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About The Book

You never know what, or who, will touch your heart.

Now that Bess Cunningham is in middle school, she's determined to get noticed. With her new glasses, her wild thrift-store clothes, and her job as stage manager for the school play, she's sure her days of being invisible are over.
Being forced to volunteer with her parents at the local soup kitchen doesn't exactly fit into Bess's popularity plans, especially since she finds the place so creepy. But when she meets Gracie Jarvis Battle, an elderly homeless woman, Bess can't help but feel compassion for her. Bess grows more involved with trying to feed and shelter the older woman, but as the weather turns colder and Gracie grows thinner, Bess begins to wonder--will her help be enough?

Reading Group Guide


By Ellen Wittlinger
Bess Cunningham has parents who give all their free time to the community soup kitchen and to establishing a permanent shelter for homeless women. Her parents and her best friend, Ethan, want her to volunteer at the kitchen, but all Bess wants to do is to be in the school play and to be the most popular girl at her new middle school. Yet Gracie, an elderly homeless woman who eats out of Dumpsters, captures Bess's attention. With the weather getting colder, Bess and Ethan must try to help Gracie survive.
Homeless persons; School and family life; Identity
- What does it mean to be popular? What makes a person popular?
- Have you ever seen or known a homeless person? What makes a person homeless?
- Willy (Bess's older brother) and Bess have a typical brother/sister relationship. How do they work at liking and/or disliking each other?
- As a class or as a school, you could start a food drive and donate food to the local homeless shelter or community soup kitchen.
- Put on a play for the lower grades in your school.
- Gracie died of heart failure. Do some research on the heart and diseases of the heart.
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This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Steve Fuller, McCarter Elementary

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Ellen Wittlinger was the critically acclaimed author of the teen novels Parrotfish, Blind Faith, Sandpiper, Heart on My Sleeve, Zigzag, and Hard Love (an American Library Association Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a Lambda Literary Award winner), and its sequel Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and an MFA from the University of Iowa. A former children’s librarian, she passed away in November 2022 at the age of seventy-four.

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More books from this author: Ellen Wittlinger