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Getting Near to Baby

Created by Phil Bildner, author of "Shoeless Joe and Black Betsy"

Aunt Patty seems to be a particular kind of person in the beginning of the story, what kind of person does she seem to you to be? By the end of the story she has had a change of heart. What do you feel brought that about?

What secret was Willa Jo keeping? Would you have felt the same way? Would you have told this secret to anyone?

At one point in the story, Aunt Patty was keeping a secret too, and it had to do with june bugs. What was the secret, and what does it tell us about how much Aunt Patty cared for the girls?

Willa Jo didn't like having her shoes taken from her. Why do you think that was? 

In what way does Uncle Hob act as a bridge where Willa Jo and Aunt Patty can meet in the middle?

In what way does Little Sister's silence serve the story?

If you had walked by Aunt Patty's house and saw Willa Jo and Little Sister up on the roof, what would you have thought of that?

In some stories, when children find an environment uninhabitable, as Willa Jo found Aunt Patty's home to be, they run away. In what way was Willa Jo's choice a braver or wiser one? 

In many good stories, there are new ideas. A character says or does something you would not have said or done yourself. What were some of the new ideas you encountered in Getting Near to Baby? 

So much of the story happened with Willa Jo and Little Sister up on the roof. What site did Willa Jo and Little Sister visit that was the exact opposite of being on the roof? Can you see how this balances the story?

Other elements in the story balance Aunt Patty's overbearing personality. There is one adult character that is super-sweet and loving, and one adult character that is plainly mean-spirited. Who are those characters?

Some who don't know her well might call Willa Jo a stubborn unreasonable girl. Some might think she tried to get even with Aunt Patty, tried to embarrass her by staying up on the roof. In what ways do Liz Fingers and Cynthia Wainwright balance Willa Jo's personality so that we might see her as a well-meaning girl? What events demonstrate her to be a reasonable girl? 

In what way is it a good thing that Willa Jo is stubborn? What is another word for stubborn that is more positive?

Say Yes

If you were meeting Casey and Sylvia for the first time, before the events of this story happened:

  • What would most people like about Casey? What would most people dislike? 

  • What would most people like about Sylvia? What would most people dislike? 

  • Do you think that Casey's behavior made life more difficult for Sylvia?


Put some words on the board that might describe Sylvia's emotions, including isolation, loneliness, fear or scared, desperation, need, sadmess, lost, ashamed, wishful, hopeful, trusting.

In what circumstances do these same words apply to Casey during the story? In what way does she learn from these emotions?

Break into groups of three or four to answer these questions. Everyone should be working with pencil and paper to help them think, but one person might be the reporter when the time comes to read your answers to the class.

  • a) Name a character from the story and tell in what way they might represent good or evil. 

  • b) What kind of friends would this character be likely to have, whether or not we happened to meet those friends in the story? 

  • c) Think of ten to fifteen questions that you could ask this character, if he were in front of you, to find out more about him. Help each other try to phrase the questions so the character could only give a yes or no answer.


For instance, "what is your name?" is not a workable question. But "Is your name Paulie?" is a workable question.

(instructor: this is much more effective if students are encouraged to ask questions of most of the characters in the story, including Fran, Mrs. Clark, Rocco, Razza, Mrs. Gonzales, Mrs. Wisner, the neighbor with the loud radio, Karen, and Leonard, the nerdy kid who sits between them.)


Did you believe Casey would go through with robbing Mrs. Clark?


How did you feel about Casey when she did?


Did you feel differently about her at the beginning of the story than after reading the whole story?


Did you feel differently about her right after reading the story than you do now when you have had time to think more about the characters and their situations?

What about Sylvia, how did your ideas about her change?

What might either Casey or Sylvia have done that first morning that we saw Casey going off to school to change the way things turned out?

What would it be like to have Casey, Sylvia, or Paulie for a friend? What do you think they learn from each other about being there for each other?

What different behaviors might Casey and Sylvia adopt to show each other how they've changed and that they can be trusted?

Maude March on the Run

Sometimes people learn to appreciate each other's way of looking at things through a shared experience. By the end of the story, in what way has Maude become more like Sallie? In what way does Sallie come to understand Maude better? Why do you think this is true?

Sallie tells us what her goal is, but what do you think is Maude's goal throughout the story?

The Misadventures of Maude March

Here are some of the themes you found in reading The Misadventures of Maude March. Talk about how they show up in the story:


Appearances and actions can be deceiving; A crisis can force us to see ourselves and others in new ways; It's important to

1) stand up for yourself

2) to choose the course of your life

3) to take responsibility for your choices.


Show places in the story where Maude and Sallie do each of these three things, either as a pair or separately.

Maude thinks of herself as the kind of person who tries to do the right thing. In the story, this idea is challenged many times. Name one of these challenges and tell how she reacts to it.

Sallie starts out sure that she is adventurous and ready to meet any challenge. Where does she judge herself lacking, and where is she able to measure up? Where is she bold and where does she wish for her old life back?

By the end of the story, in what way have the girls had to do things they thought were wrong? In what ways do they seem like the almost right choice?


What things did they do out of kindness or concern, or wanting to do the right thing, or wanting to be safe, and how did those turn out?


Lexie’s father waited till the last minute to tell Lexie they were having guests. He appears not to have remembered it till the last minute himself.  What does your family do to prepare for visitors. What could Lexie’s father have done to make this visit more comfortable for everyone?


Ben is comfortable with his brother’s messiness, and protective of him, but Ben is also considerate of how Lexie feels around Mac. What do both boys behavior throughout the story tell you about the kind of small boy Ben might have been and what kind of boy Mac might grow up to be? 

If you were in Lexie’s situation, would you feel you were going to have to keep a secret for Dad, or would you feel you had to be the one to tell your mom? What do you think you would do if someone expected you to be the grown-up?

What’s one good thing and one not-so-good thing about each character in the story?

War Games

1. What are some of the major themes of the book?

2. Why is it so important in the book for Petros’s family to be seen as Greek and NOT American?

3. Why does Zola decide to write the notes?

4. Why do his brother and his cousins help him pass the notes around town when they think he is saying things people already know or things that are not true?

5. Were you surprised to find out that the colonel spoke perfect Greek? Why do you think Petros was surprised?

6. What do you think would be more important to hide: the fact that Petros and his sibings were American or the fact that they were hiding their cousin Lambros in the well?

7. Why did the soldiers shoot Stavros? Were you surprised to find out he was not dead?

8. Why do you think Petros and Zola decided to give Stavros the kite? Why were they making it in the first place?

9. Why does the family have to pretend that Stavros is dead?

10. What did you enjoy about this book?

11. Who is your favorite character(s) in the book and why?

12. Did you know that the German army occupied Greece during World War II?

Do you think this is an important or useful story to tell?


13. If you met the authors what would be the one question you would ask them?

14. Have you read another book that reminds you of this one?

Love Me Tender

Elvira comes across as a spiky personality in the beginning of the story, but what kind of person does she turn out to be?

There are two sets of mothers and daughters in this story? In what ways do you notice they are the same or different? There are two sets of sisters too. In what way are the older sisters the same or different than the Elvira and Kerrie?

The grandmother is appears unwelcoming at first. When do you see that change? What does it tell us about how happy she is to see her eldest daughter and her two granddaughters?

Elvira doesn't like her aunt at first. Why? And how does that change? 

In what way does Kerrie act as a bridge for all these spiky personalities?

In what way does the puppy show Elvira’s stance, (one foot in one camp, one foot in the other)?

The butterfly is a similar metaphor in the story. Can your students think about what a butterfly represents and why it might have been drawn to Daddy?


This is probably a discussion more applicable to older students. (which is why I offer as many as I can think of)

Summer's End

What kind of events in the story did you want to have explained or described to you more fully?

Where in the story do you notice that the adults hold differing ideas about what these young men should do? When do Dolly and Theo find opportunities to let Grace know they understand exactly how she feels?

Grace turns down the chance to say good-bye to Collin, and she shuts herself off to her own emotions so fast she hardly feels them. Later in the story, there are more good-byes. How do these contribute to opening her heart again?

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