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The Birthday Room

Last updated Sunday, June 5, 2005

Author: Kevin Henkes
Date of Publication: 1999
ISBN: 0688167330
Grade Level: 5th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Jun. 2005

Synopsis: "Two of the things Benjamin Hunter received for his twelfth birthday took him completely by surprise: a room and a letter. The room was from his parents. The letter was from his uncle." Ben was just two years old when he and his uncle, Ian, were last together, so Ben didn't remember him. And no one in Ben's family ever talked about the man. Thenthe letter arrived, changing Ben's life, and changing his family in unexpected ways. And there was the birthday room...

Note to readers:
•  This is a chapter book that you won't be able to finish. Aim to read through the end of chapter 3 (although you do not need to reach that point), and tell the children that the book will be placed into their library if they would like to check it out and read the rest.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  What do you want for your birthday?
•  What was your favorite birthday present you have received? Given? What's the worst present you ever received.
•  What pictures are on the cover? How do you think they might relate to the story?
•  What do you think the title of this book means? What do you think the story will be about?
•  Have your parents ever pressured you to be a certain way or to be a certain kind of person?
•  Metaphors are similes without the words "like" or "as." Have students keep track of (or shout out) the metaphors as you read.

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Topics for pages 3-9:
•  There are 3 rooms in the attic - what are they used for?
•  Compare how Ben's parents celebrate his birthday with how your parents celebrate your birthday.
•  What did Ben hope to get as a birthday present? Do you remember a time when you wanted something and you didn't get it? What happened?
•  How would you feel about getting a room for a present? Why do you think that he feels similarly/ differently?
•  Topics for pages 9-12:
•  What other presents did Ben get for his birthday?
•  Describe Gramma Lu
•  Compare Ben's feelings about the room with his feelings after he read the letter.
•  Topics for pages 13-19:
•  What did you learn about Ben's relationship with his uncle? How does Ben's mom feel about his uncle?
•  Topics for pages 20-22:
•  What happened to Ben's painting Yellow Sky?
•  Why did Ben end up wishing that he had never painted it?

Craft ideas:
•  Look at your hands, and try to sketch them (bring ahead option - paintings/ drawings of hands by artists, especially Diego Rivera, or charcoal to sketch with).
•  Make your own drawing entitled Yellow Sky.
•  Draw an aerial view of your perfect bedroom, furniture, decorations, etc.

Special activities:
•  Bring ahead option for prize books: bring birthday wrapping paper and have the children wrap the prize books to be given out later.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!