Aspiring writer Mia Tang manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel every day while her immigrant parents clean the rooms. Over the course of her fifth grade year, Mia uses her growing writing skills to support her family, friends, and the other Chinese immigrants who come to the motel for help.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In Maude Barrows Dutton's retelling of the folktale, "The Rich Man and the Bundle of Wood," a Rich Man doesn't pay a Poor Man enough for the wood he brings him.
Read this Indian folktale after chapter six to have students discuss character traits. In this chapter, Mr. Yao changes the Tangs’ contract so they make less money. Have students discuss Mr. Yao’s actions in this chapter. Then, have students discuss the rich man’s actions in “The Rich Man and the Bundle of Wood.” Have students compare Mr. Yao and the rich man. Ask, “What traits do Mr. Yao and the rich man from ‘The Rich Man and the Bundle of Wood’ have in common? What do these traits tell you about the characters?” Students should give evidence from both texts to support their thinking about the characters.
In "Fish Cheeks," which is about a Chinese American girl who feels embarrassed by her family during dinner, Tan explores how culture can be essential to a person's identity.
Read this short story after chapter fourteen to have students analyze characters’ perspectives. In this chapter, Mia is angry with Jason when he shares what his father has told him about China. Have students discuss the differences between how Mia and Jason view China. Then, have students discuss Amy’s conflicting feelings about her culture in “Fish Cheeks.” Have students compare and contrast the various characters’ perspectives. Ask, “Why do Mia and Jason have different ideas about China? How have their families influenced the way they think about their heritage? How are Mia’s and Jason’s views similar to and different from Amy’s feelings about her culture in ‘Fish Cheeks?’” Students should draw on themes of pride, shame, and family.
In Adrienne Su's poem "Peaches," a speaker describes being the child of Chinese immigrants in America.
Read this poem after chapter sixteen to have students analyze the themes of family and sacrifice. In this chapter, Mia goes grocery shopping with her mother and looks for valuable coins with her father. Have students discuss what Mia begins to understand about the sacrifices her parents have made in the United States. Then, have students discuss why the speaker’s family buys fruit by the crate in “Peaches.” Have students analyze the themes of family and sacrifice present in both texts. Ask, “How are the sacrifices Mia’s parents have made similar to how the speaker’s parents take care of their family in ‘Peaches?’ What important lessons do Mia and the speaker in the poem learn about family?” Students should give evidence from both texts about the parents’ actions and motivations to support their thinking.
In "Basant Birthday," a young girl finds the courage to kite fight.
Read this short story after chapter fifty-three to have students discuss character motivation. In this chapter, Mia writes her essay for the Vermont motel contest. Have students discuss why Mia finally decides to enter the contest. Then, have students discuss why the narrator wants to go kite-fighting for her birthday in “Basant Birthday.” Have students compare Mia’s and the narrator’s motivation. Ask, “Why is Mia determined to write a great essay? How is Mia’s motivation similar to the narrator’s in ‘Basant Birthday?’” Students should draw on themes of courage and fairness.
In the story "Two Dollars," set in the time of the Great Depression, a girl and her Dad help others in need.
Read this short story after chapter sixty-three to have students discuss the theme of generosity. In this chapter, Mia begins to collect money so her parents can buy the motel from Mr. Yao. Have students discuss why the “weeklies,” Lupe’s family, Mr. Cooper, and a variety of strangers send money to Mia’s family. Then, have students discuss why Helen buys the candies for the children in “Two Dollars.” Have students reflect on the theme of generosity in both texts. Ask, “How does Mia’s family feel as various people send them money? How does Helen feel about buying groceries and candy for the Katz family in ‘Two Dollars?’ What effect does generosity have on those who give and receive in these two stories?” Students should give evidence from both texts to support their thinking about the theme.
In Tony Medina's poem "Poetry Means the World to Me," Medina speaks from Langston Hughes' point of view to explore his love for poetry.
Read this poem after finishing Front Desk to have students reflect on the power of words. Have students discuss the importance of the small moment story and the various letters Mia wrote. Then, have students discuss what the speaker says about words in “Poetry Means the World to Me.” Have students analyze the power of Mia’s words using the speaker’s framework in the poem. Ask, “What does Mia learn about the importance of writing? How is the way Mia uses her words similar to what the speaker describes in ‘Poetry Means the World to Me?’” Students should provide examples of the ways Mia used her writing to help others and express herself throughout the story.