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Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns Teacher’s Guide

By Mary Quattlebaum

Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns by Mary Quattlebaum



Meet basketball-loving entrepreneur Jackson Jones, whose tenth birthday and unexpected green thumb bring him disappointment, frustration, and even more negative attention from neighborhood bad guy, Blood Green. As Jackson struggles to turn his mother’s gift of a weed-infested garden plot into cash crops, he enlists a supporting team in his best friend, Reuben Casey from down the hall; Juana Rivera and her pesky little sibling attachments Gaby and Ro, who live upstairs; and hardworking Mailbags Mosely on the ground floor. Jackson soon realizes the difficulty of turning friends into business partners.


Mary Quattlebaum’s first book, Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns, is the winner of the first annual Marguerite de Angeli Prize for middle-grade fiction. She has also written Jazz, Pizzazz, and the Silver Threads; its companion, The Magic Squad and the Dog of Great Potential, to be published in March 1997; and A Year on My Street, a First Choice Chapter Book for younger readers. She received a B.A. from the College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Georgetown University. Recipient of the Novel in Progress/Judy Blume Grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she has been published in Children’s Digest and Ladybug, as well as several literary magazines. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband.


Jackson Jones is a fun book to share with a class, as a read aloud to younger grades and as a fast and encouraging read for older students. This guide offers interdisciplinary connections to science, mathematics, geography, and social studies.

Suggested Classroom Activities

Pre-Reading Activity

Ask students to pretend it is their birthday. Then ask: What is the present you want more than anything? How would you feel if you didn’t get that present? What could you do to earn the money to buy the gift yourself? Make a list of the steps you would take to reach that goal.

Thematic Connections

Jackson is a funny narrator, especially in his descriptions of people and events. He calls Gaby and Ro "the devouring duo" and announces "my tenth birthday had flattened like a basketball hit by a Mack truck." (pages 17 & 16). Have students write or tell, in the first person, a humorous story about an event real or imagined.

Jackson and Reuben are best friends. Their friendship is spoiled when they trade insults in the garden one day after school. What makes each boy impatient with the other? Why doesn’t Jackson apologize to Reuben?

Read aloud or tell the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. How is Reuben like the Tortoise? Why might he behave this way? Ask students what they think Jackson’s mother means when she says Jackson is like the Hare in the story.

Family and Relationships (Sibling)
Juana often plays the role of parent to her troublemaking younger brother and sister. Jackson says this is like being in prison but he admits that Juana is very good with the children (page 17). Would you like the responsibility of a younger brother or sister? What makes a good baby-sitter? Would you be good at it? Why? Why not? Have students describe a situation in which they cared for another living thing.

Family and Relationships (Parental)
Even though the garden is causing Jackson all kinds of trouble, he pretends to like it when he talks to his mother (pages 57 & 62) until his fight with Blood Green. Why does he hide his true feelings about the garden from her? What makes him finally let it all out? (pages 90-91)

Getting Along with Others
Mailbags says some folks are just "looking for an excuse to be mean," and that Blood Green is just "wanting" (pages 79 & 80). Blood Green is real mean, but not deserving of Jackson’s accusation and attack. Ask students to find examples in the book of Blood being mean. What is Blood "wanting?" Why does he not fight with Jackson at the end?

When Jackson loses Reuben as a business partner he also loses his half of the Captain Nemo cartoon. He then also loses the support of Juana, Gaby, and Ro. What happens to make each of these partnerships fail? What important qualities do you need to work on a winning team? Have students collaborate on an illustrated writing project (comic strip, picture book, magazine) or a performance of one of Aesop’s fables.

The book opens with Jackson wondering about greatness, and deciding that all great people are inspiring. Jackson and Reuben create their own inspiring hero in Captain Nemo. Who else might be inspiring to Jackson? To Reuben? To Mailbags? Who are the heroes of this story? Have students read a biography of their choice and write or tell the class about that person.

Interdisciplinary Connections

Science (Botany)
Jackson is surprised to learn that he cannot buy rose seeds at Juniper’s Hardware. Instead he purchases a thorn bush that "looked like a hostile being from Captain Nemo’s planet" (page 33). Discuss and show students the various ways flowers can be planted and grown, and discuss water and light requirements, planting and blooming schedules. Ask students if they think talking to a plant helps it to grow.

Outdoor Flower Garden
Materials needed: large shovel, small trowels, watering cans, a variety of wildflower seeds, bulbs and partially grown flowering plants such as chrysanthemums or impatiens. Clear a plot for a small flower garden and plan for appropriate blooming in fall or spring.

Indoor Garden
Materials needed: at least two medium planting pots, soil, fast-growing seeds such as bean sprouts or grass seed, a ruler, a cup for water, and volunteers to talk directly to one of the growing plants everyday. Compare the progress of the plants over time. Rooted plant clippings, herbs, or any small houseplants can also be used.

Language Arts (Poetry Reading)
Read the following poem aloud, and ask the students to write a poem about a birthday memory.

The Birthday Child

Everything’s been different
All the day long,
Lovely things have happened,
Nothing has gone wrong.
Nobody has scolded me,
Everyone has smiled.
Isn’t it delicious
To be a birthday child?
-Rose Fyleman

Jackson starts his business with $13.68 for seeds, supplies, and labor. Prepare a hardware store price list, including several items needed to start a garden. Have students create a spending plan outlining how Jackson’s money will be spent at the hardware store and on labor costs. Students should calculate local sales tax on purchases and delineate staff hourly rates and the number of hours to be paid.

Using a second prepared price list and a fact sheet describing the average yield of each seed packet, bulb, and rosebush purchased from the hardware store, students could then determine how many of each flower need to be sold at harvest time in order to raise $25.

Social Studies
Jackson thinks, "Apartments are the perfect way to live." (page 7) And in response to his mother’s claim that "The city is no place for a boy" (pages 10 & 90), he says, "personally, I think the country sounds like the opposite of heaven. Who wants to tug some old cow’s bag when he could shoot hoops?" Read aloud or tell the story of The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. Have students compare and contrast urban with suburban or rural life. Brainstorm the pros and cons of living in each. Pose this question: What might be different about you if you grew up in another locale?

Juana and her family come from Columbia. Find Columbia on a map of the world. What continent is it on? Identify the bodies of water that borders it and its bordering countries. How could you travel to there from home and other Colombian cities? What is the capital city? How many people live in Colombia? What do they like to eat? What other languages do they speak besides Spanish? Do they play basketball in Colombia? Play some Colombian music. Read aloud a Colombian folk tale.

Teaching Ideas prepared by Suzanne Orlando, Children’s Services, Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts.


Here are some words students may not be familiar with:

bouquet indestructible
marigolds juvenile delinquent
zinnias precise
nasturtiums mosey

Spanish words — Here are some words students will have heard in conversation:

el diablo
la agua
el gato
el sombrero

Use a Spanish/English dictionary to look up the Spanish spelling of these words:

flower brother
garden sister
friend mother
apartment grandmother


The First Annual Marguerite de Angeli Prize for middle-grade fiction

A Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book


* "Quattlebaum has created a winning cast of characters–both children and adults–and a savvy young hero who readers will like–and respect." — Starred, School Library Journal

"Full of action and street-smart language. . . . Things get thorny for Jackson, but not for readers of this breezy book." — Chicago Tribune

"Children will love entrepreneurial young Jackson and his multicultural inner-city neighbors and friends. Jackson Jones is a totally authentic hero." — The Boston Globe

"Fast-paced and funny!" — Booklist

"Smart, snappy dialogue and characters both funny and admirable." — Kirkus Reviews

"Quattlebaum’s first-person narrator hooks readers at the start with his humorous, street-smart style." — Publishers Weekly

The first annual Marguerite de Angeli Prize for middle-grade fiction
A Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book


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