Making the world a better place totally rocks! Meet Zebrafish, a garage band with a lofty goal.
Zebrafish is not exactly your typical garage band—especially because only one member can play an instrument! But that doesn’t mean that Vita, Tanya, Walt, Plinko, and Jay aren’t dreaming big…or at least stumbling towards a modest success. With a little creativity and out-the-box thinking (and some high-level computer tinkering) this garage band is going virtual—and they’re learning that schoolyard fame is a great way to bring in awareness (and donations) for an important cause. This fully illustrated, highly visual novel is a multimedia project complete with webisodes and online components like games and websites. It’s being supported and publicized by Children’s Hospital of Boston and shows kids that they can make a positive impact on their world by finding a cause they believe in and giving charity work their own personal spin.
1. Although she thought it was boring, Vita sat through her brother Pablo’s graduation ceremony at the beginning of the book. Tanya goes to see Kyle’s JV soccer game as a date, even though they can’t really talk while he’s playing. And Pablo tells Vita that he would sit through a “one-note” conference if she was performing. Have you ever had anybody sit through a long performance, ceremony, or game to support you? How did that make you feel? Would you do the same for someone else? Who?
2. In Chapter 3: Cause and Effect, we find out that Tanya is sick and has to spend a lot of time in the hospital getting tests and treatments that cause her to be nauseated. Later in the book we find out that Tanya is suffering from leukemia, a blood and bone marrow disease. Have you ever known someone who was seriously sick? What do you think you would say if a friend told you he or she had cancer?
3. Tanya is an activist, always standing up for a cause like saving the pandas or the rain forest. In fact, she writes a song about saving the pandas for Zebrafish called “1,000 Pandas.” Do you consider yourself an activist? Is there a special cause you feel passionate about? How did you learn about this cause and why is it important to you?
4. Vita, as the new kid in school, decides to add “a bolt of blue” to make a good impression on her first day and to boost her confidence. When Tanya comes back to school after being homeschooled due to her sickness, she has a hard time finding a seat in science class until Kyle offers his seat to her. That small act goes a long way to making her feel welcome. Have you ever been the new kid? What did you do to prepare for your first day of school? Did anybody do something to help you feel less out of place? What are some small acts you can do to help make your school or community a more welcoming place?
5. In Chapter 11: Intensification, Plinko tells everyone a story about this kid Tang who was so nervous when he sang “Happy Birthday” to the principal in front of the entire student body that he threw up onstage. Have you ever had something embarrassing like this happen to you? Is there a school story that gets passed down year after year, an urban legend unique to your school?
6. Tanya doesn’t want her classmates to know she is sick because she is afraid they will act weird or different around her. However, when her friends do find out, they plan a benefit concert to raise funds for the hospital where she is being treated. Jay suffers from asthma, but is embarrassed to use his medicinal inhaler in front of his crush, Vita. By not using his inhaler, Jay puts himself at risk and ends up in the nurse’s office during gym. Sometimes our friends surprise us with their reactions, and sometimes ignoring a health problem can have serious consequences. Do you think having an illness makes a person weak? Why do you think we tend to hide our illnesses/weaknesses from our friends?
7. Tanya thinks the band is hosting a benefit concert to raise money to help save the pandas, but Vita explains to her that the plan is to use the money they raise to help purchase equipment for the hospital. Tanya asks “This was your idea?” and Vita responds, “Well, I know you. I don’t know any pandas.” (p. 103) What do you think Vita means by this?
8. “Realistic fiction” is the literary term for a book, like Zebrafish, that features made-up characters, although the situations in the book seem real and could actually take place. Do you relate to any of the characters or situations in this story? Who? Why? Can you envision hanging out with Vita and her friends? Would you join their band? Play video games with Jay and Plinko? Play a sport like Kyle? Draw like Walt?
9. Although none of Vita’s bandmates have any musical talent, they all feel very passionate about the skills and talents they do bring to the band. Do you believe that you have to be good at something to be passionate about it? Do you have to be passionate about something to be good at it? Which do you think is more important, passion or talent? Which do you think people respect more?
1. The name Vita originally chooses for her band is the Vita-mins. Upon learning about the fish in her brother’s research lab, Vita decides that Zebrafish is a much better name for a band. If you had a band, what would you call it and why? What kind of music would you perform, and who would you invite to be a part of your band? Once you have a name for your band, brainstorm a name for your first song and first album, and if you have time, try your hand at writing some lyrics to your first song.
2. If you were a member of Vita’s band, what would be your strength: singing, writing songs, drawing characters for music videos (or in this case, for the animated video), doing production work for concerts (lights, sound, set design), or using technology to create music videos? Choose one area and share how you would contribute to the band’s next song/video. Need some inspiration? Check out the band’s animated video and corresponding webisodes online: www.zebrafish.com.
3. In the Zebrafish music video, each bandmate is represented by an avatar, or virtual representation of him- or herself. Tanya is a wizard, Vita is a queen bee, and Plinko is a superhero with a moustache. If you were in the band, what would your avatar look like? How would this avatar represent your personality?
4. The creators of Zebrafish chose a graphic novel format to tell the story of Vita and her friends. Using imagery, the creators are able to tell readers more about each character without having to rely solely on words. Choose two panels or series of panels from the story that provide you with information about a character and explain what you learned. For example, on page 86-89 we see Walt designing the avatars for the band’s music video. From this series of images, we can deduce that he has worked very hard, for a long time, crafting the perfect avatar for each character and that his contribution to the development of the video is very important to him.
5. Towards the end of the book, after Vita and her friends have pulled off a successful performance in spite of the power outage, Gwen Greenling from the yearbook staff pops up to ask Vita and the other members of Zebrafish for an exclusive interview. Put yourself in Gwen’s shoes and develop a list of five questions for the band.
6. On the last page of the book, creator Peter Reynolds challenges all readers to do something “BIG” like write a song, tell a story, create a PSA (public service announcement), build a website, start a movement—all in the name of making a difference in the world. Think of a cause that is important to you (like cancer research or protecting an endangered species). What could you do to help raise awareness about the issue and/or raise money for the cause? What are your talents, and how could you use them to help spread the word about a worthwhile cause? Create a list of potential fundraising ideas, promotional materials, and a message or tagline for your campaign to help spread the word for your chosen cause.
Peter H. Reynolds is the bestselling author and illustrator of I’m Here, The Dot, and Ish; and illustrator for the #1 New York Times bestseller Someday by Alison McGhee. He is also the illustrator of Going Places, Little Boy, Charlie and Kiwi, and the Judy Moody series. He lives in Dedham, Massachusetts, where he is co-owner of the Blue Bunny bookstore. Visit Peter at PeterHReynolds.com.