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Dead End in Norvelt

Last updated Thursday, September 27, 2012

Author: Jack Gantos
Date of Publication: 2011
ISBN: 0374379939
Grade Level: 5th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Oct. 2012

Synopsis: Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year's best contribution to children's literature and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction! Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is "grounded for life" by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack's way once his mom loans him out to help a feisty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launched on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air.

Note to readers:
•  It's best to start with ch.1, but you can skip to Miss Volker’s introduction on pg.22 after finishing ch.1

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Based on the cover, what do you think the book is about? Does Norvelt seem like an exciting town?
•  Do you know your neighbors? Have you ever helped them with projects?
•  Do you know what a drive-in movie is?
•  Have you ever been grounded? Why?
•  Have you ever gotten in trouble for playing with your parents' stuff?
•  What do you know about the Incas or the Spanish conquistadors?

•  Bunker – an underground secure place made to resist an enemy attack
•  Farrier – a person who shoes horses
•  Torturous – causing pain or suffering
•  Anemic – suffering from anemia or a shortage of hemoglobin ( a protein in blood cells that transports oxygen). Symptoms of anemia include weakness and breathlessness.
•  Blunderbuss – a short type of musket
•  Martian – from planet Mars
•  Camouflage – a clever disguise by becoming lost in the background and unseen by enemy
•  Transfusion – the direct transferring of blood
•  Midas touch – an impressive ability for making money

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Why doesn’t Jack’s mom want him to take money from Miss Volker?
•  Would you be upset if you were asked to help an adult during summer vacation? For no pay?
•  Why was Jack worried about his dad finding out what happened with the gun?
•  Should Jack be grounded?
•  Why are people in Norvelt worried about Russian spies?
•  Why does Miss Volker dip her hands in wax?
•  Why does Miss Volker want to write obituaries?
•  Is it okay to read other people’s notes or mail?
•  In what year is this book set?

Craft ideas:
•  Draw what you would see from the roof of your house if you had a pair of binoculars.
•  Create the front page of a newspaper. Write an obituary for someone you admire, listing their great accomplishments.

*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!