Reading Group Guide
A Simon Pulse Guide for Reading Groups
The Crying Rocks
By Janet Taylor Lisle
About the Book
There isn't a lot known for sure about Joelle's life before she was found-brought in from the railway depot, a scrawny five-year-old child.
"And don't ask me! I can't remember anything," she snaps at anyone who pries, including the quiet boy named Carlos who sits in the back row in Spanish class. But when Carlos tells her she looks like a girl in an old painting of Rhode Island's Narragansett Indians, a flicker of recognition surprises Joelle.
Carlos leads her through the forest to the ancient Crying Rocks, where howls on windy days are thought to be the spirit voices of children long ago, flung from the boulders to early death. The terrible story sparks memories and leads Joelle toward the history of a lost American people, and to her own past as well.
1. What does Aunt Mary Louise tell Joelle about her past? How does this make Joelle feel? Why?
2. "If you're related to someone, by blood, do you have feelings for them that you can't help, that are just built in?" Joelle wonders. "Is there some genetic thread that keeps you connected?" What do you think? If, in fact, Joelle believes this to be true, how might this affect her relationship with her uncles?
3. Joelle gives Carlos a hard time when they first meet to go to the woods, but she decides to "put him back in charge" when she realizes his feelings are hurt. "When you look too smart, ask a question," Lisle writes. "Every girl knows this." Why would Joelle believe this? Support your answer with examples from your own life.
4. Why does Uncle Vernon keep Joelle's past a secret? Was it fair of Vernon to hide the truth from Aunt Mary Louise and from Joelle? Why? What impact does this secret have on Joelle? In what ways do you think Joelle might have been different if she knew the truth all along?
5. What do Joelle and Carlos have in common? How does their friendship help each of them come to terms with the past?
6. As they research the history of the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island, and trek deeper into the forest in search of the Crying Rocks, Joelle and Carlos begin to learn more about their personal history as well. What experiences do they have in the forest that bring them closer to the truth?
7. Joelle says she has trouble remembering anything before age five, yet throughout the book memories keep cropping up. What triggers these memories? What does Joelle remember? What images does she see? Why do you think she does not remember her early childhood?
8. Joelle develops a friendship with Misti, the little girl that lives down the street. They grow closer over time. Writes Lisle: "Misti has found a place in [Joelle] that, mysteriously, and inexplicably, needed filling." What need does Misti fulfill? How does Joelle's relationship with Misti help Joelle to heal old wounds and reconnect with her past?
9. "One of Lisle's underlying themes in the novel is how cultures blend in our society so that surface appearance often no longer tells the true story of identity. Misti looks Asian, though she is only half Japanese and has lived her whole life in America. Carlos looks American but his name is Spanish and he is partly of Sioux heritage. What other cultural combinations appear in the story, not only of personal identity, but in food, in language, in religions, among others?"
10. How does Joelle's relationship with Uncle Vernon change after the death of Aunt Mary Louise?
11. In the book's final scene, Joelle spots Queenie walking up one side of the Crying Rocks, but Queenie soon disappears. "I couldn't tell if she was listening or crying," Joelle says to Carlos. What do you think Queenie was doing? Explain, using details from the story.
12. What research do you think Janet Taylor Lisle had to do in order to write The Crying Rocks? How does she integrate historical fact into a work of fiction?
Activities & Research
1. Draw or paint a portrait of Joelle based on descriptions in the book and on your own research into the Narragansett tribe.
2. Learn more about the Narragansett tribe by visiting www.narragansett-tribe.org or your local library. Specifically, seek information about the tribe's encounter with European settlers. Think about how Lisle incorporates this history into The Crying Rocks.
3. Chart Joelle's development, showing how she changes over the course of the book. Format the chart like a time line, but instead of using dates, choose turning points, such as Joelle's trip to the library to see the Narragansett mural, to mark points in time. Note Joelle's response to each event.
4. Create a diorama that depicts a scene from the book. Possibilities include one of Joelle and Carlos's trips to the forest, Joelle's first meeting with her uncles, or Joelle's and Carlos's meeting with Queenie around the campfire.
5. Use a Venn diagram to compare Joelle and Carlos. Use one side of the diagram to describe Joelle and the other side to describe Carlos. In the center, where the circles overlap, take note of what Joelle and Carlos have in common.
6. Design a new front and back cover for The Crying Rocks. For the front cover, think about important scenes from the book, and consider what images from the book would attract the most readers. On the back cover, write a brief, yet intriguing synopsis that will give readers an idea of what the book is about and pique their curiosity.
7. Write your own review for The Crying Rocks on www.janettaylorlisle.com. While you're there, read reviews of Lisle's other books. Select a title you might like to read next.
8. Imagine a sequel to The Crying Rocks. What do you think would happen to the book's main characters? Think specifically about Joelle's relationships-with Uncle Vernon, her other uncles, Carlos and Misti. Write a book jacket blurb summarizing the sequel.
About the Author
Janet Taylor Lisle's novels for young readers include six selected as Best Books of the Year by School Library Journal: Sirens and Spies, The Lampfish of Twill, Forest, A Message from the Match Girl (from the Investigators of the Unknown series), The Lost Flower Children, and Afternoon of the Elves, a Newbery Honor Book. The Art of Keeping Cool was a Horn Book Fanfare title and winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Ms. Lisle lives with her family on the coast of Rhode Island.
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