. 5
What will Lillie’s father say about her taking care of the pets?

Ch. 6
How will Lillie get out of this predicament?

Ch. 7
Predict what Father will do when he finds out.

Ch. 8
Do you think Lillie will be punished? In what way?

Ch. 9
Will Father ever talk directly to Miss Willard? What might he say?

Ch. 10
Will Lillie say anything to Hattie about the teasing? What?

Ch. 11
What will Minerva say to her after the spelling bee?

Ch. 12
How will Minerva and Lillie’s friendship turn out?


Understanding historical words and phrases can be a stumbling block to understanding a story set in a different time. The following words may confuse young readers. The class could define the words before reading each chapter or make a chart for vocabulary listing the words and how it is used in context with a guess as to its meaning. Words within quotations are common sayings of the day and probably will not be found in a dictionary. There meaning will have to be gleaned by the context alone.


Ch. 1
“all-overish day”
Gibson Girl
“a safety”

Ch. 2

Ch. 3
bicycle hands

Ch. 4
pleats and flounces

Ch. 5
Aleutian Island
pneumatic tires

Ch. 6

Ch. 7

Ch. 8

Ch. 9
“royal time”

Ch. 10

Ch. 11

Ch. 12
“Bully for you”




This activity will help children understand unfamiliar words and access their background knowledge.


As students read Bicycle Madness have them write vocabulary words in the left hand column of the chart. They should color in the block that best represents their level of understanding of each word. Model how to find a word and glean information about the word in its original context. If you’re working with a group, ask students to contribute their own understanding with the class.

Knowledge Rating


Know the meaning

Have some ideas about the meaning
Don’t know the meaning

Knowledge Rating lesson and graphic designed by educational consultant and author
 Jennifer Jacobs, just click her name to visit her website and find more great resources for teaching!

Comprehension check:

  1. What are the big changes Lillie has faced in the last year?
  2. Make a list of ten characters, a brief description of them, and their relationship to Lillie.
  3. What is Lillie’s biggest conflict at school? How does it get resolved?
  4. What promise does Lillie make that will cause her to disobey her father?
  5. What does she do?
  6. Compare and contrast the historical time in the book to the present day.
  7. How does Miss Willard change Lillie?
  8. Explain what many thought of women riding bicycles in the 1890’s.
  9. What do you think Lillie will be when she grows up?
  10.  Which chapter in the book is your favorite? Why? What was the most interesting thing you learned?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you suppose Lillie’s father opposes Miss Frances when some of her ideals might help his problems at work?

  1.  Have any of the issues that concerned Miss Frances been solved today?

  1. What are examples of injustices that are mentioned in Bicycle Madness that still need to be corrected today? For example, do sweatshops still exist?  Do children still labor? 

4.     What are some issues that are still being debated?  Should prisoners be allowed the vote?  Should kids?  Should the children of illegal aliens be allowed to attend school?

5.     How do you think Miss Frances would feel over these modern advances: the internet, email, and commercial airlines.

Across the Curriculum:

Language Arts:
Letter writing was an important skill, especially in the late 1800’s. Choose three of the following types of letters and write them from one character in Bicycle Madness to another.

Ex: Thank you note from Lillie to Miss Willard

Thank you note
Friendly letter
Sympathy letter
Editorial letter

Research the typical wages of various workers of the late 1890’s and also the cost of common goods. Then research the same information for today. Compare what you learned and write a brief journal about your reaction.  (Example list of goods or brainstorm your own:  bicycle, loaf of bread, dress, shoes, house and a pound of sugar)

During the time period that Bicycle Madness takes place a type of architecture (or design of buildings and homes) that was popular was Victorian. It was marked by fancy woodwork and beautiful turrets (castle looking additions and spires) and large covered porches. From the descriptions in the book, Lillie certainly lived in one of these gorgeous designed homes. Visit this website to view pictures of Victorian homes:

and then design your own Victorian floor plan by following the instructions at this website:


As a class, brainstorm a THEN and NOW chart about Bicycle Madness. List in chart the things that kids in Lillie’s time had to worry about compared to those of kids today. Are there any things that might be on both lists? (homework, bullying, exclusive clubs, etc.)

Listen to the song “Daisy, Daisy” and read the lyrics at this website:

Then, as Hattie changed the words of the lyrics to tease Lillie, you and a partner can change the lyrics to have it be about the book Bicycle Madness in some original way.


Bicycle Madness is set in a time period of extraordinary social and scientific change. Research one of the topics that concerns Miss Willard (and eventually Lillie too) and write a pamphlet about what you learned. Possible topics include: voting rights, child labor, temperance movement, history of bicycles, Frances Willard, Ida B. Wells, unions and strikes, women’s rights.

Reading Comprehension Strategies

While reading a chapter highlight (or use post it note flags) words or phrases that really helped you get a picture in your mind of what was happening in the story.

Find two places in each chapter where you become confused. Try to figure out who is involved, where they are, what they are doing, why they are there. Record your answers on a paper folded lengthwise with the page numbers corresponding to the answers.

Making Connections:

Chapter &
p. #
Text to text
Text to self
Text to world

Tell how this book reminds you of another in plot, content, style or structure

Relate what you just read to an experience or memory from your own life
Show how the book relates to events from the real world, or facts and info. that you know

The way the characters speak reminds me of LITTLE WOMEN
Like Lillie, I would’ve been scared to death to outright defy my father!
I wonder if child labor still exists today and where. I know it was a big problem during this time period.

Monitoring Comprehension

Keep a double entry diary for two chapters. Fold a page lengthwise in half. On one side write down a quote and page number from the text, on the other, finish this phrase, “I got confused at this point because…”


Keep a journal as if you are Lillie and write a two sentence summary of what happened in each chapter right after you’ve finished reading it.

Related Texts:

Turn of the Century by Nancy Levinson
Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor  by Russell Freedman
Mrs. Peachtree’s Bicycle by Erica Silverman