Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Novels of Wendelin Van Draanen

Wendelin Van Draanen
Author Study Guide

If you’re looking for an author who can appeal to both boys and girls with adventure, quirky characters, and action that will appeal to even the most reluctant reader then you simply must include the books of Wendelin Van Draanen in your classroom library. From the series Gecko and Sticky for younger readers through the wildly popular middle grade mystery series, Sammy Keyes to compelling contemporary YA novels like Flipped and Runaway students of every age and reading level will find a character to root for and follow.

About the author:
Wendelin Van Draanen has been everything from a forklift driver to a high school teacher but is now enjoying life as a full-time writer. The books in the Sammy Keyes mystery series have been embraced by critics and readers alike, and Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief received the Edgar Allan poe Award for Best Children’s Mystery. Ms. Van Draanen lives with her husband and two sons in California. Her hobbies include the “three R’s”: reading, running and rock ‘n’ roll.

    Author study ideas:

    Read at least two books my Wendelin Van Draanen and then consider one of the following projects:

    Create a venn diagram comparing the two books including the major characters, the setting, the conflict and the resolution.

    Find your two favorite scenes in each book and discuss what makes these so effective. What can you learn as a writer by studying these scenes? How does it inspire you in your own writing? Create a “ten things I learned” list by studying these scenes.

    Create a Powerpoint, poster, pamphlet or video commercial about your favorite Van Draanen book. Be sure to pique the audience’s interest without giving away the ending.

    Create a quiz based on both novels and turn in an answer key with your test.
    Write a letter to Wendelin Van Draanen about your favorite book or series. Explain what you love about it and what you think it would be like to be friends with the main character.

    Sammy Keyes Mystery Series:

    Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief
    Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man
    Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy
    Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf
    Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary
    Sammy Keyes and the Hollywood Mummy
    Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes
    Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception
    Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen
    Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway
    Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things
    Sammy Keyes and the Cold Hard Cash

    Sammy Keyes Discussion questions:

    1. Who are the characters that revolve around Sammy’s life? Which is your favorite? Why? How does Van Draanen develop them for the reader?
    2. Describe Sammy. Would you, like Gran, want to have her as your best friend through middle school? Why or why not?
    3. Compare Marissa’s life to Sammy’s. What are the differences between them? Why does Marissa consider Sammy lucky despite living in The Towers?
    4. Do you think Sammy gets herself in deeper trouble or does it just find her somehow? Do you think she’s capable of staying out of a mystery? Are you?
    5. Find a favorite description (or scene of dialogue) from one of the Sammy Keyes mysteries. What did you learn as a writer by studying this part? What can you apply to your next piece of writing?
    6. Which of the Sammy Keyes mysteries is your favorite? Why? What elements make a terrific mystery?


    Reading: Create a chart that has the following elements: a list of characters from the current Keyes mystery you’re reading and a description of them, their relationship to Sammy, and the most important things to know about them.

    Writing: Develop a poster, powerpoint or blog entry about the Sammy Keyes series and why kids should try it.

    Art: Use an old shoebox to create a three-dimensional piece of art inspired by the mystery in the story. Be sure to use the title somewhere on your piece and include clues to solving the mystery (but don’t give it away).

    Pretend that Sammy Keyes is turning into a TV Show and write the lyrics (and the tune if you like) for the opening theme song. Think about your own favorite shows and their theme songs for inspiration.

    Gecko & Sticky

    Gecko & Sticky and The Villain’s Lair
    Gecko & Sticky and The Greatest Power
    Gecko & Sticky and the Sinister Substitute

    Discussion Questions:

    1. How did Dave and Sticky become amigo’s? What would be the best part of having Sticky as your pet?
    2. Describe the Aztec powerband. How does it work? Why is it so important to the story? Which of the powers would you most like to have? Why?
    3. Who are the villains in the Gecko and Sticky series? What makes a good villain?
    4. Describe Dave (Gecko) and Sticky. How do we, as the reader, get to know them? Who is your favorite? Why?
    5. Which of the Gecko and Sticky books is your favorite? Why? What would you tell your best friend about the series?
    6. Dave created his own business, Roadrunner Express. What type of business would you like to run? Why? What are the requirements for success in Dave’s business? What would be in that list for you?


    Reading: Van Draanen is a master of suspenseful chapter endings. At the end of each chapter make a predication about what you think will happen next, and why. Remember that predictions are based on evidence from the story and what you know about stories in general.

    Writing: Create a story map or cause and effect chart for one of the Geck and Sticky books as you read it. Study how Van Draanen creates tension and write a journal on how to use what you learned in your next piece of narrative writing.

    Science: Create a poster or pamphlet about an unusual animal and its amazing adaptations (like the gecko’s sticky fingers or the Komodo dragons tongue)

    Create a video commercial (live or taped) or print advertisement  (magazine or poster-sized) about the Gecko and Sticky series and who should read it. Explain why the series is exciting but remember not to give too much away!


    Shredderman: Secret Identity
    Shredderman: Attack of the Tagger
    Shredderman: Meet the Gecko
    Shredderman: Enemy Spy

    Discussion questions:

    1. Who is Nolan Byrd? How would you describe him? What (or who, more accurately) is his problem? How does he deal with it? How would you?
    2. How does a school project inspire a new super hero? What does Shredderman do exactly?
    3. Does your school have any problems with bullying? What is the best thing to do with a bully?
    4. Would you like  a Shredderman site for your own school? What do you think it would do?
    5. How does the Shredderman site change over the books? How does Nolan change too?
    6. Which of the books is your favorite? Why? Which character is the most interesting to you? How do we get to know characters in a story?


    Reading: Good readers make connections between what they read and events from their own life, between the book and other books that they’ve read, and to the world around them. As you read Shredderman write the connections you make on a sticky note. Then, discuss with your reading partner.

    Write a song inspired by “Lullaby for Bubba” about bullies and bullying to another familiar tune.

    Create a poster or diorama of your favorite scene in one of the books. Explain what is in your 3D display and why you included it in a brief journal you also turn in with the project.

    Novels for older readers by Van Draanen:

    How I survived Being a Girl-
    Carolyn is a dedicated 6th grade tomboy- happiest in boy’s clothing and outside until some strange new feelings begin to surface.

    There’s two sides to every story and Bryce and Julianna both get the chance to tell the truth as they see their romance.

    Swear to Howdy-
     Secrets between best friends Joey and Rusty are just part of being best friends and boys but when pranks go awry how long should a pact stand?

    After her addicted mother dies Holly escapes from an abusive foster family and finds life on the streets a difficult journey.

    Confessions of a Serial Kisser-
    Evangeline’s quest for the perfect kiss has more consequences than she bargained for.