This post includes language arts and interdisciplinary activities for Masterminds, by Gordon Korman. It’s part of a series that shares language arts and interdisciplinary activities for selections from Duke TIP’s 4th-6th Grade Online Book Club for gifted and talented students, which you can re-purpose for your classroom.
- Smart protagonists whose curiosity leads to startling discoveries about themselves, their families, and their world
- A mystery with lots of action
- Opportunities to help gifted students think critically about the reliability of the information they consume
- Interesting philosophical and ethical issues – including the nature and source(s) of contentment and justice
- Social-emotional topics like the importance of collaboration and perseverance.
- Engaging, challenging interdisciplinary connections in history, computer science, genetics, and psychology.
About the Book
Eli, Randy, Malik, Tori, Amber, and Hector have always felt pretty lucky. Although they could do with some excitement now and then, their small, secluded hometown of Serenity, New Mexico, is pretty much the perfect place to grow up. Only 189 people live there, so everyone knows one another. All of the kids have literally been playing together since they were babies. Every family has a neat, spacious home, complete with a gaming system, a tree house, and a swimming pool. Every kid is encouraged to cultivate his or her unique abilities. Best of all, everyone in town is committed to the three essential qualities—honesty, harmony, and contentment—so there is zero crime. Everyone is happy, so no one ever leaves. Who could ask for more, right?
The trouble is, these kids are too smart for their own good. They are starting to suspect something is not quite right about Serenity. One of them gets really sick when he tries to bike outside the town limits. Another is suddenly sent away to live with grandparents without any explanation or forwarding address. All of their parents are tight-lipped and insist nothing is out of the ordinary, so the kids have no choice but to start looking for answers on their own. Through their ingenuity, teamwork, and courage, they uncover a trail of clues that leads right to a top-secret project involving the world’s greatest criminal masterminds! Now these friends know too much, and they are in grave danger. Have their own parents been lying to them? Is anyone really safe in Serenity? How will these kids get out of this mess before it’s too late?
About the Author
Gordon Korman hand wrote his first novel over a four-month period in his seventh grade English class. When he was finished, his mom helped him type up his manuscript. Then he decided to take a chance and submit what he’d written to Scholastic Publishing. Two years later, Korman was a published author, and he’d only just begun high school! Since that time, Korman has earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Dramatic Writing (with a minor in Film and TV) from New York University and published more than eighty novels for kids and teens on a wide range of page-turning topics including hypnotism, mountain climbing, surviving the Titanic, fantasy football, deep sea diving, and raising baby chickens. Korman grew up near Toronto, Canada, but he now lives in Long Island, NY, with his wife and three kids. He loves to travel the world, visiting schools and libraries to chat with his readers. So far, he’s been to forty-nine states, nine Canadian provinces, and eleven countries in Europe and Asia! Visit his website to see his responses to the top ten questions kids usually ask him.
Have you taught Masterminds or other books by Gordon Korman?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- Eli and his friends live in the tiny town of Serenity, New Mexico. The town’s motto is “America’s Ideal Community” because, as their parents constantly remind them, they all enjoy “so much quality of life. . .in such a small package” (7, 10). How would you describe Serenity? What are this town’s most appealing features? Although this book’s setting is fictional, in what way(s) does Serenity feel familiar? Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast Serenity with your hometown. Be careful to note anything that makes Serenity seem unusual or unrealistic.
- Malik wisely reflects on whether the Rules of Contentment, which he and his friends have been taught to meditate on daily, even apply outside Serenity: “We should be the poster town for spoiling your kids. Maybe that’s why Contentment is one of our main classes at school. I wonder how they teach Contentment in places where kids don’t have as much stuff” (38). What do you think Malik means by this? What effect does “stuff” have on one’s contentment? Does having more typically lead one to be more, or less, content? Why?
- Did you notice that the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance kids recite in Serenity, New Mexico, is different from the one you’ve learned? At the end of the pledge, they say, “with unity and gladness for all” instead of “with liberty and justice for all” (112). How does this edit change the Pledge’s meaning? Why would adults in Serenity make this change? Considering our nation’s history and collective identity, do you think the words “unity and gladness” are worthy substitutions for “liberty and justice”? Why (or why not)?
- As Eli, Tori, Malik, and Hector are flying their webcam-enhanced kite in the park, trying to take aerial photos of the Plastics Works, Tori has an unsettling epiphany of her own. She realizes, “The day is sunny and blustery—at least blustery for around here. Sometimes the prevailing winds are pushed south toward us by the mountains of Colorado. Of course, that information comes from school, so it isn’t necessarily true. For all we know, some mythological wind god blows over Serenity through titanic lips” (137). Although she tries to brush it off with a bit of humor, Tori clearly isn’t sure whom or what she can believe anymore. In what way(s) are we dependent on others, especially as young people, to help us establish the truths of how our world works and how we fit within it? Why is it so easy to be misled?
- Surprisingly, it turns out that Randy, the one kid who frequently gets into trouble, is not even one of the criminal clones. Up until he is sent away, he has been raised in exactly the same way as the eleven special kids in Serenity, though. How do you think raising the children in such a carefully controlled environment has affected their character and personality development? Does Randy’s behavior give you any indication about the overall success of the Project Osiris?
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
- The Boston Tea Party
- an overview of the actions by the British government that led to the tea party
- a review of primary sources chronicling the views of the American patriots and the British monarchy during this period
- an investigation of why the British didn’t attempt to stop the Boston Tea Party
- an exploration of the American Revolution from the British point of view.
- Internet Access, Monitoring & Censorship
- the history of how the Internet and the World Wide Web were invented
- an exploration of how how wireless Internet signals are transmitted
- an introduction to “smart homes” and the Internet of things
- an overview of privacy concerns related to the connected world
- an introduction to clones and how they are made
- an instructional video for making a cloned potato
- and an exploration of the arguments for and against cloning
- The Nature vs. Nurture Debate
- an introduction to the debate and how the study of genetics has changed our understanding of human development
- an explanation of how nature and nurture work together to help people grow and change
- an exploration how epigeneticists are studying the ways in which life experiences create chemical memories that affect the way our bodies interpret our genetic code.