FOR TEACHERS, HOME SCHOOLERS, OR PARENTS WHO WANT TO DIG A LITTLE DEEPER INTO THE STORY WITH CHILDREN: Teachers who are using The Black Alabaster Box with reading groups, book clubs, or as part of a study of the Great Westward Migration may find these questions useful. You could have students write their take on a question in a journal after reading the chapter, too. I don't think it would be appropriate to have students answer all of the questions on paper--they are better discussed.
You will notice that questions allow students to respond on a number of cognitive levels. They may be answered literally or invite children to dig beneath the surface in much more imaginative ways. Have fun. If you have other ideas, please feel free to post them in the comments on my blog.
If you are reading the book as a family story, go lightly on the questions. One or two at the end of the chapter are enough. In fact, you might want to bring up the questions later--at dinner or at another time as a topic of conversation.
What were some of the reasons that pioneers decided to go West?
Why did Grace’s family want to go West?
Grandma Rhoads gives Grace a handkerchief. We read that Grace thought of other things she’d rather take with her. What did the handkerchief symbolize for Grandma? for Grace?
Thinking of all the stuff you have, what would you choose to take with you if your family were going West and you could only take four things besides your clothes?
How would you describe Junior and Ruby Swathmore?
What role do you think they will play in the book?
On p 12 there is a clue about why Junior and Ruby act as they do. What do you think it is and why might it be a clue?
What does Sid’s way of dealing with Cora and Jimmy tell you about him?
What do you think it is about Sid that makes him somebody you wouldn’t want to fight with?
What does this chapter tell us about how a Wagon Train was organized?
Mr. Payne was probably the most qualified person to be Wagon Captain. Why do you think he wasn’t elected? What do you make of Daddy's answer when Grace questions him about the election?
What does Mr. Stokes say about risks to pioneers going West? How does this match your image of going West?
Why do you think the chapter title is “Hard Words”?
Compare and contrast Mr. Payne and Mr. Swathmore.
Why do you think Grace liked Mr. Payne?
Why do you think she was afraid of Mr. Swathmore?
What do you think the possibilities for Grace are now?
Why do you think Mr. Payne wanted to stay behind to help the Willis family?
Mr. Payne involves Grace in helping to cook and make their meals. Why do you think he takes the time to do that?
What did you learn about scouting that you didn’t know?
Based on the story, what would you say is the most important thing a scout can do?
Has your idea of Old Shep’s role changed since chapter 1? Why?
What does Mr. Payne’s reaction to seeing the Swathmore wagon tell you about his character?
What do you make of Daddy’s caution to Mr. Payne?
What do you think will happen to Grace?
How has Grace’s feeling changed about the handkerchief Grandma Rhoads gave her?
What does it symbolize for her?
What do you think the main characters in this chapter want most? Grace, Mr. Swathmore, Mrs. Swathmore, Ruby, and Junior?
Grace reaches a critical moment. What is it and how does it change her outlook?
Why doesn't Grace run away when Swathmores go to the trading post?
How might Jim Payne’s lessons on scouting be influencing her decision?
Was Grace right in telling a lie about when the Swathmores were expected back?
Were the Swathmores right to leave her in such all alone on the homestead?
What role does Old Shep play in this chapter?
The author leaves us with the impression that Grace has taken more than one beating from Mr. Swathmore in the past. Why did she run away this time?
What do you think will happen to her now?
What are her chances of staying alive in the wildnerness?
What does Grace thinks she needs besides magic to survive?
Why did Mr. Swathmore come after her?
Knowing what you know about Grace and where she is, what would you do next if you were her?
Did Grace make a good choice in stopping at the homestead instead of going on? Give reasons for your opinion.
At what point in the chapter are you most anxious for Grace?
Could Grace have made it this far without Old Shep?
Why do you think Grace trusts Mr. Nichols when he appears when she didn’t trust Leon and Dillon when they appeared?
Why do you think that Grace couldn’t cry when she learned about her parents?
What do you make of Mr. Nichols? What questions would you want to ask him?
What does Mr. Nichols tell you about the role of magic in the story? How is this like/different from Mr. Payne’s idea about magic?
Why was Grace worried about losing the handkerchief? What has made it important to her when she didn't think much of it in Chapter 1?
What do you make of the character Celeste? What role do you think she will play? Use the text to support your opinion.
If you were faced with Grace’s choices, would you choose to go on to St. Louis, stay in Kansas City, or go with Mr. Nichols? Why?
What different emotions did you have as you read the chapter? What made you feel them?
How did you react when magic became very important to the story?
How does Grace seem to feel when she discovers there is such a thing as magic?
What do you think is going to happen now?
Why do you think Grace volunteered to open The Black Alabaster Box?
What did Mr. Nichols do to prepare her for opening it?
Why do you think he was so particular about directions?
Should Grace be afraid?
What part of the chapter did you like best?
What surprised you?
Do you think Grace will ever see Mr. Nichols again? Why/why not?
Why do you think she forgot about the carpetbag and its contents?
Why do you think that C’lestin (Mr. Nichols) went to the masked ball?
Do you think that Celeste could ever change?
What caused C’lestin to have tears in his eyes when he left the ball?
What happens in the chapter that is like the opening scene in Chapter One?
Why do you think Grace puts off returning to St. Louis?
Should Grace feel guilty? Why/why not?
Did Junior and Ruby turn out the way you expected them to?
What did you like most in the chapter and why?
What do you think is going to happen now?
How does the magic Celeste placed on The Black Alabaster Box backfire on her?
Do you think that Junior and Ruby will be able to find Grace and her family? Why/why not?
What evidence do you find in the chapter to suggest that Celeste learned a lesson about paying attention to children?
There are three different scenes in the chapter. What are they and how did each make you feel?
Why did James blame himself for what happened?
How did Mr. Nichols reassure him?
What role does the handkerchief that Grandma Rhoads gave Grace in Chapter Two play now?
What did Ruby find that made the hunt for Celeste’s box personal?
How does the author create a feeling of uneasiness in the chapter?
What did you think when Ruby and Junior appeared at the back door?
What role is James playing by the end of the chapter?
What do you make of this chapter?
What surprised you?
Do Junior and Ruby get what they deserved? Explain your thinking.
What did you expect for Celeste to find in the tin box?
How does Mr. Nichols try to help James make sense of what has happened?
Why do you think Mr. Nichols doesn't blame Grace for all the bad things that happened after she forgot about the crystal?
What are some ways Mr. Nichols identifies to heal and repair the world besides using water from The Last Crystal?
James remembers something that his mother told him that gives him the courage to go on. What is it?
If you could ask a question of one of the characters, which character would it be and what would you ask?
What part of the book did you like best and why?
What didn’t work for you and why?
If you could change one thing in the book, what would it be and why?
Mr. Nichols said that there are some things only a child can do. What do you think he meant?