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About The Book

An ALA Notable Book
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2017

“Striking, enigmatic, and haunting all around.” —Booklist (starred review)
“A suspenseful, realistic, finely crafted story exploring friendship, trust, and how we judge others.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Newbery Honor winner Janet Taylor Lisle’s novel about a pivotal summer in two girls’ lives explores the convictions we form, the judgments we make, and the values we hold.

The pond is called Quicksand Pond.

It’s a shadowy, hidden place, full of chirping, shrieking, croaking life. It’s where, legend has it, people disappear. It’s where scrappy Terri Carr lives with her no-good family. And it’s where twelve-year-old Jessie Kettel is reluctantly spending her summer vacation.

Jessie meets Terri on a raft out in the water, and the two become fast friends. On Quicksand Pond, Jessie and Terri can be lost to the outside world—lost until they want to be found. But a tragedy that occurred many decades ago has had lingering effects on this sleepy town, and especially on Terri Carr. And the more Jessie learns, the more she begins to question her new friendship—and herself.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Quicksand Pond

By Janet Taylor Lisle

About the Book

When twelve-year-old Jessie and her family arrive at a rented cottage for a New England beach vacation, Jessie is immediately drawn to the freshwater pond nearby—Quicksand Pond—and not to the beach. An old raft and a new friend lead to happy times floating among the reeds, yet shadows from the past are lurking behind the bushes far up onshore.

A crime from long ago still affects the local community, and trouble starts to suck Jessie down into the mire of deceit and prejudice. What happens to Jessie is a turning point in her life, leading to a summer vacation like no other.

Discussion Questions

1. At the end of the introduction when Terri tells Jessie that she had been watching her and her family, what did you think would happen next? What was the mood or tone of the story at that point?

2. When Jessie first sees the pond, why do you think she feels perfectly happy? Why had she not been feeling happy before this point?

3. Henrietta says that it takes “lightness in both body and mind” to ride a raft. What does she mean by that?

4. How is Henrietta’s mind described? Why is that important to the story?

5. What are the different points of view that the author uses to tell the story? How do these multiple perspectives affect the structure of the story? Why do you think that the author chose to tell the story in this way?

6. Compare Jessie’s, Henrietta’s, and Terri’s relationships with their fathers. How do those relationships affect these characters?

7. Why do you think that Henrietta feels a bond with Terri?

8. Did you think that Terri set the fire? Why or why not?

9. There are varying theories presented in the story for how the garage burned down. How are they similar, and how are they different. Which version is the truth? Did any character stick to the total truth? Discuss the slippery nature of truth.

10. How would Terri have explained what happened when the garage burned down?

11. What do you think happens after Henrietta goes down to the pond at the end of the book? Explain your answer. What evidence in the text supports your prediction?

12. Reread the poem at the beginning of the book. Was this poem a good choice for the beginning of the story? Why or why not?

13. Who are the “captives” in the story? Their dungeons are both metaphorical and real. What are they, and how do the dungeons affect the captives’ actions?

14. Review the map of Quicksand Pond at the beginning of the book. How does the map pull together the plot threads of the story?

15. What are some of the differences between the locals and the summer people? How do these differences affect the friendship between Jessie and Terri?

16. Terri’s situation forces Jessie to think about her family’s prejudices, as well as her own. What is behind their intolerance? Do you think that these views are justified? Think about your own community, or other nearby communities. Do you see any prejudice? How are your observations similar to or different from the prejudices that Jessie has discovered?

17. Describe the moment when Jessie is frightened of Terri. When does that happen? Why is she scared? Connect this with another tense moment that either you have read about or experienced.

18. What are the dynamics of Jessie’s family at the beginning of the story? How about by the end of the story? Did anything change? If so, what was the cause of this shift? Support your answers with evidence from the text.

19. Identify the main characters in the story. Which characters have complexity or development throughout the story? Which ones do you relate to the most? Sympathize with? Support your answers with evidence from the text.

Extension Activities

1. The teacher should divide the class into small groups to create book trailers encouraging others to read Quicksand Pond. Then present the trailers to the class. How are the trailers different for each group? What persuasive techniques did each group use in order to convince their audience to read the book? Consider using the following platforms to create your trailer:

Book trailer with iMovie:

Book trailer with Microsoft Photo Story:

2. Write a description of Quicksand Pond. Then, respond in one of the following ways to bring your description to life.

Draw or paint a picture of Quicksand Pond.

Create a short soundtrack of what you think Terri and Jessie heard while rafting on Quicksand Pond. Consider using

Write a haiku poem about the pond. Check out the following for assistance:

3. Examine the map of Quicksand Pond. Identify details on the map. Create a map of a place where you live, or of a place where you went on vacation. Write a short story using the place that you chose as the setting of your story. Be sure to incorporate the details from your map into your story.

4. Use the following resource to learn how to best write and format a newspaper article: You can also use:

Then, look at sample newspapers from the past on Next, the teacher should divide the class into three small groups. Group 1: Create the front page of a local newspaper about the murders and trial from Quicksand Pond. Group 2: Create the front page of a local newspaper that would have been written if the police had interviewed Henrietta at the time. Group 3: Create the front page of the newspaper that would have been written after the police interviewed Miss Cutting at the end of the story.

Share the newspaper articles with your class.

5. Research the history of rafts. What other works of literature feature rafts? Have there been any famous journeys using rafts? Present your findings to your class in a multimedia slide show.

Guide prepared by Margaret Tice, Head Librarian at Magen David Yeshivah Elementary School, Brooklyn, NY, and Adjunct Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College.

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.

About The Author

Photo Credit: Alison Taggart Barone

Janet Taylor Lisle’s books for young readers have received the Newbery Honor Award (Afternoon of the Elves), the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction (The Art of Keeping Cool), Holland’s Zilveren Griffel, and Italy’s Premio Andersen Award, among other honors. A graduate of Smith College and former journalist, Janet lives in Rhode Island and often draws on Rhode Island history in her work. Visit her online at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (May 16, 2017)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481472241
  • Grades: 5 and up
  • Ages: 10 - 99
  • Lexile ® 600L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

An ALA Notable Book

Kirkus Best Books of 2017, middle-grade fiction

"One false accusation, tossed like a stone into a pond, creates a ripple effect that damages a family for generations. This story, so beautifully and tenderly told, will wrap you in its wings from the first page to the last. Don’t expect the flight to be smooth.”

– Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor-winning author of The Underneath

*STARRED REVIEW* "Deftly navigating a diverse array of socioeconomic statuses and the discriminatory nature of the justice system, Newbery Honor-winner Lisle crafts a stirring story that raises crucial questions about the assumptions we make, the distances we keep, and the vulnerable voices we often fail to hear. As Lisle details Terri's determination to cease a vicious cycle, Henrietta's resolve to remedy an unjust past, and Jessie's aching ambivalence between the cautionary advice of others and her own hard-won revelations, readers are sure to listen. Striking, enigmatic, and haunting all around."

– Booklist, February 2017, starred review

*STARRED REVIEW* "A summer beside Quicksand Pond on Rhode Island's coast transforms a reluctant 12-year-old.... Unfolding slowly in simple, quiet prose, this sensitive, compelling story alternates between Jessie's present experiences and Henrietta's befuddled memories until they collide in a disturbing, pivotal climax. A suspenseful, realistic, finely crafted story exploring friendship, trust, and how we judge others."

– Kirkus Reviews, March 2017, starred review

"[S]ubtle, gripping..."

– The Wall Street Journal, May 13-14

"The author’s writing, as always, is filled with rich imagery and atmospheric descriptions. Readers will come away feeling as if they have visited the locale themselves. VERDICT: This complex tale is aptly bittersweet and invites reflection about justice, judgment, and loyalty. A strong purchase for fans of layered, realistic mysteries and drama."

– School Library Journal, March 2017

"Lisle deftly balances the stories of Jessie’s coming of age, Terri’s downward spiral, and the truth behind the murder; the eventual coalescence of the three involves a simple but surprising twist, leaving readers with a compelling, but still melancholy, ending. The girls’ relationship is realistic in its ups and downs, with Jessie initially craving the attention of her coolly aloof new friend and then Terri desperately clinging to Jessie as things go awry. The focus occasionally shifts from the girls to the old woman who was involved in the long-ago crime, and her perspective gives the story both an air of mystery and an element of aching sorrow. A tale of how one summer, one person, or one event can forever change the direction of a life, this will appeal to readers who prefer their beach reads thoughtful rather than frothy."

– The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, March 2017

"Echoing the themes and tone of Lisle’s Newbery Honor–winning Afternoon of the Elves, this loss-of-innocence novel traces the delicate friendship built between two girls from different backgrounds.... With characteristic subtlety and enormous compassion, Lisle expresses complex family and social conflicts while showing how Jessie’s understanding of the world and her newfound friend expand, even as the views of those around her remain narrow. Terri’s struggle against oppression and prejudice will have as profound an impact on readers as it does on Jessie."

– Publishers Weekly, March 2017

“Provides a realistic view of social differences and cultural perceptions, serving as a foundation for deep discussions about their influences on individuals. The book will appeal to curriculum needs and those seeking a fun adventure. Recommended.”

– School Library Connection, August/September 2017

"Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle (Newbery Honor Book Afternoon of the Elves; The Art of Keeping Cool) is a beautiful, realistic story about trust, self-doubt and judgment."

– Shelf Awareness, May 19, 2017

Awards and Honors

  • ALA Notable Children's Books
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Janet Taylor Lisle