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December 04, 2014

Study Guide for Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gepart

Death by Toilet Paper
by Donna Gephart

Common Core Standards

Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.

Use context (e.g., definitions, examples, or restatements in text) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase. 

Explain the meaning of simple similes and metaphors (e.g., as pretty as a picture) in context. 

Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events

Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).

Questions for Discussion (During Reading)

 Pages 1 -34

  1. Take a close look at the cover. What do you think the book will be about?
  2. What do you think Benjamin means when he says, “It’s gotten worse, much worse?”
  3. Could you live without cable? Explain.
  4. What does Toothpick pay Ben for? How?
  5. Why do you think Ben likes sweepstakes?
  6. What do you think happened to Ben’s dad? What do you think happened to Toothpick’s mom?
  7. Why doesn’t Ben take the lasagna? Should he have? Would you have?
  8. What important news does Ben learn on page nine?
  9. From Ben’s attitude about his landlord, what can you conclude about Ben and his mom?
  10. What happened to Ben’s dad nine months ago?
  11. Do you think Ben should stop entering sweepstakes?
  12. What has Ben won so far? Do you think these prizes are worth the time Ben spends entering sweepstakes?
  13. What is Ben’s mom studying for? Do you think that Mom and Ben will have a better life if she is successful with the Grand Plan?
  14. On page 20, Ben says, “I’d never thought about it, but maybe she’s as disappointed as i am that we had to switch to the cheap stuff [toilet paper].”  Do you think Ben’s mom is disappointed?
  15. What does Mrs. Schneckle mean when she says that the apartment isn’t the Palace of Versailles?
  16. Why doesn’t Ben want to leave the apartment?
  17. Does Ben seem angry about his dad? What makes you think that?
  18. Do you think Ben should tell his mom how he is feeling? Explain.
  19. Do you think the letter on page 34 will make a difference? Explain.

Pages 35- 63

  1. What do you think Ben’s plan is?
  2. Why doesn’t Ben tell his mom that he sold the grill?
  3. Do you think Ben should get in trouble with the vice principal?
  4. Who told on Ben? Why?
  5. Ben says that Mr. Sheffield’s quiet voice is scarier than a loud voice. Do you think quiet voices can be scary? Explain.
  6. What warning does Mr. Sheffield give Ben?
  7. Do you think it is right for Ben to lie to his mom about the toilet paper?
  8. How do Ben and his mom handle the news about the landlord filing eviction papers?
  9. Do you think they should go out to dinner or save the money? Why?

Pages 64- 96

  1. Do you think Ben’s zeyde will make things better or worse for Ben and his mom? Explain.
  2. Should Ben tell his mom that zeyde called him Mary? Explain.
  3. What is the funny (or not-so-funny) incident that happens to Ben when he drinks his grandpa’s water?
  4. What do you think Ben’s slogan will be?
  5. Do you think Ben should have let his grandpa do the laundry?
  6. Would you be embarrassed by the eviction notice? Why or why not?

Pages 97-124

  1. Is Mrs. Schneckle a good neighbor? Why?
  2. Do you think Ben’s mom should be more worried about Grandpa?
  3. How does Grandpa help?
  4. Were you surprised when Ben decides not to sell the candy bars? Why?
  5. Do you think Ben is letting everyone down, especially his dad? Explain.
  6. How much more money does Ben’s mom need?
  7. Why does Ben decide to sell the candy bars?
  8. Do you think Ben should tell his mom about his zeyde forgetting how to play War? Explain.

Pages 125- 155

  1. Do you think Ben should sell the candy bars door to door? Explain.
  2. Should Ben sell candy bars to Angus Andrews? Explain.
  3. What happens to Ben’s mom at work?
  4. Do you think Ben should keep his money in his backpack? Explain.
  5. What does Angus do to Ben in the locker room? Is there anything that Ben could have done differently?
  6. Why does Ben run away from school? Do you think he will get in trouble? What would you have done if you were in that situation?

Pages 156-183

  1. How does Ben feel after he runs away from school?
  2. Where does Ben go after running away from school?
  3. What were the last words Ben’s dad said to Ben?
  4. What happens to Barkley? Does Ben have a right to be angry with his zeyde?
  5. How do Toothpick and Mr. Taylor help Ben feel better at the sleepover?

Pages 184- 213

  1. What is the Mϋtter Museum like?
  2. What contest does Ben find out about at the museum? Do you think he will enter?
  3. Do you think Ben ruined Toothpick’s birthday? Explain.
  4. What does the costume contest give Ben?
  5. Were you surprised that Ben removed the stars from his bedroom?
  6. Should Ben feel guilty for not giving Zeyde the good toilet paper?
  7. Do you think Ben can win the grand prize? Explain.

Pages 215- 250

  1. Who volunteers to wear the toilet paper wedding dress? Were you surprised?
  2. Whom do the police arrest? Why?
  3. What important mail is Ben’s mom waiting for?
  4. What important mail is Ben waiting for?
  5. Based on the costume that they create, do you think Ben and Toothpick will win the contest? Explain.
  6. Do you think Toothpick should give Ben all of the prize money, or do you think Toothpick should take half?

Pages 250-261

  1. What good news does Ben’s mom have?
  2. What do you think is in the big box from the Royal-T bathroom tissue?
  3. How does the story end?
  4. Is the ending happy?
  5. Is the ending realistic?

Understanding Figurative Language

  1. “He [Toothpick] does an awkward dance step that makes him look like an ostrich whose feet are on fire.” 

This simile means that Toothpick’s dancing is 

  1. graceful
  2. original
  3. scary
  4. clumsy 
  1. “Just thinking about it [the lasagna] makes my mouth water like Niagara Falls.”

This simile means that Ben

  1. is feeling sick
  2. hates lasagna
  3. loves lasagna
  4. is thirsty

“Just when I think Zeyde’s snores can’t possibly get louder, they ramp up to earthquake level.”

This means that the snores are becoming

  1. shaky
  2. dangerous
  3. annoying
  4.  softer 
  1. “Her tiny word hangs in the air, a speck— a molecule— next to the giant word sucking all the air out of the apartment building: EVICTION.” 

This means that

  1. Mom is too quiet too hear.
  2. Mom talks less than Mr. Katz.
  3. Mom’s words are not powerful enough to stop the eviction.
  4. Mom is not strong enough to stand up to Mr. Katz.


  1. “No, we’re fine, Mom says. And her words hang in the air like a lie-filled rain cloud.” 

This means that 

  1. Mom does not like to tell the truth.
  2. In hard times, Mom has a very positive attitude.
  3. Mom thinks that it is going to rain.
  4. Mom is pretending that everything is fine.


  1. Heartache washes over me like a wave— a tsunami— but I keep trudging forward.”

 This means that 

  1. Ben is overwhelmed by sadness.
  2. Ben is finding it hard to walk.
  3. Ben wants to destroy everything in his path.
  4. Ben is having chest pains.

Understanding Words in Context

  1. “My throat constricts, but I manage to squeeze out one syllable.”

As used in the sentence above, constricts means:

  1. squeezes
  2. hurts
  3. gets dry
  4. scratches 
  1. “Thinking of Dad gives me new resolve for selling the candy bars.”

As used in the sentence above, resolve means:

  1. wish
  2. fear
  3. determination
  4. hope 
  1. “Please find a coupon for a complimentary four-pack of Royal-T Bathroom Tissue.”

As used in the sentence above, complimentary means:

  1. nice
  2. free
  3. new
  4. comfortable 
  1. And I’m so happy Zeyde gave me the word that provided my entry with that certain zing that might make is stand out from the rest.”

As used in the sentence above, zing means: 

  1. energy
  2. phrase
  3. quickness
  4. sound

His partner is bearing down on him, not letting him give us any more time.” 

As used in the sentence above, bearing down on means: 

  1. yelling at
  2. putting pressure on
  3. avoiding
  4. staring at 
  1. And we’ll have enough toilet paper to last until I graduate from college…or medical school, if we’re conservative in our usage.”

 As used in the sentence above, conservative means: 

  1. careful
  2. generous
  3. kind
  4. easy 

Questions for Discussion (After Reading)

  1. Ben takes comfort in his pet fish. Do you have a pet? How is a pet a best friend? If you don’t have a pet, what pet do you wish you had? Why?
  2. Do you think you would like to visit the Mϋtter Museum? Why or why not?
  3. Is Toothpick a good friend to Ben? Is Ben a good friend to Toothpick? Explain.
  4. How does Ben’s mom handle her problems? How does Ben handle his problems? Which way is better, in your opinion?
  5. Which one of the facts at the beginning of each chapter did you find most interesting? Explain.


  1. Ben discovers his dad’s hobbies, such as bowling and punching the dummy. Talk to your parents (or even your grandparents) about their favorite hobbies now or their favorite hobbies when they were younger. How are your hobbies alike? How are they different?
  2. Ben enjoys looking through old photos of his family. Ask your parents for help to make a collage of favorite family photos. Then write a poem, a story, or a reflection telling about the special moments that are shown in the photos.
  3. Ben creates several slogans. Choose one of the products mentioned in the book or select a product of your choice. Create a slogan, a poster, or a commercial for the product. Be as creative as you can!
  4. Mr. Taylor and Mrs. Schneckle both use food to comfort Ben and his family. What is your favorite recipe? Write down your favorite recipe, using plenty of descriptive words to make the recipe sound appealing. Be sure to explain each step of the recipe carefully. Ask your teacher if you can make the recipe and bring it in for the class.
  5. Research one of the following topics and share what you find with the class:

Author Donna Gephart, the Mϋtter Museum, careers in the advertising, accounting, or restaurant industry, the invention of the toilet, the World Toilet Summit, or any topic of your choice related to the book.

  1. In Death by Toilet Paper, Ben gets in trouble for selling candy bars. Are there any rules at your school that you think are unfair? What are they? How would you change the rules? Write a letter to your principal explaining why the rule is unfair and why it should be changed. What happens to Ben, Toothpick, Ben’s mom, and Ben’s grandpa next? Write an epilogue telling what happens.
  2. Write a letter to Ben’s dad explaining Ben’s feelings. Be sure to consider how Ben felt throughout the book.
  3. Toothpick’s dad and Ben’s neighbor help out a lot. Pretend that you are Ben, choose a character, and then write a thank-you note to that person.
  4. Ben faces a lot of challenges. Pretend that you are a friend of Ben. Write Ben a letter to give him encouragement and advice for dealing with his problems.
  5. Death by Toilet Paper deals with the invention of toilet paper. In your opinion, what is the invention that changed the world the most? Research that invention and make a poster, a Power Point, or prepare an oral presentation for your classmates.

Journal Questions

  1. Robert Brault said, “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Richard Carlson said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Which opinion do you agree with? Why?
  2. Ben realizes how important something like toilet paper can be. What are some of the things that you take for granted?
  3. Ben tries to earn money by selling candy bars and creating costumes and slogans. What would your dream job be?
  4. In the story, Toothpick has an unusual hobby. Do you have an unusual hobby? Explain.
  5. In poorer countries, toilet paper is a luxury. What is something that you can do to help those who are less fortunate than you?
  1. Ben deals with a lot of hard things—grief from losing his dad, his zeyde’s memory problems, a bully, and financial difficulties. What is something that you, a close friend, or family member has had to deal with? What was the situation? How did you or the close friend or relative deal with the problem?

December 03, 2014

Writing for My Kids . . . and Yours by Lou Anders

For the past ten years, I’ve worked in the publishing field as an editor and art director, editing fantasy and science fiction books for the adult market. I’m very proud of that work. I’ve been honored with several awards and nominations, and it’s been a rare privilege to collaborate with such wonderful and talented authors and artists over the years. I count many of them as dear friends, and one or two are actually writers that I read as a child! Can you imagine the thrill of commissioning a story or a novel from a childhood hero? Wow.

But most of the books I’ve worked on aren’t really appropriate for children. That’s okay. They’re adult books meant for adult readers. They’re fantastic books, to be sure, but I can’t share them with my children for a few years yet. So for a while now, I’ve wanted to write something that my kids could enjoy right away, starring characters that both my son and my daughter could relate to and care about.

I love “buddy fiction,” those tales of unlikely duos adventuring together across imagined lands, so writing about a boy-and-girl team was a natural choice. I also love fantasy fiction. I grew up on The Hobbit (which I read over and over again), the Lord of the Rings (which led me to painting tons of miniature orc figures), the Chronicles of Narnia (which my father read to me several times), and films like The Dark Crystal, Dragonslayer, and Conan the Barbarian. For a long time, I’ve wanted to craft my own fantasy world, one rich and full enough that heroes—and readers—could explore it in adventure after adventure.

Enter Frostborn and the Thrones and Bones series. The story of Frostborn is set in the country of Norrøngard, a Norse-inspired land on the northwesternmost edge of an enormous continent. It’s a land of trolls and frost giants, winter wolves and undead warriors known as draug. And dragons. Oh yes, dragons. It’s a place of adventure, thrills, and chills, but also humor.

And friendship. It was into this snowy, northern environment that I placed my boy and girl. I should stress that they are co-leads. It’s very important to me that neither character is the sidekick of the other. Karn Korlundsson and Thianna the half-giant are very different in personality and in strength, but they are equal in importance to the story of Thrones and Bones. Thianna is big and brash and brave and decidedly unsubtle. Karn is introspective, clever, and an obsessive gamer (who finds that strategy games have more real-world applications than he anticipated). Like so many of us, neither of them starts out feeling like they fit in exactly with their environment, though they both have strengths they haven’t recognized. Together, they learn about themselves and each other, as they are forced to team up to survive both the harsh wilderness and several sets of enemies.

I mentioned that Thianna is a half-giant. Her mother was a human from a faraway land, but her father was a frost giant from Norrøngard. My children are biracial, and it is important to me that they see themselves reflected in their fiction. So while Karn is a blond, blue-eyed boy, very typical for his region, Thianna is a child of two cultures and favors the skin tone and hair color of her mother’s distant country (think Mediterranean). But whatever a child’s ethnicity or heritage, I hope they can relate to Karn’s and Thianna’s struggles, their hopes and dreams, and their journey. I’m writing for my children, but I’m writing for yours as well, and for the child in all of us. It’s a wonderful hat to wear, this brand-new writer’s cap of mine, and I hope I get to keep it on for many years to come.


Lou Anders’s research on Norse mythology while writing Frostborn turned into a love affair with Viking culture and a first visit to Norway. He hopes the series will appeal to boys and girls equally. Anders is the recipient of a Hugo Award for editing and a Chesley Award for art direction. He has published over 500 articles and stories on science fiction and fantasy television and literature. Frostborn, which Publishers Weekly described as “thoroughly enjoyable” (starred review), is his first middle-grade novel. A prolific speaker, Anders regularly attends writing conventions around the country. He and his family reside in Birmingham, Alabama. You can visit Anders online at louanders.com and ThronesandBones.com.

FrostbornFrostborn by Lou Anders 
HC: 9780385387781  GLB: 9780385387798  EPUB: 9780385387804

Grades 3–7; Debut novelist Lou Anders has created a rich world of over twenty-five countries inhabited by Karn, Thianna, and an array of fantastical creatures, as well as the Thrones and Bones board game.

December 03, 2014

December is for giving cheer . . . and great books!

It’s December at Random House Children’s Books, and the long countdown to the holidays is making us feel Frozen in Time. With the weather getting colder, we’re holding on to our Mitten String, while only the Frostborn are able to go outside. Thinking about the holidays makes us nostalgic for Family Ties. Some of us are just Day Dreamers until The Night Before Christmas, which falls at the end of our Honeyky Hanukah. And since this isn’t our First Christmas, we have one Tiny Wish.

Have a safe and happy December, no matter how you and your loved ones celebrate.

Frozen in Time
by Mark Kurlansky
9780385743884 | Delacorte BFYR
The Mitten String
The Mitten String
by Jennifer Rosner
illustrated by Kristina Swarner
9780385371186 | Random House BFYR
by Lou Anders
9780385387781 | Crown


Family Ties
Family Ties
by Gary Paulsen
9780385373807 | Wendy Lamb Books
Day Dreamers
by Emily Martin
9780385376709 | Random House
The Night Before Christmas
The Night Before Christmas
by Roger Duvoisin and Clement C. Moore
9780385754590 | Knopf BFYR


Honeyky Hanukah
by Woody Guthrie;
illustrated by Dave Horowitz
9780385379267 | Doubleday
  The Tiny Wish
The Tiny Wish
by Lori Evert; photographs by Per Breiehagen
9780385379229 | Random House BFYR
The First Christmas
The First Christmas
by Jan Pienkowski
9780375871511 | Knopf


December 03, 2014

December: Write to a Friend Month

Most people don’t write letters anymore. It’s too easy to communicate by email or text. I’m amazed at how many people don’t write thank-you notes for gifts. Most people don’t even bother to RSVP for a special event. Perhaps it’s time to remind the younger generation that while email and text are fabulous ways to convey a quick message, sometimes a written note (sent via snail mail) is more appropriate. Since December is Write to a Friend Month, this is a good time to practice letter-writing skills. Like always, this site offers ways to connect books with special occasions or events. Here are suggestions for ways to make that connection with Write to a Friend Month:

●   Ask students or library patrons if they have ever received a letter from a friend or family member. Librarians and
teachers should write a letter to an unnamed friend to share in class. How does the letter begin? What type of
information is in the body of the letter? How does the letter end? What is the purpose of the PS at the end of the
letter? How does the address appear on the envelope?

●   Have them think of a bit of news they would like to share. Perhaps it’s a victory in a sporting event or an accomplishment in the performing or visual arts. Then have them write about it to a friend.

●   Read aloud from the letters that Austin Ives writes to his brother Levi in Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail by Elvira Woodruff. How do Austin’s letters reveal the plot of the story?

●   Have readers think about the events in a specific novel and write a letter from one character to another. Suggestions from Random House include:

—Freddy to Marlene in Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean (picture book) by Jane Lynch, Lara Embry, and A. E. Mikesell, illustrated by Tricia Tusa

—Harriet M. Welsch to Sport in Harriet the Spy (middle grade) by Louise Fitzhugh

—Little Man to Mr. Spiro in Paperboy (middle grade) by Vince Vawter

—Wahoo Cray to Tuna Gordon in Chomp (middle grade) by Carl Hiaasen

—Katie to Mark in Very Bad Things (young adult) by Susan McBride

—Angel to Inggy in Jersey Angel (young adult) by Beth Ann Bauman

●   Write a letter from a main character to another character after they are grown up. How might they remember significant moments in the plots of their lives? Suggestions from Random House Children’s Books include:

Alvin Ho (beginning reader) series by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Melonhead and the We-Fix-It Company (elementary age) by Katy Kelly, illustrated by Gillian Johnson

—Gabriel Finley in Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle (middle grade) by George Hagen

—Georges in Liar & Spy (middle grade) by Rebecca Stead

—Deza Malone in The Mighty Miss Malone (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

—Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu from Sylvia & Aki (middle grade) by Winifred Conkling

—Tomi from Under the Blood-Red Sun (young adult) by Graham Salisbury

—Kana Goldberg in Orchards (young adult) by Holly Thompson

—Ethan in The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy (young adult) by Kate Hattemer

—Lotus Lowenstein in The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein (young adult) by Libby Schmais

●   Finally, have readers write a letter from the main character of one novel to another. An example for younger readers is Gooney Bird Greene (elementary age) to Junie B. Jones.

●   Ask for volunteers to share their letters.

December 03, 2014

Why I Write History by Jon Meacham

Thomas Jefferson wasn’t perfect—far from it. As the author of the Declaration of Independence, he articulated an ideal of individual rights that has since reshaped the way nations the world over have viewed the very nature of humanity. Yet as a slave owner, Jefferson failed to live up to his own noble language. A man capable of great good, he was also capable of great evil. Yet part of being a historically minded person—someone who understands the past and its connection to today—is to see people not as wholly good or wholly bad but as creatures of the world in which they lived. And I believe we can learn much from Thomas Jefferson’s sins.

If even the greatest of those who came before us could be so wrong about such important issues, then maybe we are liable to be blind, too, to the shortcomings and issues of our own age. We should be particularly mindful of the injustices and unfinished work we face so that there will be less to condemn or regret when historians look back at the era in which we lived. Knowing that leaders in the past failed should inspire us to succeed and act justly in the present so that we can create a better future.

That’s why I write history: to recover the reality that those who we tend to venerate as godlike were anything but. They were people like us, enduring good days and bad, fighting to overcome selfishness and ambition, yearning to be good and even great in a world that can be stubbornly inhospitable to our finest impulses.

Often viewed largely as a man of ideas, Jefferson was in fact a man of action, a colossus who was not only present at the creation of the country but who fought, year after year and battle by battle, to keep what he once called “the world’s best hope” strong and secure.

In him we have a vivid example of an American whose engagement with issues of liberty, security, race, power, finance, religion, and partisanship sheds light on the possibilities and the limitations of leadership. He is often seen as the thinking man’s Founding Father, an embodiment of the Enlightenment, a philosopher more at home with the abstract than with the carnal—and feral—nature of politics. But as a legislator, governor, diplomat, secretary of state, vice president, and president, Jefferson spent much of his life seeking centrality and a sense of control over himself and over the lives and destinies of others.

He was subtly imposing, neither as grand a presence as George Washington nor as disarming a wit as Benjamin Franklin. He was, rather, formidable without seeming overbearing, sparkling without being showy, charming without appearing cloying. He loved his books, his farms, good wine, architecture, Homer, horseback riding, history, philosophy, France, the Commonwealth of Virginia, spending money, and his two devoted daughters. Sensitive to criticism, intoxicated by approval, obsessed with his reputation, Jefferson was irresistibly drawn to the great world.

Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher is a book about a man of many parts, but it is chiefly about how Jefferson, as our third president, lived and worked in the politics of his time to advance the causes of human liberty and self-government.

History can sometimes seem dry and distant. It shouldn’t, though, because history, told and taught properly, is the very human story of flawed people who, at their best, struggled amid the all-too-familiar difficulties of life to leave the world at least a slightly better place than they found it. I wanted this young readers’ adaptation to show the next generation of Americans this truth: that the heroes who seem unreachable and encased in marble were once living, breathing human beings. And if they, with all their faults and fears, could do great things, then all of us, with our faults and fears, can do great things, too.

Thomas Jefferson: President and PhilosopherThomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher by Jon Meacham
HC: 9780385387491  GLB: 9780385387507  EPUB: 9780385387514

Grades 5 & Up; Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States. He was one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence. But he was also a lawyer and an ambassador, an inventor and a scientist. He had a wide range of interests and hobbies, but his consuming interest was the survival and success of the United States. This adaptation, ideal for those interested in American presidents, biographies, and the founding of the American republic, is an excellent example of informational writing and reflects Meacham’s extensive research using primary source material.