This post includes English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for The Strangers, by Margaret Peterson Haddix. It’s part of a series that shares English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated 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.
Why The Strangers?
- An enthralling mystery that entices the reader to contemplate what makes individuals unique
- A story told from the point of view of three different characters, enabling readers to hear the action from three different perspectives
- Strong use of symbolism and imagery that immerses the reader in the story in such a way that they can imagine themselves in the place of the characters
- Exploration of social-emotional topics such as family dynamics, resilience, honesty, and decision making.
- An opportunity for students to examine the concepts of dystopia and injustice.
- Interdisciplinary connections in the fascinating topics of quantum mechanics, the Fibonacci sequence, and cryptology
About the Book
Imagine you found out that someone else in the country has your exact same name, is the same age, and was born on the same day as you. As if this wouldn’t be coincidence enough, this child also has two siblings with the same names and birth dates as your siblings, and these other kids have been kidnapped! For the Greystone kids this strange occurrence sets off a chain of events that separates them from their mother and forces them on a dangerous and intriguing journey. Chess, Emma and Finn Greystone must use love and logic to decipher codes and unravel secrets in order to reunite their family. The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix will take readers on a mysterious, plot-twisting adventure!
About the Author
Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of over 40 books for children and young adults. She is most well known for writing dystopian adventure series, including the Shadow Children series and the Missing series. The Strangers is the first book in Haddix’s newest series, Greystone Secrets. She was born and raised in Ohio and currently lives there with her husband.
Have you taught The Strangers?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- As the children work to discover what has happened to their mother, they often try to protect Finn from harsh truths. “Finn usually hate[s] feeling left out and too young, but now he want[s] to cheer, Hurray! The three of you are going to take care of everything!” (120). Why do you think Finn feels differently about the older kids leaving him out now?
- In what way do the two alternate worlds in the book compare to each other? How are they different? Draw a Venn diagram to organize the similarities and differences between these two settings.
- Desperately trying to discover what they can about their mother’s disappearance, the children look through the websites she designs. Finn explains to Natalie that his mother uses a butterfly for the logo of her websites. Emma adds that her mother likes butterflies because they represent “Rebirth…. Metamorphosis. Second chances” (124).
- Why are the ideas the butterfly represents so important to Mrs. Greystone?
- Why did she choose to hide a code inside the pictures of the butterflies?
- What symbol would you use to represent yourself? Why would you choose this symbol? What does it represent about you?
- Draw a picture of the symbol in your journal.
- Symbolism is when an author uses an object to represent something else like a person, a place, some other object, or an abstract idea. It is a type of figurative language that writers use to deepen meaning and feeling in their writing. When the children leave the spinning room and stumble out of a mysterious house, they notice large fences around the house. “‘I don’t like fences,’ Finn sa[ys] sulkily. ‘They make it hard to see’”(171).
- What do you think the fences symbolize – or represent – in the story?
- What does the author want us to understand about this house and the part of the neighborhood it is in?
- To decode the message their mother left, the children must figure out the key. They know that it is a phrase their mother uses often, but it is not until they look back at their mother’s text message and read “You’ll always have each other” (238) that they understand. This short phrase uncovers the answers the children are desperately seeking.
- Why do you think that the mother used this phrase as the key to decipher her coded letter? What did she want the children to understand?
- If one of your family members left you a code, what phrase would they use as the key? Think of a phrase that they use a lot. Why do they say this phrase? What message are they trying to get you to understand?
- When Emma finally reached her mother during the trial, her mother whispered to her “Logic and love are going to triumph in the end, and in the meantime, I need you to take care of your brother. Both of your brothers. Trust me” (354). Throughout the book the ideas of love and logic are shown in the characters actions and words.
- What do you think the author wants the reader to understand about love and logic?
- Think about the problems you’ve faced in your life. Were love and logic useful to you in order to solve your problems? Explain why or why not.
- Do you think that Emma’s mom was right that love and logic will win in the end? Explain your thinking.
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
- An overview of the numbers known as the Fibonacci sequence
- An exploration of the connection between the Fibonacci sequence and nature
- An introduction to the life and mathematical career of Leonardo Fibonacci, the man who discovered the Fibonacci sequence
- An opportunity for students to create their own perfect spiral using the sequence
Kearb siht Edoc! (Break this Code!)
- An introduction to cryptology, the art of writing and solving codes
- An investigation of codes and ciphers with this interactive introduction
- An opportunity to discover the connection between coding and math
- An exploration of the history of code-breaking
- An investigation into how to become a code breaker on the CIAs website.
Parallel Universes and Quantum Mechanics
- An overview of the theories and evidence of parallel universes
- An examination of the hypothesis of the “Many Worlds” theory
- An investigation into the quantum mechanics concept of Schrodinger’s Cat in this TED Ed lesson
- An exploration of the idea of string theory
Something’s Not Right Here: Dystopian Fiction
- An introduction to the genre of dystopias
- An article that investigates why so many teenagers are drawn to dystopian literature
- An oppportunity to learn about the six elements of the dystopia