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From renowned Newbery-winning author Jerry Spinelli comes an incredible story about how not fitting in might just lead to an incredible life.

Just like other kids, Zinkoff rides his bike, hopes for snow days, and wants to be like his dad when he grows up. But Zinkoff also raises his hand with all the wrong answers, trips over his own feet, and falls down with laughter over a word like "Jabip." Other kids have their own word to describe him, but Zinkoff is too busy to hear it. He doesn't know he's not like everyone else. And one winter night, Zinkoff's differences show that any name can someday become "hero."

With some of his finest writing to date and great wit and humor, Jerry Spinelli creates a story about a boy's individuality surpassing the need to fit in and the genuine importance of failure. As readers follow Zinkoff from first through sixth grade—making this a perfect classroom read—and watch his character develop, it becomes impossible not to identify with and root for him through failures and triumphs.

Supports the Common Core State Standards

Curriculet Details
62 Questions
64 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in fourth grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining setting, themes such the impact of labels on the individual, and links to images and videos to enhance vocabulary comprehension. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about theme and irony. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of character development, omniscient narration, and symbolism. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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1. You Grow Up

The story is told from the omniscient point of view. This means the narrator knows all and sees all, so the reader knows all the details about the characters: what they think, say, feel, and do. As you read, consider how the story may be different if it were told from the first person point of view.  

2. The Bright Wide World

In the highlighted text Zinkoff is described as "one of the new litter of boys." This is an example of which literary device? 
Zinkoff is characterized as "surprised but not unhappy" when he loses his race to a car. Losing a race may make another child feel sad, but Zinkoff does not react like other children do. 

3. Win

The narrator describes the children's races as their way of "sifting themselves apart," and the children "forget, never to remember again, that they are pups from the same litter." Based on this description, the children can be characterized as  
Charlie Brown is a "Peanuts" character who is known for never winning. One of the reasons he never wins is because he is the average boy. He doesn't have any special talents or qualities that make him unique. Charlie Brown is often discouraged by his bad luck, but he continues to try to make each day better than the day before. Can you think of any other characters from television, movies, or comics that never won, but never quit? (This annotation contains an image)

4. Zinkoff’s First Day

Donald disobeys his mother twice before the first day of school: he leaves for school without her, and he wears his giraffe hat to school. Why does Donald disobey his mother? 
Watch the video below to help you understand what a theme is.  (This annotation contains a video)
Zinkoff's initial interaction with Mrs. Meeks helps to develop one of the themes in the text: Labels. Does Mrs. Meeks judge Zinkoff by his giraffe hat? Use specific textual evidence to support your response. 
The narrator tells us that "Donald Zinkoff ... will always be easy to find." This statement can be interpreted to mean that Donald is unique and different from the other students. As readers, we are still unsure if these differences will help Donald to make friends and have positive experiences with his classmates or will separate and alienate him from the other students.  

5. All Aboard

Why does Miss Meeks refer to her students as "young citizens"? 
Tintinnabulation is the sound that bells make when they ring. The video below demonstrates how to properly pronounce tintinnabulation.  (This annotation contains a video)
Miss Meeks describes the students twelve years in school as a "journey" full of "two thousand one hundred and sixty adventures." Why does she use these metaphors on the first day of school? 
It is understandable why Zinkoff would love school with a teacher like Miss Meeks. She is not only teaching her students as the "conductor," but she is also making them a part of the learning process as passengers aboard the "Learning Train." Do Miss Meeks' tone, manners, and teaching style remind you of your first grade teacher?  

6. A Wonderful Question

The phrase "has never hitched a ride on a pencil point" is an example of which of the following literary device? 
Miss Meeks is very honest about Donald's abilities: he can't sit still for too long, he laughs at too many things, and he has horrible handwriting. But Miss Meeks seems to have a soft spot for Donald because he is a sincere and nice person. She refuses to label him as a poor student or a bad student just because he isn't the strongest student in the class. 
When Donald Zinkoff brings his hat out to recess with him it is immediately taken from him and passed around. Donald doesn't realize the other children are ___________ him for having and wearing the hat. 
The fourth grade boy who steals Zinkoff's hat and tries to make him cry is disappointed when Zinkoff does not "cry or pitch a fit." He expects Zinkoff to react a certain way because he is a first-grader. This is the opposite of the way Miss Meeks treats and views first-graders and Donald Zinkoff. 
When Donald returns home from school, his mother gives him a silver star on his shirt. What does the star symbolize or represent? 
The narrator describes in detail the "clunkers" that Zinkoff's father brings home. Though the cars are used and eventually are patched up, Mr. Z never labels the cars "clunkers" and never loses faith they will work. 
Donald wonders "which is greater: the number of stars in the sky or the number of school days left in his life?" before he goes to bed. What does this reveal about his character? 

7. Jabip

"Every day is like the first day to Zinkoff." The omniscient narrator clearly characterizes Zinkoff as always happy to be at school and to be learning. As you read, highlight other examples of Zinkoff's enthusiasm to help support this characterization. 
Based on what you have read so far about Miss Meeks, how do you think she feels about Donald? Be sure to support your answers with three examples from the text.  
Miss Meeks' badge is a punishment for most students and represents poor behavior. Once again, this is not true for Donald Zinkoff. Because he receives so much attention wearing the badge, he interprets the badge to be a reward or an honor. This situation is similar to the recess where Donald's giraffe hat was taken from him, and he was teased. It was not a positive situation, but Donald did not see it that way because he was too caught up in the excitement.  

8. Two New Friends

The narrator tells you that Zinkoff "acquires two new friends": his baby sister and a neighbor. Based on the passage, what does "acquires" most nearly mean? 
When do you think Zinkoff will need two stars? Is it like his character to have bad days? 
Zinkoff is always optimistic and positive. He is sure that a simple cookie will make his unhappy neighbor Andrew change his outlook on the move. This is a very simple idea, and it is one example of how Zinkoff views the world: on a basic level. 
A Venn diagram is used to compare and contrast two people, places, items, or ideas. A Venn diagram looks like the illustration below.  (This annotation contains an image)
Using the Venn diagram, compare and contrast Zinkoff's reaction to having a new neighbor and Andrew's reaction to having a new neighbor.    
The narrator tells you that "to Zinkoff, throwing up is almost as normal as breathing." This is an example of which literary device? 
Donald's spontaneous vomiting is an important detail in the future. Please highlight and reread this passage.  

9. Champions!

When Zinkoff plays soccer he runs "like a fox," he kicks anything (even himself), and "at the end, he has not thought about the score." What does this reveal about Zinkoff's character? 
Zinkoff is not a bad person or a bad teammate. As a result, he is trying to fit in with his teammates by trying to be disappointed in losing the game. But Zinkoff does not react appropriately because it is not in his nature to be a sore loser. 
This is one of the few times in the text that Zinkoff is a winner. This is ironic because he doesn't try or want to be a winner, just like he doesn't try to kick the winning goal. If you are not sure what irony is, please view the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
Zinkoff gives his trophy to Andrew for all the following reasons except 
Zinkoff knows Andrew took the trophy, but Zinkoff doesn't seem to care because it makes Andrew feel better. Would you take the trophy? 

10. Atrocious

When Zinkoff asks how many days of school are left, Mrs. Biswell mistakenly believes that he is excited for school to be over. How does their exchange make Mrs. Biswell feel? 
"Miss Biswell does not like children," so why is she a teacher? This may influence the way she reacts to and treats students like Zinkoff. 
Using a Venn diagram, compare and contrast Zinkoff's first experiences of first grade and his first experiences of second grade. Be sure to include a comparison and contrast of Miss Meeks and Mrs. Biswell. 
If Zinkoff was "brilliant" then Mrs. Biswell may like him. Unfortunately Zinkoff is not brilliant, and as a result Mrs. Biswell does not like him and has no patience to like him. 
When Mrs. Biswell screams for Zinkoff to stop writing on the board and stop using the eraser, the words "hit Zinkoff like a bear paw." How does Zinkoff react? 
Mrs. Biswell labels Zinkoff as a troublemaker and a nuisance from the first day of school. As a result, when she tells Zinkoff to "get out" and he runs all the way home, Zinkoff was not mistaken. Mrs. Biswell wanted him to leave her classroom and never come back. She tells the principal that anyone would have the same reaction. The principal reminds her "a teacher isn't just anyone."  
Chapters 1-10 

11. Mailman

Because Zinkoff's father can't take him to work with him on Take Your Child to Work Day, his father plans a special day called "Take Donald Zinkoff to Work Day." Donald's father can be characterized as all the following except 
Andrew is using a Ping-Pong ball he borrowed from Zinkoff weeks before. Do you think he will return it? Based on the interactions between Zinkoff and Andrew, is Andrew really Zinkoff's friend? 
Based on what you know about Donald Zinkoff, you may not expect him to take the job as mailman seriously, but he does. He "acts professionally" and delivers the letters one at a time. This is an example of what literary device? 
Delivering the mail and acting like his father is something that brings great joy to Donald. He also likes to make people happy. When the little child is excited to receive mail from Donald, "he feels like Santa Claus." Click the link below to find the synonyms for the word altruistic. Would you characterize Zinkoff as altruistic?  (This annotation contains a link)
When Donald tries to deliver a piece of mail to the boy on his porch, the boy refuses to accept the letter, refuses to play along with Donald as the mailman, and rips the letter in half. This is an example of which literary device? 
Donald Zinkoff has an incredible imagination. Do you think this is due to his age or do you think this is his personality?  

12. The Nine Hundred Block of Willow

Zinkoff carefully plans his lunch for his day with his father. The lunch is the best he has ever had because 
The United States Post Office does not have an official motto, but the James Farley Post Office in Manhattan is inscribed with the famous saying, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." When Donald asks about the weather, he is hoping that he will have to fulfill his duties as mailman through all sorts of weather conditions according to the unofficial motto. (This annotation contains an image)
Donald's father claims that weather isn't the only hazard a mailman could face: rhinos, turtles, and banana peels are all potential problems. This is an example of the use of which literary device? 
MIA stands for missing in action. If a soldier is missing during a war or battle, but the military is not able to confirm he or she was killed, the person is considered missing in action. During some conflicts, soldiers were MIA but returned years later after release from their captors. This did not happen often, but family members at home would have hope their loved one would return.  (This annotation contains an image)
When Donald watches the Waiting Man, the mood can best be described as  
Do you think Donald is crying because he had a bad day, or is he crying because he had a great day? Have you ever cried at the end of great day? Why?  

13. Waiting

Why is the November of third grade the "worst period in all [Zinkoff's] eight years"? 
Imagine what it would look like for an elephant to be sitting on your hands. It would be heavy and painful. This is what waiting is like to Zinkoff. 
Zinkoff imagines that his head is a moving part that is working when he is thinking or interested in something. During the three weeks of recuperating at home, Zinkoff is bored often and "comes to know how painful a minute can be, how unbearable an hour." This is an allusion to which character? 

14. The Furnace Monster

Donald Zinkoff is not afraid of the dark. This is another reason why Zinkoff is different from other children his age. As you read, continue to highlight the differences between Zinkoff and his peers. 
The highlighted passage is an example of which literary device? 
Zinkoff knows the cellar is just a cellar with a furnace. But he is still afraid and doesn't want to be alone in the basement. Do you have a fear that you cannot justify? 
Why does Donald bring a sock along and put it in his mouth as be completes his test? 
As Donald stands in the darkness of the basement, he feels as if he has become part of the darkness. He actually squeezes himself to see if he is still there and has hope to squeeze out some light. Again, he knows this cannot happen, but his fears have gotten the best of him.  

15. Discovered

What does the narrator mean when he says, "As with all discoveries, it is the eye and not the object that changes"? 
Until this point in the text and in Zinkoff's life, the only people who knew Donald Zinkoff were his parents. Now due to his fourth grade teacher, Donald Zinkoff "discovers" himself. He realizes that he doesn't have to do or be what has always been expected. 
What does the narrator mean when he says, "Big-kid eyes replace little-kid eyes"? 
The narrator clearly lists all the ways Zinkoff is different from the other students because this is the first time the students have fully recognized that he is different. As a result, they will begin to label him as different. What labels do you think they will assign to him? What affect do you think the label will have on Zinkoff's behavior and attitude? 

16. Field Day

Similar to beginning of the text, the children raced to determine a _______ and to ________ themselves from one another.  
Zinkoff's teacher is trying to do the right thing by allowing Zinkoff to run anchor in the race. But because Zinkoff is not a runner and doesn't have the speed to win the race, this means that Zinkoff will put the team's chance of winning in jeopardy. If Zinkoff causes the team to lose, how do you think the other students will treat him? 
After the students declare Zinkoff a "loser," Zinkoff feels 
As Donald's father drives and the Clunker begins to breakdown, his father encourages the car along. Zinkoff realizes that his father will always support him too no matter how he performs in school or races. In that way, the Clunker symbolizes Zinkoff. View the video below to review symbolism.  (This annotation contains a video)

17. What the Clocks Say

The narrator tells you that Zinkoff hears the students call him loser "as if the voices are coming from the walls and the clocks and the lights in the ceiling." What does this simile mean? 
Zinkoff is trying to outgrow all of the characteristics that make him different from the other students. By outgrowing habits like saying, "Yahoo!" and other unique qualities, is Zinkoff also outgrowing his innocence?  
Even though Donald is outgrowing many things, he does not outgrow the Waiting Man or the woman with the walker. He continues to watch the Waiting Man and considers pretending to be his brother to bring the Waiting Man happiness. He does not because he realizes the pain that act would also bring. He also continues to bring mail to the lady with the walker. Based on his actions, what quality did Donald not outgrow?  
Are your hobbies similar to Zinkoff's? Do you ride your bike around your neighborhood? Zinkoff rides his bike along the streets, but he also rides in the alleys. Below is a picture of suburban alleys. They are different than urban alleys because suburban alleys are between homes and are not meant for cars.  (This annotation contains an image)

18. Best Friend

Does Donald Zinkoff have a best friend? Use three pieces of textual evidence to support your answer. 
Zinkoff doesn't understand that he doesn't need to answer every question on the test he was given. As a result, he rushes to write down the name of someone as his best friend. Donald knows what a best friend is supposed to be, so he will attempt to make Hector Binns his best friend. Do you think he will succeed? 
Zinkoff notices that Hector stares off into the Beyond. What is the Beyond? Is it an actual place? 
Zinkoff tries desperately to convince Hector Binns to be his best friend. Hector never responds to Zinkoff's questions with definitive answers. Do you think Hector is excited to be Zinkoff's friend? 

19. The Candy in His Hand

When Zinkoff tells his family that his new best friend is making a candle out of earwax, his family is surprised and even a little disgusted. "Zinkoff feels a surge of associated pride." What does that statement mean? 
Zinkoff does everything he can to be a best friend to Hector. He "plops" down on his furniture, he learns all he can about him, and he defends Hector when Zinkoff thinks he needs a defense. Zinkoff then decides Hector is interesting, so Zinkoff must be more interesting. Is this how a best friendship develops? Think about your best friend and how you became best friends. Did it happen within a few weeks, or did the friendship grow over time? 
What is the narrator referring to when he states, "And then it's over"? 

20. Nowhere

The narrator never tells us why the friendship between Zinkoff and Hector ends, but something ironic happens shortly after: Donald Zinkoff earns an A on a Geography test. This causes Zinkoff to become admired and popular for a short period of time. But the narrator reminds you that "the loudest and showiest of [Zinkoff's] congratulators are not really congratulating him at all," but are mocking him.  
One day, Zinkoff is friends with Hector, and then unexplainably he is not. One day, Zinkoff is cool and fits in, and then unexplainably he is not. Based on this pattern, how would you characterize Zinkoff's classmates? 
When the teams are chosen for Field Day, Gary Hobin is visibly upset that Zinkoff is on his team again, but Hobin isn't the only student who does not want Zinkoff on his team: no one does. Zinkoff feels similar to the character Peter Hatcher in Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. In both texts, the boys feel invisible and unwanted at some point. For Zinkoff, it is by his classmates due to his poor performance at last year's Field Day. For Peter Hatcher, it is by his parents who are busy taking care of his adorable and precocious little brother Fudge. (This annotation contains an image)
As Zinkoff walks around his town, he can be characterized as 
The woman with the walker sees Zinkoff, calls him over, and invites him in her house. She does not ask him why he is not in school or any other question that an adult may ask a fifth grader who is not in school during the school day. As readers, we can infer that the lady with the walker may not understand that Zinkoff is a child or may not know she is an adult. But the narrator does not indicate that the woman is a threat to Zinkoff's safety. 
Chapters 11-20 

21. Something Hard and Thorny

When the woman with the walker asks Zinkoff what he would like, what does Zinkoff think she means? 
The exchange between the woman and Zinkoff is strange: they argue about snickerdoodles, she asks him to eat pretend jelly on his sandwich, and "after what seems like hours" they finally eat. Why do you think the author included this exchange? HINT: In literature when two people sit down to eat, something important will be revealed to the reader. 
Based on the highlighted passage, what is the mood in the kitchen as Donald and the woman eat sandwiches? 
Even though the woman does not know Donald, her reactions to his talent for spelling tintinnabulation or his A in Geography are genuinely proud and pleased of him. 
Even though it is not a silver star, the turkey sticker symbolizes 
After having a meal with the woman with the walker, Donald finally reveals everything about himself. When someone has an emotional release it is called a cathartic experience. Some other examples of a cathartic experience are crying at the end of a movie, laughing at a funny YouTube video, or playing a video game when you are upset or angry so you will feel better.  

22. Boondocks Forever

Gary Hobin is "surprised when someone does not" congratulate him on his win at Field Day. Which adjective would you use to characterize Gary Hobin? 
Even after all the negative experiences Zinkoff had during elementary school, he is ready to cry when he thinks about graduating. Sometimes a person does not realize what he has until he doesn't have it anymore.  
As Donald waits for his name to be called at graduation, he cannot locate his family in the audience. His mood can be described as 
When it matters, Donald's family does not disappoint him. He realizes how much he is loved when they clap and Polly cheers for him. His mood changes from anxious to proud. 

23. Vanished

The narrator compares summer to a "great warm shallow lake." What does this simile mean? 
The narrator describes Andrew as physically very different from Zinkoff. Unlike Zinkoff, Andrew seems to automatically belong in middle school. Even though they have changed physically, Andrew has not grown much as a person. He tries to ignore Zinkoff and is rude when Donald innocently asks, "Your father still a banker?" 
In middle school, math is not math and band is not band, but Zinkoff can still be characterized as all of the following except 
The narrator tells you that "Zinkoff vanishes," but "not to himself." "Like everyone else, he is the star of his own life." Even though his classmates may not notice Zinkoff, Zinkoff doesn't realize how invisible he is to the other students. 

24. Snow

As soon as the first snowflake is seen by one of the students, how does the mood change? 
The setting is an important part of this chapter. The snow day will change many things for Zinkoff. 
Donald is not surprised to hear that Claudia, the little girl on the leash, is missing. Why? 
If your neighbor went missing, would you help in the search? We would all agree that we would help, but it would be part of an organized search. Donald decides to look for Claudia on his own and doesn't tell anyone. Why would he do this and what dangers could he face? 

25. “Claudia…”

Reread the previous page and this page. How would you describe the setting? Does this inhibit Donald's ability to search? 
As Donald searches for Claudia on the streets, he can see the lights in the distance and refers to them as his leash. He is comforted by the lights because he is still connected to people and safe. As he turns to look in the alleys, there are no lights. He compares this journey to his journey to the cellar. How is Donald testing himself now? 

26. What a Kid Is

As Donald searches in the darkness, "he squeezes his lucky stone." This is the hardened piece of gum Claudia gave him. What does it symbolize? 
Is there a difference between leaving and running away? Donald didn't think he was running away, but maybe Polly thinks she was just leaving. 
Reread the highlighted passage. Donald reveals two things to the reader: Finding Claudia is like finding his sister Polly. He is waiting for the moment when he is able to pick up Claudia and carry her home on his shoulders. The second thing revealed is that he realizes that Claudia ran away to be found. He becomes more anxious to find her when he thinks she is now waiting to be found. 
What is literally happening to Donald as he spends more time in the snow and cold looking for Claudia? 

27. Himself

As Donald spends more time in the cold searching for Claudia, he wants to stop searching and go home. Why do you think he continues to search? 
What effect does the changing weather conditions have on Zinkoff? 
As Zinkoff searches for Claudia, he thinks about the Waiting Man. Zinkoff is determined to find Claudia because he does not want her family to endure the Waiting Man's fate. Though he may be known as a loser or a nobody at school, Zinkoff is a caring and compassionate person. He does not even think about his own well being as he searches. 
The narrator tells us that Donald sees the woman with the walker, then his mother, then is playing with Claudia on Halftank Hill, and meets the Waiting Man who asks for a snickerdoodle. These are   

28. Grounded

Donald was walking in the freezing cold for hours looking for Claudia. The last time his parents saw or spoke to him was at dinner. Donald didn't realize that while trying to find Claudia, he became lost himself. 
Donald does not know what has happened to Claudia, "the look on his mother's face is scaring him," and as she speaks to him she whispers. From Donald's perspective, the mood is  
After Zinkoff's mother realizes that Donald was searching for Claudia all night, she is looking at him crying and smiling. Why does she react this way? 
Donald is just starting to realize that while searching for Claudia he was sought after as well. This is an example of situational irony. It is not dramatic irony because the readers did not know that Donald was considered "lost." It is only after the fact that we learned the second set of police lights were in fact looking for Donald and not Claudia. 
Donald tells his mother, "Nobody can touch [the lucky stone] but me." He believes it will lose its power if other people touch it, but who did Donald allow to touch the stone in Chapter 21? 
Everyone wonders why Donald spent half the night looking for Claudia except Claudia's mother. She simply hugs Donald. Claudia's mother realizes Donald Zinkoff is a caring and selfless person.  

29. Still There

Based on the highlighted passage, Zinkoff's parents can be characterized as 
As Zinkoff lays on the couch trying to sleep, his brain is still thinking, moving. This is an allusion to Chapter 13 when the narrator informs us that Zinkoff thinks of his mind like a moving part that is working when he is thinking. He is unable to completely sit still and relax. An allusion is a reference. Allusions are not only used in literature. Below is the video for Taylor Swift's "Love Story." She refers to her love as "Romeo" and herself as "Juliet" because like Romeo and Juliet, she says her father doesn't want them to be together.  (This annotation contains a video)

30. “Zinkoff”

Based on the description of "the kid" who tries and fails to catch the football, who do you think Tuttle and Bonce are mocking? 
There are a million adjectives to describe a person. You can describe a person's physical appearance, emotional reaction, or verbal response. Gary Hobin describes Zinkoff in one word: nobody. Why? 
Using a Venn diagram, compare and contrast Tuttle and Bonce's reactions to the story of Donald Zinkoff's search for Claudia. 
Even though he does not want Zinkoff to play, Bonce does not tell Zinkoff to go away. He doesn't understand how Zinkoff doesn't know to walk away, accept he is a "leftover," and not be humiliated on the football field. But there is another reason Bonce won't tell him to go away: he is intrigued by Zinkoff because he is different. He is curious to know about Zinkoff's search for Claudia because in Zinkoff's "eyes Bonce sees something he doesn't understand, and something else he dimly remembers." 
Bonce has two choices: tell Zinkoff he is not allowed to play or choose Zinkoff for Bonce's team. Bonce decides "in the end there's really only one word, he knows that, one word from him," and he calls Zinkoff's name. Why do you think the author chose to end the story this way?  
Chapters 21-30