“Girl with Pencil, Drawing” Book Discussion Questions

An exciting YA mystery

The Brooklyn Bridge leads to the mysterious brownstone in Brooklyn where Annie and friends must find the clues to solve the murder of John DiCristiani.

  • Annie seems nervous about starting her art lessons, and getting the criticism of her instructor, even though she has won a contest. Why do you think she is so unsure of herself?
  • Annie makes an immediate connection with Francesca. What do you think this says about Annie?
  • What did you think was going on between John DiCrinstiani and Francesca when they were arguing in his office?
  • What was the best evidence to connect Francesca to DiCristiani’s murder?
  • What do you think Mark DiCristiani’s behavior suggests about him?
  • If you read The Madonna Ghost, contrast Ty’s behavior towards Annie to Mark DiCristiani’s attitude when he visited the gallery.
  • If you were Annie, would you have snooped in Frau Helriegel’s desk when they visited her? Why or why not?
  • The stories of the Nazi’s confiscation of art from countries they invaded, and occupied are true. How did Frau Helriegel’s story make you feel about her, and what she had done, involving herself in the secret art society?
  • Put yourself in Francesca’s place. How would you have reacted to finding your art work as part of a secret collection? Would you have reacted differently from Francesca?
  • Review the science used to make sure an art piece is authentic. Was Horst Blau convincing. Do you think he was convincing as a legitimate art collector?
  • Why were the art forgery and theft ring (the bad guys) willing to commit murder to protect their business and are collections?
  • Who killed John DiCristiani?
  • Do you think Frau H was behind the murder? Give a reason.
  • When reading the book, before the scene on the bridge, did you get the bike club thing?
  • Funny Question: Do you think Aunt J should have locked the girls up after their first encounter with danger?
  • Were Annie and Francesca good friends to each other? Give some examples.
  • What do you think are the best and worst qualities of these characters?



Aunt Jill

Horst Blau

Frau Helriegel

Lt. Red

Mark DiCristiani

Station #5: Famous Art Mysteries and Forgeries



Grade Band: 6-12

Aim: Students will

  • Research the above topic
  • Use a variety of strategies to produce an interesting and informative report on art mysteries and fraud.



Websites like www.voki.com


Suggested Interactives:

  • Essay Map
  • Comic Creator
  • Read, Write, Think Printing Press



  • Using the Jig Saw model for your, cooperative learning groups, have each student research a different art mystery, for example, The Shroud of Turin.
  • Forming new groups, have the students take each mystery and create a report using some of the following strategies:
  • Fill out a report sheet on the similarities and differences of the researched cases.
  • Write a newspaper article about each case.
  • Using Voki, stage an interview between a student and an art forger. Or have the students interview famous artists of the past.

Some websites that might prove interesting are:







  • com/portfolio/artofcrimedetection/teacher.html









  • shroud.com



  • com/shroud.html



Station #4: You Just Can’t Hide Your Age

Grade Band: 6-12

images (31)A technique used to tell the age of various ancient artifacts is half-life. Half-life is the amount of time it takes for ½ of a sample of radioactive material to break down into a stable material. It is a specific amount of time for every radioactive element. All materials contain trace amounts of some radioactive element. Therefore, by measuring the ratio of radioactive material to the stable material it breaks down into, one can calculate the age of a rock, an artifact, Stonehenge, etc.

Aim: Students will

  • Build a vocabulary
  • Learn about half-life by doing the activity with manipulatives
  • Relate half-life to telling the age of objects.


The set of cards described below.


  • Make a set of 3×5 cards for each of your groups as follows:
  • The cards appear in pairs with labels on the back. Use red for radioactive, green for stable.

First pair

Card #1 is totally red, there is no card #2

Second pair

Card #1 is only half red, card #2 is half green

Third pair

Card #1 is only one quarter red, card #2 is ¾ green

Fourth pair

Card #1 is 1/8 red, card #2 is 7/8 green

Fifth pair

Card #1 is 1/16 red, card # 2 is 15/16 green

Sixth pair

Card #1 is 1/32 red, card #2 is 31/32 green

  • Have students observe the pairs of cards to see how the process works.
  • Students should then prepare a graph of the progress of radioactive decay using time for the x axis and amount for the y axis.
  • Ask students how long it will take to have nothing left of the original radioactive sample.
  • There are many radioactive substances called isotopes used to tell the age of objects. Carbon-14 is the most famous. Have students research carbon-14 and describe how it is used and on what types of objects and materials. Describe its limitations.

Station #3: Now you see it. Now you don’t!

A new view using science to see behind the paint.

A new view using science to see behind the paint.

Why did artists hide their works?

Grade Band: 6-12


This is a simple demonstration you can do using the overhead projector. X-rays are used to see if artists reused their canvases, altered their painting or if the artist’s hid another work behind the one on the surface.


Aim: Students will

  • Build a vocabulary list
  • Observe and analyze the possibilities of hidden art


Overhead projector

Selected transparencies


  • By using the correct combination of pictures and transparencies (You will have to experiment with this yourself), you can show how you can reveal a transparency behind the one on top.
  • First, use no light to see if students can detect the other picture behind the one you are showing them.
  • Second, put the two transparency/picture combinations on the overhead and turn on the light.
  • The light simulates x-rays, and students should be able to detect the bottom image.
  • Have students do a web search to find famous painting that have other pictures underneath them.
  • Make a display of tricks played by artists in this fashion.

Station #2: Titian Red, Cerulean Blue, Chinese Purple       Image result for chromatography


Every period of artists produced their own distinctive techniques and style, but also their own materials, especially paints. In this exercise you will perform a simple test called chromatography to identify the kind of pen used on a ransom note.

This is how chromatography works. The pen ink dissolves in the solvent, and is carried up the paper strip by capillary action (the same force that causes paper towels to absorb water). At a specific height on the strip the components of the ink stop moving up and form a color pattern distinctive to that ink.

Aim: Students will

  • Build a vocabulary list
  • Be able to carry out the steps of chromatography
  • Use skills of observation and analysis
  • Describe chromatography.


5 black pens of different brands




Paper towels


Scotch tape


Ink sample cut from the ransom note


  • Form your lab groups.
  • Each group will run two tests, one where the inks are dissolved in water, the second in alcohol.
  • Assign the following roles:
  • Materials collector
  • Paper towel cutter
  • Ink spot maker
  • Apparatus assembler
  • Cut 10 strips of paper towel that can be taped to a pencil and hung inside the beaker with about 1 and ½ inches above the bottom. The strip should be about 1 inch wide.
  • Label the strips twice, 1 through 5. Make a table listing the number and the brand name of pen next to it.
  • For each brand of pen, make a dot on the strip with the corresponding number. The dot should be about 1 inch from the end of the strip.
  • Cut enough of an ink sample from the ransom note to make a strip similar to the brand name pen strips.
  • Make a mark on the beaker to the level where the bottom of the paper towel strip is located. Remove the pencil with the strip and add water to the marked level. Replace the strip so that the TIP OF THE PAPER ONLY is in the water, NOT THE DOT. If you wet the dot, you have ruined the test.
  • Let the water be absorbed, run up the paper through the dot, and stop.
  • Repeat for all pens and the ransom note.
  • Observe the results. Which brand pen makes a color pattern that is the same as the ransom note?
  • Record your results.
  • If you had the suspect’s pen , how would the pattern of that pen match the ransom note results?
  • Repeat the whole experiment, using alcohol as the solvent.


Lipstick, automotive paint and yes, those beautiful paints used in Renaissance masterpieces are analyzed in a similar way.

Station #1: Who Wrote That?

Waiting for inspiration.

Waiting for inspiration.

Grade Band: 6-12

Use the following problem to interest your students in learning about forensic art. Remember to build a vocabulary list.

You are an art historian and curator at a prestigious museum in New York. Your employers have been offered an obscure painting by an antiquities dealer. They claim it to be an original Vermeer, discovered in an attic in a 13th century building that was being destroyed. Having been fooled before, they enlist your aid to determine whether or not this painting is an authentic example of Vermeer’s work. Take the following journey through the five stations below to see how you will do this. Remember your job depends on the accuracy of your results.

Aim: Students will

  • Build a vocabulary list
  • Identify the features of handwriting that are used to verify a signature
  • Practice the skills of observation and analysis.


3×5 cards


Log sheets


  • At least one day prior to the lesson, a set of writing samples must be produced by the class.
  • Each student writes a sentence on enough 3×5 cards to supply all the lab groups. The cards should be numbered, each student using their number for every card they make. You must record which number is which student. You keep the master list.

Have each student, using their number for your reference, write a different sentence to make up the file of “unknowns”.

  • Divide the class into their cooperative learning groups and assign these roles:
  • Card holder and materials person. This person must also fill out the log sheet when they identify the hand writer.
  • All others receive a magnifier, an unknown sample and a pack of numbered samples from other class member.


Sample Log Sheet

A divided page should contain one column with the unknown sample. In the other column, list the numbered samples from the class as they are compared, making notes as to how they match the unknown.

The second page should list the characteristics that the students used to determine which class member wrote the unknown.

4.) Students will attempt to match the unknown cards with the numbered cards on the log sheet. Try not to give an unknown to that person in the group.

Students should use such qualities as:

Slant, pressure, spacing, letter formation, and individual characteristics like dotting an I with a little circle, curlicues, etc.

5.) Have the “card holder” complete the log sheet and ask the students to list the characteristics that led to the match.

Book Club Questions for THE MADONNA GHOST

teen mystery, girl detective, ghost story, summer read

Annie and her boyfriend, Ty, uncover the secrets hidden by Fire Island and The Madonna Ghost.


  1. What does Annie’s reaction to observing her aunt talking to the strange man on the ferry say to you about her feelings for her aunt?
  2. How would you have reacted to meeting Ty? Do you ever practice what you will say when you meet someone new?
  3. What does Annie’s reaction to finding out about Ty’s “family” tell you about Annie?
  4. What should Annie do when her father calls?
  5. Compare how Annie feels about Ty to any relationships you have.
  6. How would you have reacted to Ty’s admission, “I’ve seen the ghost,” when they were sailing.
  7. Do you think that Aunt Jill could do something to alleviate Annie’s fears for her aunt’s safety?
  8. How does Alice make you feel about ghosts and ghost research?
  9. Did you like Alice? Was she friendly or overbearing?
  10. What did you think about Doc?  Was he a suspicious character at first because of his reluctance to do something about “the neighbors”?
  11. Did your feelings about Ty change after the visit to his father at the hospital?
  12. What did you think of how Annie reacted to meeting Ty’s father? Will it help her to deal with her mother’s problem?
  13. How does Ty prove to be a real friend as well as a “boy friend”?
  14. So far, what do you think Annie’s best characteristics are and why?
  15. Same question for Ty.
  16. If someone invited you on a ghost watch, what would you do?
  17. Do you think that Annie made progress with her relationship with her parents as a result of the events in the book?
  18. How did Annie and Ty show respect for each other as caring human beings throughout the book?
  19. What kind of relationship would you like to have with a male friend?
  20. Even though Annie’s parents weren’t traditional parents, did she have enough support from other adults. Explain.
  21. What evidence did you find in the book to support the idea of respect in the various personal relationships occurring in the book? In other words, how did the characters in the book show respect or disrespect for each other?
  22. Can you see yourself doing the same things Annie did that got her involved in such dangerous situations? What would you have done differently?
  23. What was the most exciting part of the book for you?
  24. By the end of the book, were you a ghost-believer, a ghost-still-need-more-proof, or a ghost-non-believer? Explain.