Monday 18 January 2016

Subgirl: Chapter One with Critical Thinking Questions

Time for another instalment of a chapter from one of my books.  I have previously posted the first chapter of Subgirl, which is written for middle grade readers.  However, this time, it comes with a new drawing as well as some critical thinking questions to be used by teachers, parents or young readers who want more interaction with the book.  I'm working on creating questions and projects for each chapter as a novel study.  Thanks to my colleague Kelli for the idea!  Here's the first chapter:

Chapter One:  Introductions
            There are so many reasons why I, Jordana Simkins, am an odd twelve-year-old, it’s hard to know where to begin.  My appearance would be the first thing you would notice, so perhaps I’ll start there. 
            I’m taller than most girls my age.  In fact, I’m taller than many grown women, including my mother.  While I was at school, this was often an embarrassing fact, especially when I had to dance the polka with short Marty Henderson in gym class.  You’ll notice I used the past tense when I referred to my school days.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  But soon after my twelfth birthday, my height began to be an asset – which is something that is good and helpful.
            I also have impossible fine brown hair which refuses to do anything but lie flat against my skull.  I generally wear it in two long braids down my back, but my mother is forever trying to curl and style my hair in the most outrageous ways.  This too would prove to be an asset in my twelfth year. 
            Another oddity is my thick, thick glasses.  Even after the lenses are shaved down to make them as thin as possible they are over a centimeter in width.  All the other girls my age with glasses are allowed to wear contact lenses and often experiment with various colors; including violet which makes them look rather peculiar, but I have an astigmatism, which means my eyes are shaped more like footballs than soccer balls, which for some reason makes wearing contact lenses impossible.
            Finally, while I have many other abnormal features, I don’t really enjoy talking about them, so I will just briefly mention that I have size 11 feet.  I know, you’re probably rolling on the floor laughing hysterically right now.  It will only make you laugh harder to know that having such large feet often causes me to be clumsy, but is it really fair to laugh at people for things over which they have absolutely no control?  I’m sure you have some part of your anatomy which is a bit strange too. 
            Anyway, it turns out that it is not very common for girls to have size 11 feet.  It’s a better size for a 17-year-old boy or maybe a clown, but the shoe companies interested in twelve-year-old girls do not even consider size 11 as a possibility.  Instead, I have to buy shoes for teenaged boys or shop in specialty shoe stores for woman with large feet.  Apparently, these women don’t care what their shoes look like because all the shoes in these stores are horrible.  Needless to say, I don’t enjoy shoe shopping.
            In all fairness, my peculiarities should stop here.  The rest of me should be normal, normal, normal.  But as my father has taught me since I could talk, which was rather earlier than other children (but I’ll get to that later), life isn’t fair and my differences go beyond my looks.
            Speaking of my father, my parents are both rather unique themselves.  Dad is a rocket scientist and if I could tell you how many times I’ve been told “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist” to figure something out or to do something or to turn on a light bulb, you wouldn’t believe me.  It’s Dad’s favourite joke. 
            “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to raise a baby girl, Jordana, but it sure helps!” 
For fun, my Dad builds canoes and rocking chairs in our basement with his fellow rocket scientist friend, Mr. Leopold.  My Dad and Mr. Leopold also enjoy puns, which are terrible jokes involving playing with words that are just barely funny, and if I have the misfortune of going downstairs to bring my Dad a phone message or a snack, I am inundated with puns, meaning I have to stand there for a really long time pretending I think my Dad and Mr. Leopold are funny.  Dad will say something like this:
            “Hey Leo, can you give me a hand with this rocking chair?”
            And Mr. Leopold will reply, “But that would leave me with only one!”
            “Ho, Ho, Ho,” they will chuckle while I stand there waiting for them to take the cups of coffee I am trying to give them.
            My mother is equally eccentric.  Although I’m not at liberty to tell you exactly what she does, I can tell you she is heavily involved in the political world and that she often travels and spends many hours at her computer writing letters in foreign languages and encrypting emails to numerous people in similar positions.
            When she isn’t working hard or traveling, my mother loves baking extravagant desserts.  The only problem is that she always gets distracted by a long distance phone call or a triple-encrypted urgent email so that her baking is disgustingly ruined.  But no matter how badly she ruins a dessert, she always freezes her creations in our giant walk-in freezer which takes up the other half of our basement.
So, between my father and mother, we have a house filled with half-baked goodies, canoes and rocking chairs.  I often suggest we try selling some of my parents’ creations, but they just smile at one another, give me a hug and say “We don’t do it for money, darling.  We love what we create, just like we love you and would never sell you no matter what.” 
They’re so weird.  How can I help being a little strange?
            My mother also strives to share her knowledge of foreign languages and so at any given time of the day or night, she will call out a word from among the fourteen languages she reads and writes fluently and ask me to translate:
            “Filaki!” she will say when she comes to my room to say goodnight.
            “Greek for kiss.”  I will reply and she’ll give me an approving kiss goodnight.
            And if you haven’t put down this book yet in fear of my freaky family, I’ll now add the final nail to my coffin, proving how very bizarre I am so that you would never, ever wish to be my friend.  I’m incredibly smart.  Embarrassingly so.  I learned to say the alphabet by my first birthday.  I could add double digits at the age of two and multiply at three.  By the time I started Kindergarten, which was at age four, they made an exception for me, I could read chapter books, do long division and write in paragraph form.
            Kindergarten was a bit of a snap for me, so they bumped me into grade one halfway through the year.  I was still miles ahead of the other children so my parents suggested I tutor children when it was appropriate.  I did – not only grade one students, but grade two and three as well.  When I was five, I completed grades two, three and four and when I was six, I finished elementary school.
            This is when my height became an asset.  At the age of seven, I was already five feet tall and not even the shortest kid in grade seven.  I finished grades seven and eight that year and edited the junior high newspaper. 
By the time I was ten, I had written and aced my grade twelve diploma exams.  The university registrars scratched their heads at my application to attend first year classes.  They decided it would upset the morale of the other students to have a ten-year-old in their classes.  Instead, they agreed to have me take classes by correspondence. 
Within two years, I graduated with a four year degree in education.  I had always helped other students during my school years and so education seemed like a natural step for me.  I even fit in a four-month teaching internship where I learned how to work with a full class of students rather than just a small group.
            During my internship, I learned a lot about classroom management, which is the way teachers get kids to sit down and listen when they would rather be running around the room.  I had a wonderful classroom teacher to work with in a grade one classroom.  Four months was the amount of time I spent in grade one my first time around, so it was good to have a refresher course.
            At the age of twelve, I had a decision to make – study towards a masters and PhD or take up teaching.  I enjoyed my internship so much that I chose to teach.  I’ve always loved helping others learn and I was tired of taking my classes alone in my room.  I was ready to be in a classroom again.
            Again, I puzzled administrators with my request.  A twelve-year-old had never been on the payroll before – in fact it is illegal, where I live, to work for pay until a person is fourteen-years old.  My parents made an arrangement where I would substitute teach towards a scholarship fund.  I would only teach grades one to four so that I would not be too close in age to my students.  All of the administrators but one agreed to this arrangement. 
            Ms. Luella Trites is the vice-superintendent of our school division.  It is fitting that her name, Luella, means “renowned in battle”.  She is a fearsome-looking woman with perfectly manicured nails, hair that never moves, and ramrod straight posture.  She tried everything to keep me from teaching in the school system, but in the end, she was outvoted by the superintendent who thought the schools would benefit from a role model like me. 
My parents have always been with me when I have to see Ms. Trites, but I’m afraid that one day I may run into her on my own.  I’m dreading that day.

            Despite Ms. Trites’ best efforts, I will now enter the life of a substitute teacher before most girls start baby-sitting.  So, that brings me to today – my first day of teaching.

Critical Thinking Questions:
I'd love to know if you or one of your kids used these questions.  You can post your responses in the comment section and I will reply!  You can also let me know if you have better questions or ways to ask these questions.

Why does Jordana think she is odd?
Write about why you think Jordana is or isn’t strange.
Find three interesting words in this chapter.  Draw a picture or use words to explain what they mean.
Draw a picture of what you think Jordana and/ or one of her parents look like.  Make sure you use the descriptions in Chapter One.
What adult job do you think you would be good at right now?  What skills do you have that would make you good at that job?


  1. This would be such a good book for a kids or Mom and daughter book club, and those questions would work well for that as well as for teachers using this book! (What a good summer reading book...)

  2. Thanks Katie! I love the Mom-Daughter book club idea!