Going Deep with Award Winning Books:
Close reading and text-dependent questions

For Older Elementary Students

Gerstein, Mordecai.  The Man who Walked Between the Towers.  ISBN:  0-7613-2868-8.  Lexile: AD480.
This book primarily recounts the events leading up to Philippe Petit's walk on a wire suspended between the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in August of 1974. The tension and excitement build as Petit and a few friends work in secret to carry necessary equipment up to the roof in time for an historic walk at dawn.  The fold-out pages help to (literally) extend the text.  Older children, with support, may be able to begin to understand what motivates someone like Petit.  Consider questions like the following:

Part of the book's dedication refers to Petit's “mythic sense of mischief.”  Give examples from the text that show the mischievous side of Petit.

It says on the fourth page “Once the idea came to him he knew he had to do it.”  Explain with evidence why and how the idea to walk between the towers might have come to him.

There were problems during the hours leading up to the walk.  How did Philippe demonstrate how important it was to him to make this walk?  How might the book have been different if the author had not included the parts about the problems they encountered during the night?

Explain this phrase from the part of the book where he lays down on the wire:  “As long as he stayed on the wire he was free.”  (Is there more than one way of being free?)

How did Philippe show that he was ready to accept the consequences for his actions?

Was the judge's sentence a fair and reasonable one?  Give reasons from the text to explain your thinking.


Hall, Donald.  Ox-Cart Man.  ISBN: 0-670-53328-9.   Lexile: AD1130.
At first glance this text seems quite simple, but in reality there are many unfamiliar words and the story portrays a way of life that has all but disappeared.  Use questions like the ones below to help students understand the cyclical nature of the months and the seasons through the life of one family.

Give examples from the text that show how each family member contributed something to take to market.

What words does the author use to help us understand that the family lived far from the city where the farmer sold his goods?

How does the author use time or the calendar to move the story along?

What can we infer about the city of Portsmouth from the illustrations?

 What technique does the author use to drive home the point that the farmer sells everything, including his cart, his ox, and the harness?  Why do you think people are eager to buy his items, and why isn't it a problem to go back home with only some candy, a pot, a knife, a needle, and some coins?

What clues do we have about what might happen when October comes around once more?


Martin, Jacqueline Briggs.  Snowflake Bentley.  ISBN: 0-395-86162-4.  Lexile: 830.
This book is a tribute to the small town farmer whose passion for the beauty in the natural world around him led him to become the first person to successfully photograph snowflakes. 

What phrase(s) does the author use on the very first page to let us know that Wilson Bentley lived long ago?

What evidence can you find in the text that proves that Willie was anxious to share his discoveries with others?  Why was sharing snowflakes a problem?

Even after his parents bought the special camera, Willie's “first pictures were failures,” yet “he would not quit.”  Use details from the text that show Willie's perseverance.

What is the purpose for the paragraph opposite the page that matches the illustration on the front cover of the book?  (What does all of this tell us about Wilson Bentley?)

How does the author feel about Bentley's contribution?  How do you know?  What words and phrases help you to know this? 

Read what Wilson Bentley himself had to say about his work on the last page of the book.  Do you agree that his work is just as important?  Why or why not?  Be sure to include evidence from the text to support your claim.


Ness, Evaline.  Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine.  ISBN: 9780805003147.  Lexile: 510.
In this story, Sam learns a lesson (the hard way) about the consequences that can result from an overactive imagination.   Try some of these questions to get to a deep understanding of the text:

One of the first things we learn from the author is that Sam had “a reckless habit of lying.”  What does reckless mean?  Do you agree with that statement about Sam?  Use specific parts of the text to explain your thinking.

After Thomas and Bangs had headed over to Blue Rock and the storm forced Sam inside, what was she feeling?  What words did the author use that makes you think this?

Did Sam learn the difference between good moonshine and bad moonshine?  What proof do you have from the text?  How might Sam act differently around Thomas in the future?

Why do you think Sam decided to give the gerbil to Thomas?


Provensen, Alice and Martin.  The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot.  ISBN: 9780140507294.  Lexile: 460.

In the early 1900's, Louis Bleriot was a successful inventor of automobile accessories who became a pioneer of aviation.  After many re-designs of his airship he successfully crossed the English Channel in just over half an hour, removing another barrier for the airplane.  Consider asking these questions:

(Pause after reading pages 8 and 9.)  What do you think will happen next?  What makes you think so?  What clues did you get from the words and the pictures?

How do you explain why on page 11 there were “angry faces,” “fists were raised,” and yet on page 13 everyone is happy and Papa invites everyone to the cafe? 

Papa works on his airship designs for over six years.  What evidence do we have that there were problems during those six years?  What is Papa's attitude toward all those problems?  How does the author let us know this?

How do you know that Papa continued to learn and make improvements with each successive model?

On page 27, re-read the last paragraph.  Why do you think the author chose such short phrases to describe the English Channel?  What words in that paragraph give us a hint that Papa will take on the challenge of trying to cross the Channel?

Glorious means “completely enjoyable” or “worthy of admiration.”  Knowing that, do you think The Glorious Flight is a fitting title for this story?  Explain your thinking with details from the text. 


St. George, Judith.  So You Want to be President.  ISBN:  9780399234071.  Lexile: 730
This is a tongue-in-cheek look at the pros and cons of the Presidency.  Written in a very playful tone throughout most of the book, the author engages the reader by speaking to him/her directly.  Students will learn a surprising amount of Presidential trivia and will delight in David Small's caricature-style illustrations.

What is the author's purpose for the book?  How do you know?

How does the author organize the seemingly random bits of information about the Presidents?

What are some examples of words or phrases that go along with the author's playful tone for the book?

From page 44 on, the tone of the writing seems to shift away from being somewhat playful or silly to being more serious.  What is the author's (serious) view of the office of President?  What specific sentences told you so?





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