Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
Tracie's NEW BOOK!
Showing posts with label Zimmer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zimmer. Show all posts

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reaching for Sun

Reaching for Sun

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
Reading Group Guide

  1. Reaching for Sun is a story about a girl who is like most girls—she fights with her mother, has a crush on a boy, and feels bullied by the popular girls.  In what ways do you personally relate to Josie, and in what ways is she different from you?  How do these differences make you feel?

  1. What did you know about cerebral palsy before reading this book?  After?  In what ways does Josie’s cerebral palsy challenge her, and in what ways does it make her stronger?

  1. Josie likes to eat breakfast for dinner.  What is your favorite meal?  What makes it so special?

  1. Josie, along with her mother and grandmother, has a special connection to her family’s land.  Does your family have a special place—a summer cottage, vacation spot, or even the house you live in year round—that has an important meaning to you?  Why do you feel so connected to this place?

  1. Reaching for Sun is divided into four sections based on the seasons of the year.  In what season is Josie happiest?  How do Josie’s relationships with her mother, her grandmother, and her friend Jordan change over the course of the year?

  1. Josie wants her summer “to be a wildflower-seed mix (pg. 81).”  What do you think Josie means by this?

  1. Josie and her grandmother dream of going to Paris.  If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? 

  1. Josie likes to visit the Lazy Acres nursing home with her grandmother.  Why?  Where do you feel most accepted?

  1. Josie uses images from the natural world to describe her own emotional and physical growth, comparing herself to flowers and other plants.  For example, she doesn’t “want to be pruned or pinched back/like a wilting petunia” when her mother nags her about therapy (p. 80).  Which flower, plant, or tree best represents you and why?  How does your favorite flower or tree make you feel?

  1. Josie and Jordan are best friends who meet under a willow tree and discover their mutual interes

Reaching for Sun is written completely in Josie’s voice. Experiment with voice by writing a few free verse poems through the eyes of Jordan. It can be any part of the novel or even set after it is over. Think about what types of words Jordan would use to describe an event and what types of things he might compare something to.

Reread any poem in the story and answer the following questions about it: Who is it about? What happens in the poem? Where does it take place? What poetic language does the author use? Why did you choose this poem?

Free verse poetry is a great form to build student fluency- with it’s generous white space it doesn’t intimidate and it is written to flow off the tongue. Have students tape themselves reading a poem and then practice reading it silently (or under their breath) and then re-tape their reading. Students will be impressed by their marked improved performance.

As you read find ten words that you wouldn’t usually use in your everyday conversations. Then, try to use them as you go through your day. Write a brief journal about how this word experiment went.

Three Feet Square
Josie and Jordan tape off a small section of the garden and then study it over the course of the summer. You could do the same (and choose an even smaller border). Count insects, take pictures, study the plants and the soil conditions over time.

Learn more about cerebral palsy or another common disability. Research the causes, the impairments it can cause, the treatments, and how you can help. Create a pamphlet about what you learned.

Create a piece of collage or sculpture inspired by Josie’s story.  Use any media you like but explain it in a brief artist’s statement that you turn in with the piece (an index card works nicely).

Gran’s Divinity Recipe   (from the author’s grandmother’s kitchen)

Poetic Elements

Reaching for Sun
By Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
Poets use word tools to make their language stand out from regular prose. This poetic language is called figurative and it has many types. Read the definitions of these tools and then find an example of each in the novel. Then, try your own!
Types of poetic language:
An example from the novel:
An example of your own:
 Repeated consonant sounds
 " lovely, leafy lettuce”

 Repeated Vowel sounds
 "The June moon loomed over the horizon"

Creating pictures for the senses
“First day of school smells like new books”

Comparing two things by saying something IS something else:
“the ocean is a bowl of dreams”

 A comparison using the words "like" or "as."
 "He smells like a gym shoe.”

 Making an object act or look like a person or animal
 "The storm danced across the sky”

©2007 Tracie Vaughn Zimmer


Character Chart
Reaching for Sun
Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Readers learn about characters in four ways: what they say, what they do, what they look like, and what others think and say about them. Find details about each character that helps you understand them from the book.

                                     Appearance             Actions                          Words                     Others






Making Connections:

Good readers make connections as they try to understand a story. They think about how the story reminds them of other stories, how it relates to their own life and to the world around them. Tuck this chart in the book so you can make notes about what you’re thinking as you read the novel. Try to make at least one of each type of connection for each season in the book.

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

This book reminds me of LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech because it is written in poem
Like Josie I’ve been teased at school though not as often.
I wonder if Josie can be cured of cerebral palsy or if she’ll always have it.





Understanding Poems

Sometimes readers get confused when they read poems because of the fancy language or how few words are used to tell a story. Practice your understanding of poems by thinking about the five “W’s” as you read: who, what, when, where, and why.

Title of poem: _____________ page______

Who is this poem about?

Where does this poem take place?

What happens in the poem?

When is it happening?

Why is this poem important?

Title of poem: _____________ page______

Who is this poem about?

Where does this poem take place?

What happens in the poem?

When is it happening?

Why is this poem important?

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    The Floating Circus

    Discussion Guide
    The Floating Circus by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
    As a class, brainstorm a list of words associated with a circus. Then, see if you can classify these words in a few different ways (for example: nouns, verbs, people, etc.)

    Discussion Guide:
    1.       Describe Owen Burke. Is he a person you’d like to make friends with? How does he change while on the boat? What is the most important thing he learns about himself and the world?
    2.       Why does Owen decide to leave his brother on the orphan train? Would you be willing to make such a sacrifice? Do you think he’s making the right choice?
    3.       Explain how Owen ends up on the River Palace. Do you consider this a lucky or unlucky turn of events? Would you want to work on the River Palace? Why or why not?
    4.       Compare life on the River Palace with Owen’s life in the orphanage. How are they different? How are they similar? If you had to choose between them which would you pick? Why?
    5.       Solomon says about orphans, “Even a slave is worth more.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree? How does Solomon help Owen to see things differently? Are there still groups of people today (like orphans and slaves in Owen’s time) who are treated as less important? Why or why not?
    6.       Owen says, “Slavery just was. I hadn’t questioned it any more than I’d questioned why leather was brown.” Why hadn’t Owen ever questioned the institution of slavery before meeting Solomon? How do his views on it change over the course of the novel? Is it possible that we accept things in our own world now that should be questioned? What kind of things?
    7.       What would you most like to see on the River Palace? Which job would you most like to have? Least like to have? Do you think a River Palace would be popular today? How was it special for that time?
    8.       Explain how Owen comes to know and care for the elephant, Little Bet. Would you want the responsibility of caring for such an enormous animal? What would be the most interesting aspect of it? What would be the most difficult?
    9.       Discuss which of the literary elements you find most interesting in the novel—the unique setting, Owen’s  character or conflicts, or maybe the events themselves? Which of the five elements (character, plot, setting, conflict, theme) is most important for you as a reader? Do you think this relates directly to the kinds of books you most like to read? Why?
    10.   Owen makes a difficult decision at the end of the novel. Would you have made the same choice? Is sacrifice a natural consequence of growing up?

    Language Arts—
    Write letters from Owen to Zachary as you read the novel, summarizing what Owen is experiencing and feeling as he goes on his adventure.

    Solomon desperately wants to learn how to read. Unfortunately, many adults today are illiterate like Solomon. Research the programs available in your area for literacy, and then hold a fundraiser to support this important cause.

    Create a timeline of the five years before the novel and five years after, and list ten major events in the decade. Find at least two facts about each event, and include that information on the timeline. In a short essay, explain why this period is such a pivotal moment in American history.

    In small groups, research one of the following topics from the novel and present the information to the entire class. Use at least three different resources for your information, only one of which can be from the Internet.

    The Fugitive Slave Act
    The Mason-Dixon Line
    Yellow fever
    Orphan trains
    History of the circus
    Historical treatment of people with disabilities or differences
    Mississippi River
    Underground Railroad

    Design one of the sets for the movie adaptation of the novel. Use photography, computer design programs, or any media that helps you best depict your vision of the scene. In a brief paragraph, explain why you made the choices you did concerning color, lighting, and architectural elements.

    42 Miles

    Tracie's Books/
    42 Miles
    by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
    Illustrated by Elaine Clayton
    ISBN: 978-0-618-61867-5
    Pages: 80
    Ages: 9-12

    About the book:
    Just 42 Miles. That’s how far it is from the downtown Cincinnati apartment where JoEllen lives with her mom to the old family farm where she spends weekends with her dad. But to her, these two homes are worlds apart. In the city, she’s Ellen, who hangs out with her girlfriends, plans the sax, and loves old movies. In the country, she’s Joey, who rides horses with her cousin, Hayden, goes fishing, and listens to bluegrass. Now—with her thirteenth birthday approaching—she needs to decide: Where do her loyalties lie? Who is the real JoEllen?
    Linked free-verse poems combine with scrapbook-style illustrations to create the vivid portrait of a girl who is trying to find herself amid the pieces of her life.

    About the author:
    Tracie Vaughn Zimmer lives with her husband two children near Cincinnati, Ohio, in a town on the route JoEllen travels each week in this story. Tracie is the author of three books, including Sketches from a Spy Tree, published by Clarion Books. Visit her website at

    Elaine Clayton is the author/illustrator of four books for young readers and the illustrator of many others, including “The Hamlet Chronicles” series by Gregory Maquire (Clarion). She lives with her family in Bridgewater, Connecticut, where—like JoEllen—she enjoys riding horses.

    Pre-reading: What do you think the title means? Where would you be in 42 Miles from your own house?

    Discussion guide:

    1. How has JoEllen’s life suddenly changed this year? What’s the most change in a year you ever faced? What do you think is the hardest thing about change?
    2. How is JoEllen like both of her parents and also like neither? How about you? 
    3. Describe JoEllen’s friends and cousins. Who do you think knows her best? What friends “fit” best for you? Describe your ideal best friend.
    4. How does JoEllen feel about having her life so divided? Do you think her life is like a hexagon or not? Can a kid be equally divided?
    5. Compare and contrast JoEllen’s two lives. Which would you prefer? Why? Which one of JoEllen’s parents do you think you’d get along with best? Why?
    6. Why does JoEllen feel like a traveling exhibit?
    7. What does the title mean? Do you ever transform between places? When? Do we all show different sides of ourselves to various people?
    8. Where is Aunt Mimi’s Attic? What does JoEllen do there? Would you like to work there? What is your favorite place to shop for treasures?
    9. What are JoEllen’s favorite and not-so-favorite things to do with her parents? What are yours?
    10.  Which illustration is your favorite? Why? What do the illustrations add to the text?


    Language Arts:
    Experiment with free verse poetry! Try your hand at a poem inspired by “Changes” or “Best Friends” be sure to end this poem with a description of yourself.

    Create your own scrapbook inspired illustrations to accompany your own free verse poems (see above). After you’ve arranged all your found objects make a black and white copy of it and see if you prefer it in its original color or in the copied version. On the back discuss your process.

    Create a map of your location and expand it to a 42 mile diameter. Make a list of all the interesting locations you might like to explore within the circle.

    Hayden’s brother, Russell, was killed by drunk driver. Research the statistics in your area on drunk driving and create a public service campaign with posters, powerpoints or websites that inform the community about this topic.