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Reading Group Guide All Four Quarters of the Moon
By Shirley MarrAbout the Book
What’s it like to move to a new country? Peijing, age eleven, has snakes in her stomach as she boards the plane with her family from familiar Singapore to unknown Australia. Although she was popular back home, Peijing finds at her strange new school that only one girl, Joanna, is friendly. Conscientious and helpful, Peijing tries to protect those around her: Joanna, who has serious problems at home; Biju, Peijing’s younger sister, an exuberant storyteller; and Ah Ma, their beloved grandmother whose memory is slipping. To her surprise, Peijing’s parents are changing in good ways in this new place. Maybe Peijing, too, will finally feel at home, let go of her worries, and pursue her dream to be an artist.Discussion Questions
1. Why have Peijing and her family moved from Singapore to Australia? Contrast Peijing’s life in the two countries. What things does she miss about Singapore? What does she come to like about her new life in Australia?
2. Describe Peijing’s situation, and her personality. What role does she play in her family? What are some things she likes to do? What matters to her in life? What are her hopes for the future?
3. From the beginning, Peijing mentions snakes: “She kept her feelings to herself, where they multiplied in the pit of her stomach like snakes.” (Chapter four) What are her feelings at this point? When else does she feel the snakes? What do they symbolize for her? Discuss what’s happening here: “She let go of the snakes that had troubled her so and left them in the Serpent Sea.” (Chapter twenty-eight)
4. After Peijing consoles Biju for not getting a bigger part in the play, Biju thanks her. “‘I just want to help,’ replied Peijing, and it was true. That’s all she ever wanted.” (Chapter fifteen) When else does Peijing try to help others? Why is it important to her?
5. In the same scene, Peijing realizes that “In a way she was glad her sister was worried about school plays and spaghetti crowns. Small controllable things. Sweet, simple things.” (Chapter fifteen) What does Peijing herself worry about that seems larger and hard to control? Why do you think she is so prone to worrying?
6. What is Peijing’s relationship with Biju like? Describe Biju’s personality and her skill as a storyteller. How does she adjust to school and other aspects of their new life? How is she different from Peijing? How are they similar?
7. Describe Little World and how it changes. Why was it important to Peijing and Biju to bring Little World with them to Australia? What are the Extinctions? Why is Peijing nervous when Biju shows it to Ba Ba? Explain why he was amazed by it. (Chapter twenty-three)
8. Explain who Ah Ma is and her relationship to Peijing. What is Ah Ma like in the opening scene? Why is she important to Peijing? Give examples of how Ah Ma’s behavior changes. Discuss what Peijing’s parents plan to do about Ah Ma, and how Peijing reacts.
9. How does Ma Ma adjust to the move? What does she miss about Singapore? How do her clothing choices indicate some of her reactions? Why does she decide to apply for a job? Discuss how Ma Ma changes by the end of the novel.
10. What are some of the issues around Ma Ma bringing Peijing’s lunch to school? How does it make Peijing stand out? How does Miss Sara treat Peijing and her mother? Why does Peijing’s mother quit bringing her lunch? When else do chopsticks appear in the story, and in what context?
11. At one point, Peijing observes that she couldn’t remember “the last time she saw Ba Ba smile.” (Chapter eleven) What else did you learn about Ba Ba up to that point? Give some examples of how he changes after that. What prompts the changes? How do Peijing and Biju feel about his new behavior?
12. Why did Peijing purposely fail the test for the special after-school music program? What is the significance to Peijing of Ba Ba and Ma Ma attending Biju’s school performance? Why hadn’t they done the same for Peijing in Singapore?
13. Describe Joanna, then explain how she and Peijing become friends. How do the other students treat Joanna, and why? Why does Joanna worry that Peijing might drop her as a friend? What does Peijing learn about Joanna’s life with her father? Why does Joanna move in with her grandmother, and how does Peijing feel about that?
14. Talk about the magic tree and the role it plays in Peijing’s friendship with Joanna. Why was Peijing surprised that Gem wanted to be invited into the tree? How does the tree help Peijing and Gem become friends? What else helps solidify their friendship?
15. Discuss Peijing’s wish to become an artist. Why is her mother against the idea? What happens with the poster competition? How do you think Peijing feels when Miss Lena calls her a “great artist”? (Chapter twenty-nine) How does she feel when her father says, “‘Drawing is an important skill’”? (Chapter thirty-two) Why does he think so?
16. At the end of chapter sixteen, Ma Ma and Peijing realize that Ah Ma is lost. How has that happened? What is Ma Ma’s reaction? Why is Peijing the one to call the police? Why is Peijing disappointed with her mother? Describe their search and how they find Ah Ma.
17. Discuss Ah Ma’s advice to Peijing:
“You just have to let the feelings guide you. . .You will never be wrong if you are true to yourself. The world—your parents included—will always tell you to be the best version of yourself. I think that is wrong! What we all should be is our favorite
versions of ourselves.” (Chapter twenty-one)
18. What does honor mean to Peijing? When she shares her gift for the birthday party with Joanna, and Joanna is grateful, Peijing thinks, “Ma Ma and Ba Ba had thought it was her duty to always behave honorably.” (Chapter twenty) When else does Peijing behave honorably? When does she feel her parents are not doing so?
19. Talk about the book’s title and the titles of the different sections. Why do you think the novel is divided into phases of the moon? What role does the moon play in Peijing’s life and in Biju’s stories?
20. What are some of the threads and themes in the stories that Biju tells? How do the stories relate to the Little World? What are some of the animals in the stories? Who are some of the mythological characters? Choose one story and discuss how it fits into the preceding chapter.Extension Activities A Whole New Country
What’s it like to move to a new country like Peijing does? Our communities are filled with people who have moved here from abroad. Ask students to work in pairs to conduct a brief interview with an immigrant, either another child or an adult. Prepare questions as a group, keeping in mind Peijing’s experiences with new customs, language, making friends, and other issues. Ask students to share what they learned with the class. Discuss common themes in the interviews.Singapore and Australia: Compare and Contrast
Have students do research on Singapore and Australia, using print and digital resources. (An excellent source is CultureGrams, which has a kids’ edition.) Then each student should create a chart with five topics of comparison such as languages, land size, population, government, important historic events, popular culture, education, and so on. Students should share their charts and create a single large chart for the classroom, decorated with photographs.There’s an Old Saying
Peijing hears several proverbs from Ah Ma during the story. Have students choose among the proverbs in the novel. They should write an essay about what it means, connecting it to the novel. Share interpretations as a class, and discuss other proverbs that students know from their families or experience.Hunger Close to Home
Miss Sara organizes a fundraiser “for kids starving in an unprecedented famine in another country.” (Chapter thirteen) Miss Sara hasn’t noticed that Joanna doesn’t have enough to eat. Ask students to do research on hunger in the US or in the world, with an emphasis on children. They should find statistics as well as identify organizations and government programs working to eradicate hunger. (Adjust the activity if hunger affects some of your students.)Women Heroes
When Peijing acts with honor, she feels “as powerful as an ancient warrior like Hua Mulan.” (Chapter twenty) Invite students to find folklore, fairy tales, myths, and legends with strong female protagonists in anthologies or single picture books. Students should choose one of the stories to tell the class, practicing in pairs or small groups before presenting.
Recommended books from the New York Public Library: nypl.org/blog/2021/03/18/heroines-fairytales-folklore-fables-legends
Tips on Storytelling from We Are Storytellers: startwithabook.org/we-are-storytellers-exploring-multicultural-folktales-fairy-tales-and-mythsGuide written by Kathleen Odean, a youth librarian for seventeen years who chaired the 2002 Newbery Award Committee. She now gives all-day workshops on new books for children and teens. She tweets at @kathleenodean. This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.