“The Gingerbread House”
by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Calef Brown

“Well, Nancy, here we are again – the same old beach that we left behind. Was it hours ago? Or days ago?”

“It’s felt like weeks,“ said Nancy. “Weeks without any sleep.“

“Or food,“ said Joe.

Food! Annotated List of Suggested Read Alouds and Independent Reads
Activities for the Classroom
For Parents, Teachers, Librarians — Talk Art!
Discussion Questions

Food! Annotated List of Suggested Read Alouds and Independent Reads

by Thom Barthelmess; Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University

Read Alouds

Barrett, Judi, illustrated by Ron Barrett. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. 32p. Gr. PreK-3.
In the small town of Chewandswallow, weather arrives three times a day, conveniently, at mealtimes, in the forms of juice rain, mashed potato snow, and hamburger wind. That’s all well and good, until the weather starts to get worse, and the precipitation starts to get BIG.

Hoban, Russell, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Bread and Jam for Frances. 48p. Gr. K-3.
Frances loves bread and jam. Unfortunately, she doesn’t want anything else. When her mother capitulates, and it’s all bread and jam, all the time, Frances soon discovers that there’s more to the pantry than she thought.

Wood, Audrey, illustrated by Don Wood. Heckedy Peg. 32p. Gr. K-4.
This playful, eerie, and utterly engrossing original story has all of the ritual and charm of a classic fairytale. When a witch turns seven children (named for the days of the week) into various foodstuffs, it falls to their mother’s cleverness to save them. Illustrious and irresistible.

Independent Reads

Bauer, Joan. Hope Was Here. 186p. Gr. 7-12.
As the best waitress at the Welcome Stairways Diner, sixteen-year-old Hope is happy enough, until troubles in the restaurant call her to personal and political activism, all in the name of friendship, solidarity, and good food.

Compestine, Ying Chang. Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party: A Novel. 248p. Gr. 5-10.
Compestine draws on personal experience to tell this harrowing story of a young girl’s passage through adolescence during the Cultural Revolution in China. Elegant metaphor illuminates the harsh truth of Ling’s life, and the indelible spirit that allowed her to survive it.

Key, Watt. Alabama Moon. 294p. Gr. 4-7.
Moon and his father live off the grid, hunting their own food, securing their own safety. When his father dies, Moon sets out on a pilgrimage across the continent, in search of fellow survivalists in Alaska, only to find that encounters with civilization aren’t at all what he expected.

© 2010 Thom Barthelmess

Activities for the Classroom

by Kimberly Gow


While reading a literary work, it is important for the reader to interpret what each character is like and understand the choices they make. Characterization is the method used by a writer to develop a character. In The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, this method includes showing the character’s appearance, displaying the character’s actions, letting the character speak, and revealing the character’s thoughts. Through characterization, we learn about many unique characters along the adventure of Nancy and Joe as they attempt to find the Exquisite Corpse.

To demonstrate an interpretation of the characters developed throughout the episodes of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, one can create a “Character Quilt.” Use the template below to develop a square about any chosen character. Complete multiple squares and attach to make a quilt representing each character of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. After reading Episode 15, the reader has been introduced to the following characters:

  • Nancy Sloppy
  • Joe Sloppy
  • Boppo (the clown)
  • Genius Kelly (the pig)
  • Albert Einstein (the hologram)
  • Baby Max
  • Leonardo Dubenski and his band of villains
  • Sybil Hunch (the misfortune-teller)
  • Angel
  • Monster Wolf
  • Part-human, part-squid beast
  • Alistair Sloppy
  • Libby Sloppy
  • Creatures from another dimension
  • Roberta the robot

This extensive list of character traits may be helpful for this activity.

Episode 8 Table Character Quilt

Download a PDF version of the Character Quilt Template.


The Character Quilt was adapted from the Folktale Quilt located under the English Language Arts Classroom Assessments that are aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards.

© 2010 Kimberly Gow

For Parents, Teachers, Librarians—Talk Art!

"The GIngerbread House" © 2010 Calef Brown
“The GIngerbread House” © 2010 Calef Brown

Calef Brown’s Illustration for Episode 15

by Mary Brigid Barrett, NCBLA

Just ahead of them in a clearing, the noonday sun shone down on a tiny house. It had two chimneys, and smoke was definitely coming out of one of them, as was the wonderful aroma.

“Food!” Joe said, and, forgetting all caution, started to run toward the house; but Nancy, her arm that had been scratched by the wolf strangely strong, reached out and grabbed her brother, holding him fast.

“Joe, wait! I think – I think that cottage is made of gingerbread.”

 “All the better.” said Joe, “Gingerbread for breakfast!”

“But, Joe, don’t you remember the story?”

“What story?”

Nancy opened her mouth to answer, but at that exact moment, Roberta began to wriggle under Joe’s arm. The twins watched open-mouthed in amazement. When she was nearly upright, she swung her arm up toward the roof of the little house and began beeping frantically.

Two children and a pig looked up to see what this anxious signal might mean. Could it be? Yes. The second chimney looked strangely like an upside-down leg.
– From Episode 15: “The Gingerbread House” by Katherine Paterson

“I went from ink and digital to painting for Episode 15 and the influences of two of my favorite types of art: Indian Miniature Painting and American Folk Art. I love the way they both incorporate flattened map-like space, using a horizon line to divide the composition, lots of decorative and pattern motifs in plants and architecture, defying usual rules of composition, like having elements rest on tangents and come right to the edge of the space, strong silhouettes, an organic imperfect edge and shape to the piece and so on ….”
– Illustrator Calef Brown on the differences between his earlier illustrations for The Exquisite Corpse Adventure and the influences on his illustration for Episode 15.

Have young people review Calef Brown’s first two illustrations for The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, both included below.

For his first two Exquisite Corpse Adventure illustrations, Calef Brown drew the illustrations in black ink on paper using not a pen, but a small brush. He scanned the illustrations into a computer file and added color using Photoshop software. For his new illustration for Episode 15, he painted the illustration by hand on paper using acrylic and gouache paints. The tempera paint that your kids use at home and in the classroom is similar to gouache paint.

With your kids, compare and contrast the two earlier illustrations with Calef’s latest illustration, then pose the following questions:

  • Do the computer photoshopped colors appear different or the same compared to the acrylic and gouache colors in the last illustration?
  • In which illustrations are the colors richer and more varied?
  • In which illustrations are the colors more subtle?
  • Which of the illustrations has more pictorial depth?
  • Which of the illustrations has more texture?
  • What emotional message is conveyed in each illustration? Does Calef’s choice of media—computer painted or hand-painted with gouache—add to or subtract from the emotional content that he hopes to convey in each illustration?

For a discussion of the gingerbread house as portrayed in this episode by Calef Brown, as well as relevant art activities, visit “Talk Art! The Artistic Tradition of the Gingerbread House.”

Inspirations from Indian Miniature Painting

Padmapani (at left) and Vajrapani (at right)
Padmapani (at left) and Vajrapani (at right)

The rich tradition of Indian painting—like the mural paintings in the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, India—goes back over many centuries. At left are two examples of paintings from the caves. The painting of Padmapani, “the lotus carrier,” is one of the most popular divinities, or gods, in Buddhism. At near left, is a portrayal of Vajrapani, one of the protectors and guides of the Buddha, a bodhisattava, an enlightened being or heroic-minded one.

There are two major genres, or categories, of painting in Indian art. Mural paintings are large works done on a wall of a cave or building, even bare rock. The other major genre of Indian painting is miniature painting, similar to and influenced by the tradition of Persian miniature painting.

In Europe, before paper was brought into common use with the invention of the printing press, vellum—animal mammal skin—was used by scribes and scholars to write on, embellished with hand-drawn text illuminations and paintings. In India, instead of using vellum for the writing of manuscripts or for painting, scribes, scholars, and artists used narrow vertical strips of palm leaves, laced together with string. See the images below.

PBS has a great Story of India website where you and your kids can view a video of a contemporary scribe demonstrating the technique of writing, or inscribing, on palm leaves.

Indian artists perfected the art of illuminating text on palm leaf strands. They continued the practice of writing and painting on palm leaves even when paper was introduced into the culture in the 14th century.

India is a vast country that is made up of many different tribes of people. Its geographic area encompasses many different terrains. Each section of the country has its own heritage and culture, and produces music and art that reflect those differences—like America, with its many regional and ethnic cultures, produces a wide variety of art and music, too. And different art evolved over different historic eras in India, much the same as in the evolution of Western Art in Europe and America, influenced not only by cultural shifts and changes, but also by the introduction of technology. For example, the Impressionists in France were greatly influenced by the popularity of Chinese and Japanese art in 19th century Europe, but their work was equally affected by the technological innovation of paint tubes, which allowed painters to paint outdoors with a marked convenience never before experienced.

Indian miniature painting was also influenced by just as many cultural, regional, and technical differences, innovations, and explorations as Western Art and exhibits a wide variety of stylistic and color differences, as well representing a wide variety of subject matter over the decades and centuries. For example, painters from various regions and time periods may use very bright vibrant colors in their paintings with high contrast, painters from another region and time may employ a more muted palette.

Here are some samples of Indian miniature painting:

Have your kids look at these sample paintings, as well as others you may find, and then take another look at Calef Brown’s illustration for Episode 15. Ask them to compare Calef’s illustration to the Indian miniature paintings. Pose the following questions:

  • What in the Indian miniature paintings might have inspired Calef Brown?
  • In Calef’s illustration and the paintings in what way are they similar? In what way are they different?
  • In Calef’s illustration and the paintings are the colors bold and vibrant, or is the use of color more sophisticated and nuanced with soft colors and subtle contrasts of light and dark?
  • How are the paintings and illustration composed and designed; how does your eye travel across the picture space?
  • Do Calef and the Indian artists use a realistic viewpoint with figures and objects cropped close in the foreground, with a distinct middle-ground and background that uses mathematical perspective that gives the picture the illusion of great depth? Or is the space handled in a flat graphic manner?
  • Are the human figures rendered and shaded giving  each figure a roundness, revealing highly differentiated features that portray individual specific human beings? Or are the figures highly stylized, so that people look more similar than different?
  • "Skills" © 2010 James Ransome
    “Skills” © 2010 James Ransome

    Does the paint in Calef’s illustration and in the Indian miniature paintings have a transparent or opaque quality to it? (You may want them to research the words transparent and opaque as they relate to paintings, and then have them look at James Ransome’s Exquisite Corpse Adventure transparent watercolor illustrations (such as the one pictured at right) and compare them to Calef’s opaque illustration for Episode 15.)

Art Activity: Opaque Miniature Painting

Recommended Materials:

  • Hard press, i.e. smooth, middle or heavy weight paper no bigger than 4 by 6 inches (for some boys, and girls, with small motor issues, you can use bigger paper). The paper can be white or a light color.
  • Scrap paper or sketchbook for doing rough preliminary sketches and drawings.
  • Pencils and erasers.
  • Small, fine, pointed, soft bristle paint brushes.
  • Gouache or tempera paints.
  • Dish, plate, or plastic palette for blending colors.
  • Water container and clean water for washing paint brushes.
  • Clean rags or paper towels.

Have your kids pick a moment in their favorite Exquisite Corpse Adventure (ECA) episode that they would like to illustrate. After they have looked at Calef’s illustration and samples of Indian Miniature Painting and discussed  the illustration and paintings using the questions articulated above as a conversation guide, have them do some rough preliminary sketches in pencil on scrap paper or in their sketchbooks inspired by Calef’s drawings and the Indian paintings. After coming up with several different visual concepts for the part of the ECA episode they want to illustrate, discuss their sketches with them, what they like, what they don’t like, and have them choose one sketch that they can work on for their finished illustration to be painted in full color.

They can redraw their sketch onto the “good” paper by hand, free style manner, making changes and perhaps even improving it as they go. Or, they can copy their sketch onto the good paper by using a light table or simply by taping their rough sketch to a window and placing and taping the good paper over the sketch, and the light shining through the window will allow them to easily trace the lines from their rough sketch onto the new paper.

Once they are pleased with their drawing, they can begin to paint their miniature painting using fine pointed brushes, blending the paints on a plate or palette to get the subtle flat hues and shades they desire—as opposed to using darks and lights to shade objects and figures in the picture as Rembrandt and other Western artists did and do. (Refer to “Talk Art! Contrasting Light and Dark Values.”) Have them try to mimic the graphic, the somewhat flat overlays of opaque paint in Calef’s illustration and in the Indian paintings. They should also try to stylize the figures, objects, and landscape, and buildings in their paintings, making them more representative of their own unique imaginations, instead of trying to create a “super” realistic portrayal. It will be hard for many of them to paint so small and that is just fine. This art activity is to help them appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship and incredible skill of the Indian artists, as well as their amazing creativity.

After they are finished, go to the Smithsonian Folkways Music website,  and find and play samples of the music and folksongs of India—while you have a class or home show of your kids’ India-inspired miniature paintings! You might even want to order Indian food from your favorite neighborhood Indian restaurant or get an Indian cookbook at the library and try making some great Indian recipes yourselves!

Online Resources

© 2010 Mary Brigid Barrett; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance

Discussion Questions

by Geri Zabela Eddins, NCBLA

Nancy is embarrassed when Joe points out she has made a mistake by forgetting a simple scientific fact regarding the drinking of salt water. The story continues to tell us, “After all, she was the elder by ninety minutes and universally acknowledged as mentally as well as morally superior to her delightful, fun-loving, younger brother.” Think about what we have learned about Nancy and Joe since their adventure began. Do you agree or disagree with this assessment of Nancy, that she is mentally and morally superior to Joe? Make a list of examples from each episode that demonstrate why you agree or disagree.

The twins get a chance to sleep in this episode, and Joe wakes up to the snoring of Genius Kelly. Joe is suspicious of where Genius Kelly has been. When Joe asks Genius Kelly where he had been, the pig replies simply, “It was a long way around the sea.” Do you remember when Genius Kelly left the twins? It was back in Episode 9 as they approached the sea. The pig explained that he was afraid of water and would venture solo to find a place shallow enough to walk across. What do you think of Genius Kelly? Was his fear of water a legitimate excuse to leave the twins he had been assigned to protect? Do you think he is telling the truth? Or maybe, do you think Genius Kelly took time to do something else? Where do you think Genius Kelly may have gone? Who might he have seen and what could he have done? Are you glad to see Genius Kelly reunited with the twins? Do you think he will prove helpful to them from now on? Why or why not?

Although the twins are able to get some much needed sleep at the beginning of this episode, they are still famished! Later in the episode, as the twins and Genius Kelly follow the red arrows on their toes into the woods, they smell food and push onward until they discover a house in a clearing from which the aroma is coming. Joe can’t wait to start eating, but Nancy cautions him, “Joe, wait! I think – I think that cottage is made of gingerbread. … don’t you remember the story?” Do you know which story Nancy is referring to? Do you think Nancy is correct to urge caution? Are you familiar with the Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel?” If you have not read “Hansel and Gretel,” then find it at your library or read it here. After reading “Hansel and Gretel,” think about which characters, plot elements, and themes in the fairy tale are similar to The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. Do you think this gingerbread house will be safe for Nancy and Joe? What do you think will happen next?

©2010 Geri Zabela Eddins; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance