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Mysteries in our National Parks: Cliff-Hanger

Last updated Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Author: Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson
Date of Publication: 1998
ISBN: 0792270363
Grade Level: 4th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Apr. 2008

Synopsis: from Amazon.com: The third entry in the National Parks Mystery series features the Landon family (veterinarian mother, photographer father, 12-year-old Jack, and 10-year-old Ashley), which finds itself in Mesa Verde National Park, where Mrs. Landon is on the trail of a human-attacking cougar. But the Landons are not alone. With them is 13-year-old Lucky, whom they have taken into foster care on an emergency basis. Lucky immediately arouses suspicion, making mysterious calls in the middle of the night and taking things that aren't hers. But Jack is her friend (and thinks she's cute), so he protects her from questions. In a spine-chilling conclusion, Jack must try to save Lucky from both the cougar and her return to a life that Jack knows will cause her pain.

Note to readers:
•  Read the introduction/forward before the first Chapter to the kids. It’s an important part of the story and will get them interested.
•  Vocabulary: • Alcove • Chasm • Rivulet • Artifacts

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Looking at the cover, what do you see? Do you see the mountain lion and the buildings?
•  Where would you expect to find mountain lions/cougar and the buildings on the cover?The buildings on the cover are Pueblos which are communities built in the Southwest by Native Americans. The communities were often built in the cliffs.
•  Look at the map in the beginning and show the kids where this takes place. How is the climate different there than here? (Both sunny and desert but we have the ocean)
•  How does the ocean change the soil and climate of our state vs Colorado which is surrounded by other states (no ocean).
•  What does Mesa Verde mean in Spanish? (Green table) Why do you think the park was named this?

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Have you ever been to a National Park or any park? Why is it important not to interfere or destroy things in our parks?
•  What kinds of animals were mentioned in the story? Can you think of some other animals that might live at the park?
•  Do you think Lucky is telling the truth about her situation and her friend Maria? Why or why not?
•  If the story is true, do you think Lucky should tell the police, Ms. Lopez or Steve and Olivia Landers?
•  Do you think Jack should tell his parents what he saw and heard or about Lucky’s story?
•  Do you think not telling puts them in danger? What would you do?
•  Have you ever argued with your brother or sister? How did you make up?
•  Have you ever disobeyed your parents? How did you feel afterwards?
•  Is it ever OK to take something that is not yours?

Craft ideas:
•  Make a notebook out of recycled paper and magazines. Bring leftover white paper from work and cut it into four rectangles. (If using regular 8 ½ x 11 copy paper, you can make four notebooks from several sheets of paper.) The work paper should have one side that does not have printing. Make sure all the pages without writing are facing up. Cut a piece of construction paper in half and use that as the cover to the notebook. (One piece of construction paper will make 2 covers). The notebook can be like a book or like a tablet depending on how you cut the construction paper! Wrap the construction paper around the cut recycled paper and staple one edge (either the top or the side depending on how you cut the construction paper). Color the cover or better yet, have the kids cut out colors, letters, photos from old newspapers, magazine etc... and glue them on the cover!
•  Make a mountain lion/cougar mask.
•  Listen again to the description of the national park. Try to draw one of the sceneries the book talked about.

*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!