When we first meet Ruby Reese she’s a spunky kid in a cowgirl hat, tap dancing her way through a slightly off-kilter 1950s childhood. With an insomniac mother and a demolitions-expert father, her entire family is what the residents of her small town would call "a bunch of crackpots." Despite the dramas of her upbringing, Ruby matures into a creative, introspective, and wholly beguiling woman. But her adulthood is marked by complex relationships and romantic missteps -- three unsuitable marriages, dramatic crushes, the complicated love between siblings. As Sara Pritchard deftly guides us through Ruby's story, from the present to the past and back again, a portrait of a remarkably resilient woman emerges. Suffused with humor and melancholy, imagination and insight, Crackpots heralds the debut of a skilled and sensitive storyteller.
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Sisters: a Dog Story
A luge is a small one or two-person sled on which one sleds face up and feet-first. Steering is done by flexing the sled's runners with the calf of each leg or exerting opposite shoulder pressure to the seat. The luge has become a popular Olympic sport - athletes can reach up to 95 mph racing down the icy track. (This annotation contains an image)
Hopalong Cassidy is a fictional cowboy hero created in 1904 by the author Clarence E. Mulford, who wrote a series of popular short stories and many novels based on the character. (This annotation contains an image)
What does the story about playing cowboys tell us about both Ruby Jean (the narrator) and Auntie Izzy?
Using the art work in the annotations above, explain the meaning of the allusion in this passage.
In Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver is shipwrecked and finds himself a prisoner of a race of tiny people of Lilliput. This image depicts Gulliver in Lilliput, surrounded by the Lilliputians. (This annotation contains an image)
Ruby Jean's friend Teddy calls her family "crackpots". Which of the following is NOT something strange her family does?
The Very Beautiful Sad Elegy for Bambi's Dead Mother
This story is organized in a very interesting way. Pay close attention to the titles of the chapters are well as the organization of the chapters themselves. Consider how the author structures the story she is telling by watching the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What does this passage tell us about Ruby Jean?
This Chrysler DeSoto would be similar to the car that Ruby Jean's father drove. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the author establish tone in the anecdote about Ruby Jean not being allowed to have writing utensils without supervision? What specific type of diction does the author use to communicate the narrator's attitude?
Sky King and Sergeant Preston and the Yukon were two popular TV programs watched by children in the 1950s.
Which sentence from this passage does NOT contain an example of a simile?
Johnny Philip Morris, a bellboy, became famous as a product spokesman for Philip Morris brand cigarettes in radio, television and print advertising media. (This annotation contains an image)
Until the invention of the modern plastic ink cartridge in the early 1950s, fountain pens were used for writing. As you can see in this video, fountain pens were very messy. (This annotation contains a video)
What does Ruby Jean's writing of "The Very Beautiful Sad Elegy for Bambi's Dead Mother" tell us about her?
What is ironic about the response that Ruby Jean receives from her teacher about her poem?
This George Shearing 78 record would have been played on a record player. 78 refers to the specific speed of the record, but the term "78s" is synonymous with "record" in general. (This annotation contains an image)
When Ruby thinks of "Song of Celia" what is she reminded of?
This piece of art depicts a woman wearing a babushka--a headscarf that ties below the chin. The term can also refer to an elderly Russian woman. (This annotation contains an image)
Ruby's mother takes her to the gypsy woman for her warts. What does this tell us about Ruby's mother?
Listen to Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne". Think about why Ruby might have listened to this song over and over. (This annotation contains a video)
How does Mason's life seem to be both good and bad at the same time? Use examples from the text to support your answer.
Jimmy Durante was an American singer, pianist, comedian, and actor. His distinctive clipped gravelly speech, New York accent, comic language butchery, jazz-influenced songs, and large nose helped make him one of America's most familiar and popular personalities of the 1920s through the 1970s. (This annotation contains an image)
What do Etherine and Ruby's mother have in common?
The Amish are extremely religious and dedicated people who live across the United States. They are known for simple living, plain dress, and their reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology, including cars. The Amish travel using horse and buggies. (This annotation contains an image)
Which is NOT a reason that Ruby might get in trouble for going with her brother, Mason?
Which sound device is demonstrated in this highlighted sentence?
This image depicts Mephistopheles, a demon featured in German folklore. He originally appeared in literature as the demon in the Faust legend, and he has since appeared in other works as a stock character version of the Devil. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Ruby Jean learn to play the trombone?
What kind of relationship do you think Ruby has with her husband, Boo? Give examples from the text to support your ideas.
The comments that Ruby Jean's father makes about Mason suggest that ____ .
Orion is a prominent constellation named after a hunter in Greek mythology. If you look out into the night sky, you can often see the three stars in Orion's belt. (This annotation contains an image)
This reference is to Edgar Allen Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart". It is told by an unnamed narrator who tries to convince the reader of his sanity, while describing a murder he committed. The murderer hides the body by dismembering it and hiding it under the floorboards. Ultimately, the narrator's guilt manifests itself in the form of the sound—possibly hallucinatory—of the old man's heart still beating under the floorboards.
How does the author establish suspense as Ruby Jean tries to escape from her husband? Use examples from the text to support your ideas.
John Young, the commander, had already flown in space four times, including a walk on the moon in 1972. Bob Crippen, the pilot, was a Navy test pilot who would go on to command three future shuttle missions. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on Ruby Jean's meeting with her brother Mason, what can you infer about their relationship?
How does the idea that the songs that Mason plays are all woven together relate with how the author has written the story?
Shuffle Off to Buffalo
Revlon dolls were first produced in 1956 by Ideal Toy Company. The dolls were marketed as fashion dolls and were some of the first to come on the market. The dolls had high heeled feet but still had that large child-like head, so as to appeal to girls of all ages. (This annotation contains an image)
What does Ruby Jean NOT do when she skips school to be with her mother?
Much like the current programs American Idol or America's Got Talent, the Ted Mack Amateur Hour included various acts, sometimes singers or other musicians, quite often vaudeville fare such as jugglers, tap dancers, baton twirlers, and the like, who would perform, with the audience being asked to vote for their favorites by postcard or telephone. (This annotation contains an image)
Why do you think Ruby Jean's father has told his wife to stay in the yard?
Out on the Jackson Tract
Richard Brautigan was a Beat writer. Following World War II, the bohemian artist community expressed their feelings of alienation from societal conventions. This movement became known as the Beat Movement and later became known as the Beat Generation. Writers such as Brautigan, worked to bring recognition to unorthodox writers. (This annotation contains an image)
What did both Ruby Jean and her husband Boo get a degree in?
Andrew Marvell and John Donne were English metaphysical poets. Metaphysical poetry focuses on using metaphors to discuss topics such as religion and love. Donne is considered one of the greatest metaphysical poets.
Which of the following excerpts from this passage does NOT contain a simile?
The Jolly Roger is another name for a pirate flag. It is most commonly identified by the skull and crossbones pictured below. (This annotation contains an image)
How does one get a permit in order to build on Jackson Tract?
Jim Walter homes were "shell" homes, meaning the company would complete the outside so that the house was water tight, then allow the customer to finish the inside with their own labor. The only requirement from the company was that the customer must own the land on which the house was constructed.
In The Swiss Family Robinson, the characters are trapped on a deserted island for many years, so the family builds a tree house with different levels, like this one. (This annotation contains an image)
Why is Ruby Jean so excited to get a copy of Green Mansions?
Using examples from the text, explain how Ruby Jean and Boo's neighbors on Jackson Circle are a bunch of "crackpots".
Ray Charles is a famous American singer and songwriter. In the 1950s, Charles combined different styles of music, including rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues, to make his own unique music. Ray Charles learned to play several instruments despite being blind. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on the predictions that Miss Donna gives Ruby Jean, what event(s) will Ruby Jean talk about later in the book?
Can you see the sfumato technique in da Vinci's painting of Mona Lisa? (This annotation contains an image)
Explain how Ruby Jean sees sfumato in the scene where Gladys Tupper gets lost.
The Blue Hat
In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan who held up the world on his shoulders. He is also the titan of astronomy and navigation. (This annotation contains an image)
Why is Albertine missing?
Why is Ruby Jean's mother shopping for a new dress?
This is actress Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie "The Cat" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (This annotation contains an image)
In this passage, Albertine cuts off her own hair. Explain why both Albertine and her mother are both upset about this incident.
Circus Peanuts are peanut-shaped marshmallow candy with banana flavor. Originally, the popular orange-colored candies were penny candy that were only available seasonally. As the ability to preserve candy improved, Circus Peanuts were sold year round. (This annotation contains an image)
Chicory is a somewhat woody, perennial plant usually with bright blue flowers. Some varieties are used for salad leaves and the roots can be ground and used as a coffee substitute or additive. In addition, farmers use chicory to feed their livestock. (This annotation contains an image)
On his TV show, Jack Benny plays a contestant on Groucho's "You Bet Your Life" Program. (This annotation contains a video)
What can you infer about Charlotta and Cheryl Koplansky based on the information you have?
Billy Graham, ordained as a Southern Baptist minister, is known for his large rallies and sermons broadcast on radio and television. In addition, Graham served as spiritual adviser for several Presidents. (This annotation contains an image)
On September 21, 1955 Rocky Marciano beat Archie Moore by KO at 1:19 in round 9 of 15. Marciano was dropped in the second round by a right hand, but came back to knock Moore down five times before stopping him in the ninth round. Here Rocky Marciano lunges with right as Archie Moore braces for blow. (This annotation contains an image)
How does Grandma Bessie settle the dispute between Albertine and Ruby Jean?
What is ironic about Albertine and Ruby Jean's trip to Disney World?
The Make-A-Wish Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 that arranges experiences (described as "wishes") to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Make-A-Wish grants a wish approximately every 38 minutes to a child with a life-threatening medical condition.
How does this passage show the author's use of humor to lighten the mood?
Please watch this video about imagery. As you continue reading, look for examples of imagery. (This annotation contains a video)
The calliope is an instrument that uses steam or air to play music. This instrument was often used by circuses and steamboats. This calliope was used in Barnum & Bailey Circus shows. (This annotation contains an image)
Why is the dress Ruby Jean's wearing so special?
In this passage, the author develops Boo's character. What did you learn about Boo? Use examples from the passage to support your answer.
English poet William Blake wrote The Tyger (Tiger). Click on the link below to read the entire poem. Why does Ruby think of this poem when she says "Boo's eyes are on fire"? (This annotation contains a link)
This saying is an idiom. An idiom is an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the literal meaning. Other idioms you might be familiar with include "It's raining cats and dogs" and "That was a 'piece of cake'." Watch for other idioms throughout the text.
Like her mother, Ruby Jean crawls under the bed when she is depressed or upset. What has caused Ruby Jean to crawl under the bed?
What lesson does Ruby Jean learn from her father?
Explain why Ruby and Deenie make a connection. What brings them together?
The English translation of this Swedish word is "rubber boats".
This sentence is an example of _____.
How does the author connect the anecdote about the dog's dream and the anecdote about the man's dream together?
Rudolf Nureyev was a Russian ballet dancer, who performed in many major roles, including performances in The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. In addition to ballet, Nureyev was known for his ability in modern dance. (This annotation contains an image)
Actress Whoopi Goldberg started her career as a stand-up comedienne. In 1985 Goldberg’s breakthrough role came when she played Celie (below), a mistreated black woman in The Color Purple. (This annotation contains an image)
Why do you think Ruby wants to avoid seeing or talking to Danny Kelly?
Here the author uses a reference to the famous statue of liberty to depict how Danny is standing with the box of dog biscuits. Can you see the humor in this situation?
What causes Ruby to leave the supermarket without her groceries?
In this passage, the author uses references to children's stories to help us visualize the apartment Ruby lived in. Can you identify the three stories the author uses?
Why does Ruby decide to take a poetry class?
Based on the definition of love in Ruby's dictionary, discuss where Ruby sees love in her life.
Postcards from Portland
Why is Ruby jealous of the man from Portland and his young wife?
Harvey Keitel is an American actor and producer, who became famous for performances in Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976). (This annotation contains an image)
How did Ruby and the man from Portland know each other?
Angela Park was an amusement park in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The park operated from 1957 through 1988. When the park opened, there were only six rides. Over the next two decades, various rides were added to the park. (This annotation contains an image)
G. Gordon Liddy is known for his role as the chief operative who organized the Watergate burglaries that led to the scandal and Nixon’s resignation as President. Prior to serving as legal counsel for Nixon, Liddy had an impressive resume working for the FBI, where he worked closely with J. Edgar Hoover. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on this passage, what can you infer about the long black hair in the birds nest.
Sandro Botticelli's Annunciation from 1490. (This annotation contains an image)
This is Leonardo da Vinci's depiction of The Annunciation (1480), which is the most popular subject in Christian art. How does this compare to the Botticelli's renditions? (This annotation contains an image)
Give two examples of how Tony's marriage to Francesca is ironic.
Tourette syndrome is a nervous system disorder characterized by repetitive movements and vocal tics. This disorder was discovered by Georges Gilles de la Tourette (1857–1904), a French physician and neurologist, who published an account of nine patients with Tourette's in 1885. Doctors have been unable to find what causes this disorder, but have discovered that males are 3-4 times more likely than women to have Tourette's syndrome. (This annotation contains an image)
In this section of the text, what do we learn about Ruby's character?
Which of the following literary devices are these highlighted sentences an example of?
The Man with the Refrigerator-Size Hole in His Heart
Nubia is a region along the Nile river, located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt. (This annotation contains an image)
Which literary element is used in this passage?
The Festival of Ideas
Here the author is comparing her hair to Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls is a beautiful set of waterfalls that straddle the international border between Canada and the United States. (This annotation contains an image)
Why do you think Miles and Ruby sit in the back when they both love poetry?
Please watch this video about tone and mood. Consider how tone and mood are different. How does the author create both in this text? (This annotation contains a video)
What technique does the author use in this passage?
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
A Freudian Slip is a verbal mistake that is linked to the unconscious mind. Sigmund Freud, the psychologist who discovered this idea, claims that these mistakes reveal an unconscious thought or feeling.
What does Ruby like to do when she can't sleep?
The daguerreotype is an old type of photograph that was made on silver plates. Daguerreotypes were a popular form of photography in the mid 1800’s. This daguerreotype of Lincoln is the earliest known portrait of the 16th president of the United States. It was most likely taken in Springfield, Illinois, shortly after Lincoln was first elected to the House of Representatives. (This annotation contains an image)
In this passage, which technique(s) is/are used?
How does Boo's childhood experience affect his adult relationships?
This is John W. Waterhouse’s painting of Ulysses and the Sirens. Waterhouse painted this in 1891 using oil on canvas. Waterhouse was inspired by the stories of Greek mythology where Ulysses escapes the sirens, who lure sailors to their deaths. (This annotation contains an image)
What can you infer from this passage?
The Manhattan Project was a research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during World War II. (This annotation contains an image)
How does this passage relate, not just to Ruby, but also to the human experience?
South Wales is the most densely populated region in the southwest of the United Kingdom. It is home to around 2.2 million people. (This annotation contains an image)
Abraham Lincoln's funeral train, the Lincoln Special, left Washington on April 21, 1865. It would basically retraced the 1,654 mile route Mr. Lincoln had traveled as president-elect in 1861, allowing people around the country to mourn their President's death. (This annotation contains an image)
Notice the author's use of colors in this description of the car Ruby buys. Where else in the novel has the author used colors to depict a situation or emphasize emotion?
Why is Ruby mad at her husband Boo?
Sweden is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe that borders Norway and Finland. Sweden is the third-largest country in the European Union, with a total population of about 9.6 million. (This annotation contains an image)
How does Ruby survive her visits to Sweden to visit her second husband's family?
The Chernobyl disaster was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR and Europe. The Chernobyl disaster is the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. (This annotation contains an image)
Singer-songwriter Rod Stewart began his music career in the early 1960’s recording with several bands and eventually going solo. In October 1971, Stewart scored his first #1 hit with “Maggie May”. Stewart earned a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. (This annotation contains an image)
What can you infer about why Ruby gets sick based on this section?
What does Ruby dream about?
When Harry Houdini Came to Dinner
What did Albertine send Ruby for a New Year's gift?
"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. We often sing it at midnight on New Year's Eve.
Which event does Ruby recall in her letter to her friend Viwy?
Cicadas are insects with large eyes and well-developed wings. Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives. In the final nymphal stage, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then molt on a nearby plant for the last time and emerge as adults. The exuvia, or abandoned exoskeleton, remains, still clinging to the bark of trees. After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig and deposits her eggs. She may do so repeatedly, until she has laid several hundred eggs. When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground, where they burrow. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Ruby plan to send Viwy a pair a cicada-wing earrings with the letter she is writing?
The Biblical story of Moses and the Bulrushes comes from Exodus. The king of Egypt the king commanded that all Hebrew sons should be put to death as soon as they were born. When Moses's mother could no longer hide him, she put him in a basket among the bulrushes. The king's daughter found Moses and asked Moses's mother to care for the child for her. When he was old enough to be taken to Pharaoh's daughter, she called him her son, named him Moses, which means "drawn out of the water". (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is NOT a hobby of Ruby's friend, Viwy?
Harry Houdini was a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts. (This annotation contains an image)
How is Etienne's story related to Harry Houdini's story?
A 'Moonie' is a negative term sometimes used to refer to members of the Unification Church. The term "moonie" comes from the name of the church's founder Sun Myung Moon, and was first used in 1974 by the American media. The Unification Church is known for the mass weddings with hundreds of couples.
What promise did Ruby and Etienne make to each other?
Why does Ruby try to be lighthearted and upbeat in her letter to her friend Viwy?
Notice that as Ruby is writing her letter to Viwy, she becomes distracted by thoughts that she does not want to include in the letter to her friend. Watch for the change in margins to help guide when Ruby is writing the letter and when she is just thinking.
Ripley's Believe It or Not! is a franchise, founded by Robert Ripley, which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. Ripley's Believe It or Not proved popular and was later adapted into a wide variety of formats, including radio, television, comic books, a chain of museums and a book series. (This annotation contains an image)
What does Ruby compare the feeling of her heart in her throat to?
Kestrels are falcons known for their hunting behavior. They are able to hover at heights of 33-66 feet, swooping down to capture prey such as small mammals, lizards, or large insects. (This annotation contains an image)
Discuss the characters in Ruby's play. Do they have any connections to her own life?
The Oklahoma City bombing was a domestic terrorist bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The bombing killed 168 people and injured more than 680 others. (This annotation contains an image)
How does this passage reflect in Ruby's own life?
In astronomy, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, is located in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky. (This annotation contains an image)