Knots in My Yo-Yo String: The Autobiography of a Kid

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"A master of those embarrassing, gloppy, painful, and suddenly wonderful things that happen on the razor's edge between childhood and full-fledged adolescence" (The Washington Post), Newbery medalist Jerry Spinelli has penned his early autobiography with all the warmth, humor, and drama of his best-selling fiction. From first memories through high school, including first kiss, first punch, first trip to the principal's office, and first humiliating sports experience, this is not merely an account of a highly unusual childhood. Rather, like Spinelli's fiction, its appeal lies in the accessibility and universality of his life. Entertaining and fast-paced, this is a highly readable memoir-- a must-have for Spinelli fans of all ages.
Curriculet Details
42 Questions
50 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in 4th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining figurative language, author's purpose and comprehension strategies. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about noting details and making inferences. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of theme, characterization, and diction. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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Johnson Highway

Why is Jerry in Carol Eckert's living room? 
The story you are about to read is an autobiographical account of Jerry Spinelli's childhood. Watch the short video to find out some of the things you will learn about Jerry.  (This annotation contains a video)

East End

Use the DEFINE feature to read the definition of underhand. Which of the following definitions fits the context of the sentence? 
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up? 

West End

Brick row houses were common during the time Jerry grew up, especially in American cities. Below is an image of brick row houses. (This annotation contains an image)
According to Jerry, how does his idea of "dead end" differ from an adult's idea? Use evidence from the text to support your answer. 


Point of view is the mode of narration that an author employs to let the readers “hear” and “see” what takes place in a story. Watch the video and then answer the question below. (This annotation contains a video)
From which point of view is this story written? 
Why does Jerry daydream about being a spy? Does he think daydreaming about what he should do will help him if he is ever in a real situation? 
Why does Jerry never get shot in these fearful fantasies?  
Use the DEFINE feature to read the definition of 'pompadour.' Below is an image of a man with a pompadour hairstyle.  (This annotation contains an image)

Lash La Rue

What do these details reveal about how much Jerry likes watching Frontier Playhouse? 
Frontier Playhouse was an American television series that aired on NBC from September 1955 to September 1956. The series de-emphasized gunplay and focused on the hazards of the settlement of the American West.  (This annotation contains an image)
Video clip of King of the Bullwhip (1950) starring Lash La Rue.  (This annotation contains a video)
Have you ever "dressed up" in a costume to go to school when it wasn't Halloween? If so, did anyone notice or say anything to you? 
Which word BEST describes Jerry's imagination? 

Ashes in the Grass

How do Jerry's interests change over the course of two years? What most likely causes this change? 
How does Jerry's father encourage him to get involved with sports? 

Never the Monkey

Why does Jerry cherish the gold-plated medal so much?  
After reading the highlighted text, why do you think the title of this chapter is "Never the Monkey"? Do you think Jerry won all of the unofficial races with friends? 


How does Jerry feel about baseball? What evidence from the text supports your answer? 
Why does Jerry refer to the baseball uniform as "precious cargo"? 
"Onomatopoeia" means words which imitate sounds. Watch the video to learn more about onomatopoeia.  (This annotation contains a video)
What do you think of a team reciting a Sportsmanship Pledge? How would this help build the character of the teammates? 
What does Jerry mean by this statement? 
What is Jerry's process for storing his glove until next season? 
Quiz 1 

Good Boy

What is the effect of Roger Adelman landing on a pitchfork in the barn? 
Why do you think the calf incident was more interesting to Jerry than Roger Adelman's accident in the barn? 
Onomatopoeic words represent sounds. Can you identify the onomatopoeic words in the highlighted text? (This annotation contains an image)

George Street

What caused George Street to change? 
"It held a ton of coal" is a hyperbole. A hyperbole is a figure of speech which involves an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis. The exaggeration of "ton" is used to emphasize that the bin could hold a lot of coal. 
Image of a Victrola  (This annotation contains an image)
"Clop-clop" is an example of __________. 
A simile is a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing to another thing of a different kind (e.g., as brave as a lion, crazy like a fox). The horse is compared to a drooping sack of rags to show that the horse is slow and lazy-like. Watch the video to learn more about similes. (This annotation contains a video)

Mrs. Seeton’s Whistle

What does Jerry mean by "an ugly word, once spoken, once heard, remains in the ear forever"? 
Can you identify the literary device used in this sentence? If you said simile, you are correct! Similes compare two objects using "like" or "as." 
"Thinner" is a comparative adjective. Comparative adjectives compare two nouns. Miss Teufel is compared to a taffy stick to show how thin she is. 
Imagery is the use of figurative language to represent objects, actions and ideas in such a way that it appeals to our physical senses. Which of the following senses does the author use imagery to appeal to in this section of text? 
What does Jerry mean by the "winter on our tongues"? What are the kids eating? 
Why does Jerry fantasize about Mrs. Seeton blowing her whistle one more time? 


Personification is a figure of speech in which a thing, an idea or an animal is given human attributes. The non-human objects are portrayed in such a way that we feel they have the ability to act like human beings. In the highlighted text, the bedsprings are given the human ability to sing. Watch the video to see more examples of personification.  (This annotation contains a video)
What evidence is left from the train passing during the night? 

A Family Thing

Use the DEFINE feature to read the definition of broke. Which of the following definitions correctly fits the context of the sentence? 
"Prettiest" is a superlative adjective. Superlative adjectives are used to compare three or more objects, people, or places. Using the superlative form takes a comparison to the highest degree possible. Watch the video to learn more about superlative adjectives.  (This annotation contains a video)
When reading words, it is important to know what the parts of a word mean. If you know the meaning of word parts, you will be able to figure out an unfamiliar word just by understanding the word parts. Here, "triptych" has two word parts. "Tri-" means 'three' and "ptych" means 'to fold.' A "triptych" is a three-fold picture frame that is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. (This annotation contains an image)
"His fingers were as thick as sausages" is an example of which literary device? 
How does the author's use of imagery develop the characterization of Jerry's grandfather? 
What does it mean to be selfless? If you are a selfless person, do you think of others or yourself more? 
Jerry equates the bicycle to ____________. 

Big Brother

How does Jerry differ from his brother Bill? Cite textual evidence to support your answer. 
Do you think Bill's view of his childhood with Jerry differs from Jerry's view? What might Jerry learn about his brother? 

Sixteen Things I Wished I Could Do

As you read the sixteen things Jerry wishes he could do, see how many of these you can do or would like to be able to do. 
Which of the following is possible to do without any practice? 

A Swooner in Sneakers

Which literary device is used in this sentence? 
Leeches are worms that grow over two inches long. They live in lakes, marshes, and slow-moving streams. The leech, which is an excellent swimmer, can attach to a host with its mouth or another sucker on its tail. The mouth sucker has sharp teeth, which the leech uses to cut into the skin of the host animal. It releases a special chemical, called an enzyme, which has two jobs. First, the enzyme is an anesthesia, which means it numbs the area where the leech is feeding so the host does not feel it. Second, the enzyme is an anti-coagulant, which means it helps blood flow freely.  (This annotation contains an image)
The fluoroscope is an x-ray procedure that makes it possible to see internal organs in motion. Below is an image of a fluoroscope similar to the one Jerry describes at the shoe store.  (This annotation contains an image)
How is Yost's store different from most other retail stores? Use evidence from the text to support your answer. 
To sneeze, to smash, to cry, to shriek, to jump, to dunk, to read, to eat, to slurp—all of these are infinitives. An infinitive will almost always begin with "to" followed by the simple form of the verb, like this: to + verb = infinitive. Important Note: Because an infinitive is not a verb, you cannot add -s, -es, -ed, or -ing to the end. Ever! Watch the video to see more examples of how infinitives are used in grammar.  (This annotation contains a video)
Use the DEFINE feature to read the definition of swooned. Which of the following is a synonym (word with similar meaning) for swooned? 
Quiz 2 

A Little Stiff from Swimming

Who do you think Jerry blames for his not reading more as a child?  
Jerry likes to have stories read to him. Why does he not like to read books himself? 
What is plagiarism? Watch the video to find out.  (This annotation contains a video)
Why do you think Jerry didn't write a poem for another five years? 

Staying in the Lines

What does Jerry mean by saying the hot dogs "fought back"? 
Make Connections: Are you like Jerry? Do you like neatness and routine or are you messy and haphazard? 
The words in the highlighted text are examples of _______________. 
Although Jerry says he wanted to be a baseball player, he realizes that something in him may be a writer. 

Dr. Winters’ Finger

Adjectives are words that describe nouns. Adjectives make sentences more descriptive and interesting. "Pale pink-orange" describes the color of the crayon. As you read, look for adjectives. Watch the video for more examples of adjectives.  (This annotation contains a video)
What would most likely happen if the black trash collector did not have his own glass with him? 

God and Garfield Shainline

What does this detail reveal about Jerry? 
How does Jerry seem to feel about attending Sunday school? Why do you think he likes the pins? 
Which word might describe how Jerry feels about not going to see Garfield Shainline when he was sick in the hospital? 
Why does Jerry think of Garfield Shainline as the lesson and not the teacher? What does this detail reveal about the impact Garfield had on Jerry? 


Parallelism (or parallel structure) is the use of components in a sentence that are grammatically the same or similar in their construction, sound, meaning or meter. Watch the video and then identify the parallel structure in the highlighted sentence.  (This annotation contains a video)
Which literary device is used in this sentence? 
What drives Jerry to prove that he can pick Judy Brooks up? 
Why does Jerry compare his Roadmaster to a "patient, faithful horse"? 
Use the DEFINE feature to read the definition of 'ruminations.' Which definition fits the context of the sentence? 

When I Was King

Why does Jerry feel that he has to apologize to his friends for winning the election? What does this reveal about the kind of person he is? 
Which cheerleader do you think will be assigned to Jerry? 
Make Connections: Have you ever given someone something as a token of how much you care for them? 
How do Jerry and Judy communicate with each other? 
Use the DEFINE feature to read the definition of quandary. Which of the following is an antonym (word with opposite meaning) for quandary? 
How does Judy solve the problem of being taller than Jerry? 

Johnson Highway

How does Jerry know that Lucky is dead? 
What is the most likely reason that Lucky was killed on the highway? 
Which of the following is something that Jerry loses in this year? 
What does Jerry mean by "My string was nothing but knots"? 
Why do you think Jerry has an urge to write about the football game? Could this be what he needs in order for the game to be over with him? 
Why can Jerry now say that the game is over for him? 

Fargo, North Dakota

What two components does Jerry use to write a book? 
Now that you have read the book, do you think Jerry's childhood experiences helped him become a writer? What evidence from the text supports your answer? 
Quiz 3