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4-6th Grade Book Club w/ DIY Card Tower: Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson

Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson is a juvenile fiction book good for 4-6th graders.

Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin wants nothing more than to compete in the annual Spades tournament and follow in the footsteps of a long line of Joplin winners. When Ant's best friend and partner in the tournament gets grounded, Ant must find a new partner that will measure up. Shirley, a new girl in school, may just be the partner he was looking for... but is it OK to partner with a girl?

On top of pressures to live up to his father's expectations, Ant realizes that there is trouble at home and no one sees it but him. Could is dad really be drinking again? If isn't sure and tells, then he may only make things worse. When it all becomes too much, will Ant buckle under the pressure OR will he put his trust in others to help lift the load?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?

  2. Ant has big shoes to fill. All the men in his family have won the town’s annual card tournament and now it is Ant’s turn. What expectations are being made of Ant and how does he deal with the pressure?

  3. When Ant’s best friend must drop out of the tournament, Ant needs a new partner. Why is Ant hesitant to ask Shirley to be his partner in the tournament?

  4. “Ant couldn’t help but notice how it was ‘just a joke’ when Jamal said stuff, but Shirley was a ‘dumb girl’ when she did the same” (p. 56). What is a double standard and how does this make Ant and Shirley feel?

  5. When Shirley agrees to be Ant’s partner, her mom says that she can’t take part in any “smack talk.” What does this mean and why do you think Shirley’s mom makes this rule?

  6. Ant’s dad asks him to keep a secret from his mom and brother. How did this make Ant feel? Why do you think Ant was conflicted about telling on his dad?

  7. After Ant’s dad is kicked out of the house, Ant finds out that this isn’t the first time his dad has had problems.

  8. Are there any characters in this book you can relate to? Who and why?

  9. Ant lives by the motto “you gotta know when to hold’em and when to fold'em.” What do you think this means?

  10. What do you think about the books ending? Would you say it is a happy ending? A sad ending? An unfinished story?

Activity: Card Tower

Split up into 4 teams. Each team gets a deck of cards. The team that can build the tallest card tower in five minutes wins a prize.

Activity: The Strongest House!

Split up into 4 teams. Each team gets a deck of cards. The team who can build the strongest card house in five minutes wins a prize. Weighted items will be added to the houses until only one is left standing Further Thinking: -What holds up a house of cards? Why don’t they just slip and fall down?

-Does the building surface make a difference?

-Are all decks of cards equally good for building a card house?

More Discussion: Reading Facial Expressions Reading facial expressions, is basically the study of human behavior. The human face can show a person's emotional state. Facial expressions are forms of nonverbal communication. -How can reading facial expressions help Ant when playing spades?

-Think about your own ticks/tells/gives when you are being untruthful. What do you do?



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