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Half Upon a Time

Last updated Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Author: James Riley
Date of Publication: 2010
ISBN: 9781416995937
Grade Level: 5th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Sep. 2011

Synopsis: Jack lives in a fantasy world. Really. He's the son of the infamous Jack who stole the magic beans from the giant, and he's working hard to restore his family's reputation. He finds the perfect opportunity when a "princess" lands in front of him, apparently from the land of Punk, as her Punk Princess t-shirt implies. May is from our world, and she's utterly confused to find herself in the midst of the fairy tale characters she has read about. But Jack and May have more in common than they realize--and together, they embark on a hilarious and wild adventure in this highly accessible, modern middle grade fantasy novel.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Start by asking why they think the book is titled “Half Upon a Time”. What common fairy tale phrase is that a play on? Does that title tell them anything about the book? Does the title seem serious or funny?
•  Then read aloud the inside cover for a quick overview of the book (which will hopefully intrigue and set up the kids for the story).

Vocabulary Selection:
•  p. 2 BLUNT PROP SWORD - a realistic-looking, but fake (harmless) sword, used in plays.
•  p.3 TIARA - a crown
•  p. 23 POINTEDLY - on purpose, and wanting to be noticed

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  During reading it may help to read aloud the characters of both Jack and May as if they are teenagers who are a bit surly and sarcastic.
•  Questions to ask during reading:
•  p. 8: Would you like a school where you have to pass “the princess test”? What would you have done differently to pass the test? How would you design a princess test?
•  p. 11: Would you hunt fairy wings for profit?
•  p. 15: What do you think a “were-rabbit” is?
•  p. 21: Do you think May is a real princess? Why or why not?
•  p. 22: Do you think the big man in green will be a friend or foe? Why?
•  p. 25: What was the small fat card May pulled out of her pocket? How would people like Jack who have never seen any kind of technology before describe a cell phone and other things we use every day? (e.g. a computer, the kind of walls we have in our houses, a car, a bicycle, a skateboard, a watch, etc.)
•  p. 27: May’s grandmother had a wooden box with a heart on it that she always carefully hid and was stolen from her. May also says they moved a lot. Who do you think May’s grandmother might be? (If they don’t guess or remember, she might be Snow White).

Craft ideas:
•  This book doesn’t have any pictures or drawings of the characters, just descriptions of them and their clothing. Draw how you picture any of them, or draw any scene you enjoyed from the book.
•  On pp. 24-29 Jack describes and shows May a “Story Book” that writes down any stories you tell it, “painting whatever you’re thinking as pictures”. If you had a Story Book, what story would you tell it from your own life? Draw any pictures the Story book would draw for you as you told the story.

*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!