I’ve always been a fan of Book Talks. Groups of students reading the same text; having the opportunity to ask questions and discuss themes within the novel. With rich texts, there’s no telling where these stories may lead and what actions students may take based on their learning. Sadly, libraries vary from school to school, and finding rich texts within libraries is often a challenge. Last year I decided to hold off in hopes that we might purchase some texts. This year, tired of waiting, I purchased novel sets to use in my class. One of the novels that I purchased was Front Desk by Kelly Yang. Now prior to purchasing novels for my students to read, I took the time to read the novel myself and I couldn’t put it down. Once finished, I reached for the sequel, Three Keys, which is an equally compelling read. Even if you don’t read the books with your students, I strongly recommend educators read them. 

Front Desk is the story of 10-year-old Mia who is a Chinese American immigrant who manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel while her parents clean the rooms. Along the way, she meets friends at her new school and it is through her interactions with others that she learns a variety of life lessons. As the students read, it was amazing to hear the reactions of students from across the classroom. Shouts of, “That’s racist” and, “How is any of this ok?” filled the room as students discussed some of Nia’s experiences and those of the residents of the motel. Reading the novel offered students opportunities to share their own experiences and to talk about some of the injustices they see in the world. I have to say, it was a novel that sparked many great conversations and for some students, got them thinking about ways in which to take action.

On her site, Kelly Yang offers teachers a variety of resources for both books. As with all my Book Talks, I usually prepare a variety of activities for students that might help support their discussions in their groups. Many of these activities are ones that I have adapted from lesson ideas shared with me in the past. In this post, I’m sharing 3 templates that you might consider using with students and that can be used with any novel.

Character Analysis – Using this template, students are asked to pick a character and to answer a variety of questions about the character.  




Comparing Myself to a Character – Using a Venn diagram, students compare themselves to one of the characters in the book. In the past, I have also had students compare themselves to 2 characters, creating a 3 circle Venn diagram. 



Themes – Authors often share valuable lessons and messages in their novels. We consider these to be the theme or themes of a novel. Using this template, students answer a variety of questions to get at the heart of the author’s message.

Texts can act as windows and mirrors as students read. Mirrors reflect the lived experiences of students and help them to build their identities. Windows are texts that offer a view into the experiences of others. It’s important for students to learn about others as they learn about themselves. Front Desk and Three Keys are incredibly rich texts that can act as both for students. Consider reading them with your students.


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