“The Lost Clue”
by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by James Ransome

Do?” said an ominous, yet familiar voice outside their berth. “There is nothing you can do, kiddoes. In exactly forty-seven ticks of the clock, this train will come to the final bridge, and I do mean final!”

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

Tightrope Walkers and Other Daredevils!
Annotated List of Suggested Read Alouds and Independent Reads

by Janice Del Negro, PhD; Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University

Read Alouds

Brown, Don. Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa. 32p. Gr. K-3
Proper Victorian lady Mary Kingsley left home and hearth to travel to West Africa, where she fell in love with the country and its people. Brown’s easy text and evocative watercolors present an unflappable and inspiring real-life heroine. 

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. 40p. Gr. 2-5.
In 1974 French aerial artist Philippe Petit walked a tightrope suspended between the then under-construction Twin Towers in New York City. Gerstein gently includes the tragic loss of the Towers within his admiring evocation of Petit’s daring. Watercolors with soaring perspectives place readers on the wire with Petit in this Caldecott Medal winner.

McCully, Emily Arnold. Mirette on the High Wire. 32p. Gr. PreK-3.
Master tightrope walker the Great Bellini has lost his nerve, but finds it again through innkeeper’s daughter Mirette’s burning desire to walk the tightrope herself. Paintings, reminiscent of French impressionists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet, evoke the nineteenth-century Paris setting in this Caldecott medal winning title.

Independent Reads

Christensen, Bonnie. The Daring Nellie Bly: America’s Star Reporter. 32p. Gr. 2-5.
In 1889 investigative reporter Nellie Bly traveled around the world in seventy-two days with only a handbag. Bly’s motto, “Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything,” is clearly exhibited in her tenacity and daring. Line-and-watercolor illustrations include ticket stubs, maps, and cityscapes. Quotations from Bly herself enliven this illustrated biography.

 Cummins, Julie, illustrated by Cheryl Harness. Women Daredevils: Thrills, Chills, and Frills. 48p. Gr. 3-6.
This collective biography of fourteen stunt women (1880-1929) includes May Wirth, “The World’s Greatest Bareback Rider,” parachutist Georgie Broadwick , and Annie Taylor, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Circus-poster style art makes this lively topic even more appealing.

 Fleischman, Sid. Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini. 224p. Gr. 5-8.
Escape artist, magician, and showman Harry Houdini had an eventful, legend-creating career. That career is here brought to colorful life by the humorous, thoughtful, and accessible text of award-winning author Sid Fleischman.

© 2009 Janice Del Negro, PhD

Activities for the Classroom

by Marilyn Ludolph, Ed.D; Dominican University School of Education

Elements of Story

Episode 2 of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure introduces the reader to a new character, a villain in the story. The interaction between the protagonists (a.k.a. the heroes of the story; Nancy and Joe) and the villain (Boppo the Clown), in this chapter heighten the suspense and provide a great deal of action on the part of all three characters. 

Generally, stories contain five elements: introduction, plot, climax, resolution, and denouement.  It is important to track, as the Adventure unfolds, where in the episodes, the elements reside.

  • The introduction is where the characters are introduced, setting is established, and the plot might be set up.
  • Plot is when events start to occur and trouble might begin to brew and a situation is exposed.
  • Climax is when the real excitement occurs and the reader might be left hanging.
  • Resolution is the series of events following the climax. The resolution is also oftentimes referred to as “falling action.”
  • Denouement is when the events are wrapped up and the final fate of the characters is established. 

The lines between episodes might not always be clear and so as the adventure unfolds, the markings in the boxes (and the explanations offered) might overlap into more than one box at a time!

Episode 2 TableOral Reading Fluency

Oral reading fluency has been defined in numerous ways. One of the most concrete and understandable explanations is that “oral reading is generally described as flowing, smooth, and effortless.” (Moskal and Blachowicz, p.3) So, fluent readers should be able to read the words accurately and automatically, using appropriate phrasing, intonation, and expression. In addition, being a fluent reader also means comprehending what you are reading.

The episodes of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure lend themselves to being read aloud by students in the older grades (to each other and/or to students in the lower grades). Reading the episodes aloud provides the practice that is necessary to be a fluent reader, while providing a story line (and great entertainment!) to those to whom the story is being read. Equally important, for the student reading aloud, is being able to understand and explain what is taking place.

Repeated reading is an effective tool for fluency development. This method is proven to increase rate and accuracy. (Rasinksi, 1989) Repeated readings affect prosody (reading in meaningful phrases). Repeated readings are most effective when students partner with an adult or another student who is a more capable reader. With repeated readings, rate generally increases and miscue decreases. Prosody improves and understanding deepens.


Moskal, M.K. & Blachowicz, C. (2006) Partnering for Fluency. New York: Guilford.

Rasinski, T.V. (1989). “Fluency for everyone: Incorporating fluency instruction in the classroom.” The Reading Teacher, 42, 690-693.

© 2009 Marilyn Ludolph

For Parents, Teachers, Librarians—Talk Art!

Wet Washes and Rich Color: Creating an Illustration Layer by Layer

by Mary Brigid Barrett, NCBLA

"The Lost Clue" © 2009 James Ransome
“The Lost Clue” © 2009 James Ransome

Lots of kids, and grown-ups too, think that artists purchase tubes of paint, or paint boxes containing tubs of paint, and then proceed to color their illustrations or paintings using the colors straight from the tube or tub. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Artists mix and dabble—a bit or alizarin crimson here, add a dab of cobalt blue, and then perhaps mix in a smidge of white or black, or even yellow, to create an enticing purple, the right purple, the needed purple, a purple not available ready made in a tube or tub. Sometimes artists mix their colors on a palette—an old white china plate or a wood board. Sometimes they mix their colors in hundreds of small empty baby food jars or on a giant piece of clear glass. And sometimes artists, especially experienced artists, mix their colors on the paper or canvas on which they are working, adding layers of washes or glazes of paint. Artists know how to use color and all its properties. They understand how to juxtapose light against dark to produce contrast, depth, and interest.

Give your kids and teens the opportunity to take a close look at this wonderfully evocative illustration painted by artist James Ransome to illustrate Episode 2 of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, “The Lost Clue,” written by Katherine Paterson. Mr. Ransome created this illustration in steps, and those steps are visible—if you look closely! Ask your kids if they can see and find the original drawn lines that James sketched to delineate the shapes and forms in his illustration. Once they recognize the drawing beneath, have them take a good look at the paint that Mr. Ransome uses to energize his drawing.

  • Does it look like Mr. Ransome painted the color on thick and or opaque? Or in watery washes of pigment?
  • Do places in the illustration still look wet?
  • Have your students squint at the illustration. Are there shapes that pop forward? Are there shapes that recede? Are there areas in the illustration which are light, almost white in brightness? Are there areas in the illustration that are very dark? How much of the illustration is very light, in comparison to the rest of the painting? How much of it is dark? How much of the painting is in-between light and dark—medium values?

A Color Exercise!

Materials you will need:

  • Pencils.
  • Medium-size paintbrushes.
  • Thick paper—watercolor paper if possible.
  • A box of watercolors for each person—Prang or Crayola are inexpensive watercolor boxes—Pelican is a good brand for a more serious young person.
  • An old white plate to use as a palette for mixing colors or you can buy a variety of white plastic palettes at any art supply shop.
  • Paper towels.
  • At least two containers of clear water.


  1. Ask kids or teens to choose one color they like in the watercolor box. Dip the paintbrush in water, then their favorite color––say red. Dab the red paint in eight separate sections of the palette. Then to each dab of red, add a drop or two of the other colors in the paint box—so add to red, a drop of yellow, then in the next red blob a drop of orange, then in succession a drop of green, blue, purple, brown, and black, mixing the colors. Between mixing a new color, the paintbrush should be dipped and cleaned in clear water.
    Now, on a sheet of thick white paper, have them paint eight small squares using each of these new mixed colors, and one small square of the red color right out of the red tub in their paint box. If there is a tub of white paint in their paint box, have them mix one more dab of red with a drip or two of white. If there is no white paint, have them add 3-4 drops of water to their red paint. Then, with either mixture paint one more square of red on the paper.
    Take a minute and talk about the new colors they have created. What color combinations make the red look darker? Or brighter? If there is no white, suggest to them that they might like to pretend that they are color experts in a paint company or crayon factory—what would they name the new colors they have created?
  2. Now have them wash their palette clean and empty their water containers and fill with new clear water. This time have them mix their red paint with some drops of water and paint nine small squares of clear red paint on a new sheet of thick white paper. Let the paint dry thoroughly. Then have them mix each color in their paint box, including white if they have it, with drops of water making separate little pools of paint on their palette. They should dip their paint into one color, say yellow first, and paint that wash of color directly on one of the dry red paint squares they have previously painted. They should then clean their brush and proceed painting a new wash of color over a dry red square until they have used all the colors in their paint box. The result will be eight or nine squares of paint—each one with a first layer of red paint and each with a layer of a different color—yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, and black, and white if available, painted in a wash on top of the original red.
    Let all the paint samples dry.
    If you have time—have them try step 2. Again—only this time, don’t let the first two of red squares dry—have your kids lay a wash of new color over the red squares while the red paint is still wet.
  3. Now have the kids compare the first batch of color samples they created to the second sample of color samples. Do they look the same? If they are different, how are they different? Does it look like he has mixed colors on a palette by adding water? Or does it look like he painted washes of wet color on his paper in transparent layers, letting the colors mix together? Or both?
  4. Have your kids or teens look again at Mr. Ransome’s illustration. Did he use color right from the tube or tub? Has he mixed colors in his painting? Can they guess which colors he has mixed together? How did Mr. Ransome mix his colors? Does he mix them on his palette? Did he mix them by layering them on wet or layering them on after the first layer had dried?
  5. You may also want to get the kids to draw a few cubes—“three-dimensional squares”— onto a sheet of thick white paper. Using their color samples have them paint the separate sections of their cubes in the different shades of red they have created.
    Have them look at the train car Mr. Ransome has painted in the illustration. It is like an elongated cube—really the end of a three dimensional rectangle. Have your kids look at how Mr. Ransome has used different values and shades of red paint to give the train car dimension. Where has he used bright shades of red, and light? Where has he used dark shades? Why did he make those choices?
  6. Talk about Mr. Ransome’s use of warm and cool colors. Ask students what colors are warm colors? Why do they think that reds, yellows, and oranges, and some browns are warm colors? Why are greens and blues and some purples cool colors?
  7. Last, have your kids reread Episode 2 of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. Have them create a sketch illustrating the episode and using their newly found knowledge of color, have them paint their sketch in washes and layers of watercolors!

© 2009 Mary Brigid Barrett; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance

Discussion Questions

by Marilyn Ludolph, Ed.D; Dominican University School of Education

In Episode 2 we learn that Joe and Nancy have encountered the villain clown, Boppo, and find themselves in grave danger. They need to act quickly and they are faced with moral dilemmas. What other ways might Joe and Nancy have alerted the authorities? And, in doing so, how would that change the action in the story?

Nancy is described as valiant as she crosses the abyss, sock-footed, on the treacherous rail of the surviving bridge. Was she thoughtful in taking that action, especially when she discovers, after crossing the bridge, that she and Joe didn’t bring the Birthday Card that provides the necessary clues? What other actions might she and Joe have taken?

©2009 Marilyn Ludolph