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The Harlem Charade

Last updated Sunday, July 28, 2019

Author: Natasha Tarpley
Date of Publication: 2017
ISBN: 0545783879
Grade Level: 5th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Aug. 2019

Synopsis: Harlem is home to all kinds of kids. Jin sees life passing her by from the window of her family's bodega. Alex wants to help the needy one shelter at a time, but can't tell anyone who she really is. Elvin's living on Harlem's cold, lonely streets, surviving on his own after his grandfather was mysteriously attacked. When these three strangers join forces to find out what happened to Elvin’s grandfather, their digging leads them to an enigmatic artist whose missing masterpieces are worth a fortune—one that might save the neighborhood from development by an ambitious politician who wants to turn it into Harlem World, a ludicrous historic theme park. But if they don’t find the paintings soon, nothing in their beloved neighborhood will ever be the same....

Note to readers:
•  This is a very long book, and it starts slow. So take your time starting. Experience life in the community of Harlem, New York! See Pinterest for some maps showing the real Harlem. The Studio Museum Harlem and the Harlem Hospital are real places. Three very different 12 year olds must track down the missing paintings, foil the evil politician and find out why Elvin's grandfather was attacked. The fact that some developers would prefer to simply destroy historical sites in pursuit of progress and the sometimes unsavory side to the art world are explored honestly here.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  How many of you can find New York on the map (globe) in the room? Where is Harlem in New York?

•  brownstones - a house with a front of brownstone, which is a brownish red sandstone
•  labyrinth - an arrangement or system of winding, intricate passages or pathes, esigned to confuse whoever tries to go through and find the exit; maze
•  merchandise - anything bought or sold for profit; goods; wares
•  kimchi - spicy, pungent vegetable dish that consists of one or more pickled and fermented vegetables and especially NAPA CABBAGE and radishes with various seasonings (such as garlic, red chili pepper, ginger, scallions, and anchovy paste) and that is the national dish of South Korea
•  mural - a work of art that is applied to and made integral with a wall or ceiling surface
•  pantry - a room or closet used for storage (as of provisions) or from which food is brought to the table

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  What business do Jin's grandparents own?Jin’s family owned a bodega, a small grocery store. She went there after school to do homework and help out. How would your life be different if your family operated a grocery store? Would you like that change? Explain.
•  Jin had a secret cubby behind the deli counter in her family’s bodega, where she could sit unobserved and write down interesting moments and details. Do you have a special place where you can go to be alone? If you don’t already have this place, can you think of a place you’d like to make a secret cubby? Explain.
•  What did the mysterious girl Jin knew from history class leave taped to a jar of pickles?
•  Alex left smiley face notes with Metrocards attached in different places in her neighborhood. Have you ever performed a random act of kindness? Explain. Has someone ever done a random act of kindness for you? If so, how did you respond?
•  Why does Elvin live with his grandfather?
•  What are Councilman Markum's plans for Harlem World?

Craft ideas:
•  Design a treasure hunt. Include at least 4 clues.
•  Create a flyer advertising that Rose’s dog Noodles is up for adoption. Can be print or digital.
•  Create a piece of art – use whatever materials are available – paint, paper, beads, clay, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, etc.
•  Design an apartment building to replace those that Markum ordered destroyed. Use materials that are available, including cardboard and other recycled materials, or commercial building blocks, wood or plastic.
•  Check our craft ideas on Pinterest!

Special activities:
•  Bring a map of New York City for the discussion, which will show Harlem.

Tips for creating an awesome treasure hunt

#Plan your route. ... #Scout out locations. ... #Write and number the clues, and put them in numbered envelopes. ... #Give yourself lots of time to plan. ...

*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!