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Young Readers' Series: Quests and Challenges

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Open to: Grades 4-6

Prerequisites: Qualifying verbal score

Course Format: Web-based classroom

Course Length: Session-based: 10 weeks (fall, winter, spring, late summer) or 12 weeks (early summer); Session Dates and Application Deadlines.

Course Code: YRQC

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Course Description

Description

Using their wits, courage, and brains, children band together to undertake dangerous assignments. In The Thirty-Nine Clues (The Maze of Bones) by Rick Riordan, orphans Amy and Dan Cahill reject a million dollars each and instead accept the challenge that will make them the most powerful and influential human beings on the planet--if they live long enough to solve the mystery. In Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy, twelve-year old Stephanie is swept into a world of magic, secrets, power, and intrigue as she and a mysterious, wise-cracking, skeleton-detective, Skulduggery Pleasant, try to keep one step ahead of the evil Serpine and various other nefarious folk. In The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, four resourceful children are selected for an important mission: Saving the entire world from domination by a criminal mastermind.
Visit the Home Page of the Quests and Challenges classroom.

About the Young Readers' Series for Grades 4 - 6

The Young Readers' Series is designed enhance a student's critical reading, writing, and thinking skills. Developed for enrichment, course assignments meet or surpass the Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading. As students participate in written discussion forums, they make inferences, determine motivations, evaluate arguments, and provide textual evidence to support their opinions. Creative writing assignments encourage students to take on different points of view, summarize details, compare authors, and discuss central ideas. Books entice students to go beyond simple comprehension and engage in higher level thinking about issues ranging from the ethics of time travel to the dangers of subliminal advertising.

Designed for children reading at a middle-school level or above, students:

  • Read three thematically connected, age-appropriate books of increasing difficulty
  • Participate in online written discussions with classmates from Boston to Beijing
  • Post writing assignments such as alternate story endings and talk shows with characters as guests
  • Analyze the authors’ writing styles and use of literary devices
  • Learn sophisticated vocabulary words and literary devices with the help of online games and puzzles
  • Receive individualized written feedback from their instructor about each lesson's work

Parents Ask...

  • Students typically read and share written responses every other day (fall, spring, and early summer sessions) or daily (midsummer intensive session).
  • Work is posted in the virtual classrooms at the student’s convenience as long as each lesson's deadlines are met.
  • It does not matter whether a student has already read one or all of the books before the course begins because the emphasis on citing the text requires careful re-reading.
  • Students must already be proficient in Standard Written English. [Instructors discuss grammar only when it affects meaning.]
  • These critical reading courses are designed to be ungraded, enrichment courses; instead of a grade, instructors provide specific feedback about each student's work at the end of each lesson and a detailed final evaluation at the end of the course. Parents or guardians may request a final grade if needed for school credit.

About Course Selection

Parents are encouraged to consider the information contained in AppropriatenessLook inside the books, and Read reviews for the books before deciding on the course that would be most interesting and appropriate for their child.

Appropriateness

Parents should be aware that each course contains books with humor, mystery, adventure, and heroism as well as suspense and sadness. Please look inside the books and read reviews to decide whether these books are appropriate for your child. If you are still uncertain whether your child is ready for a course, please email us or call 410-735-6144. 

Look inside the books.

Look inside The Thirty-Nine Clues (The Maze of Bones) by Rick Riordan
Look inside Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy 
Look inside The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Read reviews. Parents are urged to review for appropriate content.

Reviews of The Thirty-Nine Clues (The Maze of Bones) by Rick Riordan
Reviews of Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy 
Reviews of The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Materials Needed

  • The Thirty-Nine Clues (The Maze of Bones) by Rick Riordan (Scholastic, 2008) ISBN 0545090547
  • Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy (Harper Trophy; Reprint edition 2008) ISBN 978-0061231179
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (Little Brown, 2008) ISBN 0316003956

Detailed Course Information

Course Details

 Lesson 1: The 39 Clues: the Maze of Bones

Begin reading The 39 Clues: the Maze of Bones

Vote your Opinion in the Poll

Post ONE of the blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum

Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board

Lesson 2: The 39 Clues: the Maze of Bones

Finish reading The 39 Clues: the Maze of Bones

Vote your Opinion in the Poll

Post ONE of the blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum

Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board questions.

Lesson 3: Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients

Begin reading Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients

Vote your Opinion in the Poll

Post ONE of the blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum

Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board

Lesson 4: Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients

Continue reading Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients

Vote your Opinion in the Poll

Post ONE of the blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum

Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board

Lesson 5: Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients

Finish reading Skulduggery Pleasant #1: Scepter of the Ancients

Vote your Opinion in the Poll

Post ONE of the blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum

Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board

Lesson 6: The Mysterious Benedict Society

Begin reading The Mysterious Benedict Society

Vote your Opinion in the Poll

Post ONE of the blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum

Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board

Lesson 7: The Mysterious Benedict Society

Continue reading The Mysterious Benedict Society

Vote your Opinion in the Poll

Post ONE of the blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum

Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board

Lesson 8: The Mysterious Benedict Society

Continue reading The Mysterious Benedict Society

Vote your Opinion in the Poll

Post ONE of the blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum

Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board

Lesson 9: The Mysterious Benedict Society

Finish reading The Mysterious Benedict Society

Vote your Opinion in the Poll

Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board

Contribute two thoughtful posts to the Summary Discussion Board

Lesson 10: Summary Assignments covering all three books

Vote your opinion in the Poll

Post ONE of the Blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum.

Complete the Literary Terms Quest [Quest=More questions than a quiz, but fewer questions than most tests!]

Note: You are provided with a list of “Mind-Expanding Vocabulary Words” from each book that you can use to help better understand the book and increase your knowledge of vocabulary words in general.

OPTIONAL -Not required- Fun and Challenges:

  • Prepare for the Literary Terms Quest by playing the online Literary Terms games and puzzles.
  • Share your favorite stories and authors with other students in the Recommended Reading Wiki.
  • Print out and work on the crossword puzzles that have been provided to help reinforce your knowledge of the "mind-expanding" vocabulary words.
  • Use the Vocabulary Words Review Games to help learn the vocabulary words in a fun way.
  • Participate in the Quests and Challenges Wiki, a group writing activity.

Time Required

This course requires approximately three hours for each of the ten lessons. Students should expect to spend approximately 3 hours per week during the course.

Note: Students do not have to meet in the classroom at the same time. A student's written work can be posted in the virtual classroom at the student's convenience as long as deadlines are met.

About Summer Sessions:

The Young Readers' Series offers a 12-week summer session that allows families to take a week or two of vacation and 10-week sessions. All sessions cover the same course material and assignments.

While the 12-week early summer session courses allow for 2 weeks total vacation, students in the Young Readers’ courses are encouraged to work ahead or make up their work to try to keep up with their classmates whenever possible. Experience has shown that these courses are most fun when all students are working on the same lesson. Students must notify the instructor at the course's start about any planned vacation dates and must meet scheduled due dates when they are not on vacation. [Students who make up their work can finish their early summer course in 10 weeks.]

If you have any questions, please contact us before applying at ctyonline@jhu.edu.

Sample Assignment

Demo

Quests & Challenges Sample Assignment

To give you an idea of the type of assignments involved, the following is the first of ten lessons:

Instructions for Lesson One

All work is due by the following Sunday at midnight. (That's the end of Sunday, not the beginning!) This means that your assigned reading should be started early and completed by Thursday night--at the latest--to allow you enough time to finish all the assignments (reading, poll, blog, discussion forum, and optional games, crossword puzzles, and wikis) by Sunday night.

1. Begin reading The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan, preferably reading in the following reading chunks:

Chapters 1 - 3 (Pages 1-34) Chapters 4 - 6 (Pages 35-75) Chapter 7 - 9 (Pages 76-110)

2. Vote your opinion in the Poll.

3. Post ONE of the following blog assignments (your choice) to the Blog forum:

a. Pretend you are a Cahill relative who decides to accept the challenge and write a 100-300 word first person journal entry explaining why you decided to reject the million dollars. What do you think of your competition? Do you feel any sadness about Grace’s death or compassion for Amy and Dan?

b. Amy and Dan frequently wish that Grace had written them a special letter since they felt that they had a special relationship with her. What if Grace had written a letter to them, but it was destroyed before they saw it? Pretend you are Grace and write a 100-300 word letter to Amy and Dan. What would you want them to know? How would you want them to remember you?

c. Grace Cahill was described in Chapter 4 as an adventurer who, by the time she was twenty-five, “explored every continent,” and could “speak six languages fluently, handle a spear or boomerang or rifle with equal skill, and navigate almost every major city in the world.” Pretend that Grace had an adventure in some city or location familiar to you and write a 100-300 word story about it.

4. Contribute two (or more) thoughtful posts to the Discussion Board in response to any of the following questions. (Remember! One of your two thoughtful posts should be in reply to a discussion post made by another student.)

a. Whom do you trust? On page 3, Mr. McIntyre “went to the window and closed the curtains” because he “preferred darkness” since “it seemed more proper for the business at hand.” Do you trust Mr. McIntyre? Why or why not? How about the man in the black suit? Whom do you think the two men were referring to when the man in the black suit promised “They’ll never have a clue.”

b. “A happy occasion.” On page 10, Eisenhower told his daughters that they couldn’t go flinging people at a funeral because “This is a happy occasion.” Why do you think he thought that way? What can readers infer about his personality that not only did he think that, but that he felt free to say that aloud in public?

c. Would you accept the challenge? If you were given the choice between a million dollars and a challenge that if you were successful would make you the most powerful, influential human being on the planet—but might lead to your death—would you accept? Explain your decision. If you decided to accept the challenge, who would you want on your team? Why?

d. Why is Amy scared? Amy was scared of people and “could barely muster enough courage to go to school every morning.” Can you give some examples mentioned in the first nine chapters of the book of times when Amy seemed particularly scared? Can you think of anything from her personal history that would make her this frightened of people? Can you think of any examples of Amy’s behavior in the first nine chapters that gives you some hope that she might become more courageous?

e. What motivated Amy and Dan to accept the challenge? Amy and Dan both decided to give up a million dollars and instead take on a dangerous challenge. Their reasons for making their decisions were different. Based on what you have read in the book, what were the major factors that motivated Amy to accept the challenge? What were the major factors that motivated Dan? Explain your answer with references to the text.

f. Franklin quotations and inventions. Benjamin Franklin is famous for his wise and clever quotations. Read a few of his most famous quotes. Which are your favorites and why? What do you consider his most useful invention or accomplishment? Would your life be different if Ben Franklin had not lived?

Note: You are provided with a list of “Mind-Expanding Vocabulary Words from The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones” that you can use to help better understand the book and increase your knowledge of vocabulary words in general.

Optional--Not Required--fun activities are also provided:

  • Share your favorite stories and authors with other students in the Recommended Reading Wiki.
  • Print out and work on the crossword puzzles that have been provided to help reinforce your knowledge of the "mind-expanding" vocabulary words.
  • Participate in the Quest and Challenges Wiki, a group writing activity.
  • Play literary terms and vocabulary review games: Literary Terms Matching Cards and Wordshoot.

Technical Requirements

This course requires a properly maintained computer with high-speed internet access and an up-to-date web browser (such as Chrome or Firefox). The student must be able to communicate with the instructor via email. Visit the Technical Requirements and Support page for more details.

This course requires that the student use a web browser with the Adobe Flash plugin. Note that many tablets and handhelds (particularly the iPad) do not support Flash and cannot view the lessons.

 

Reviews

"It is refreshing and motivating for my daughter to read the instructor's specific remarks (She is accustomed to receiving "good" as the sole comment on her efforts!)."

"The instructor was extremely attentive and very encouraging. We thoroughly enjoyed working with her this summer.  She was able to direct my son in such a positive way and leave him empowered to dig deeper into his thinking and writing based on what he read. He was always left more inspired to read more and write more after he read her constructive and encouraging words each week. My husband and I were extremely impressed by the caliber of this course (our very first CTY Online Programs ever!)."

"I really liked how my instructor gave me detailed feedback, which helped me improve further each week. She was very approachable (albeit via email).  I can tell she enjoys teaching and is very kind. I've learned to analyze books in more depth and write thoughtful discussions."

"The instructor’s feedback and instruction have increased my daughter's confidence with regard to her writing skills. My daughter is expressing a strong desire to become an author and wants to continue learning more about writing. She has always excelled in writing at school; however, after taking this course, her middle school teachers have commented on how much more advanced she is than others in her honors courses because of her style of writing."

"The feedback on the writing assignments was incredibly thorough and comprehensive. My son started the course and submitted disorganized work. The instructor's detailed commentary helped him to improve his work dramatically."

"The instructor provides positive feedback, individualized attention and tips that do not overwhelm the children. She motivated my child and gave her the confidence to express herself."

"My instructor's feedback was very helpful - always taking my thinking to a new level. She was thorough and asked good questions. She also was good at sending reminders regarding the work that was due. She made me a better writer and critical thinker. She taught me to ask more questions."

"The instructor’s feedback explained the strong and weak points in my work.  She did this by first mentioning the things she liked, but she wasn't completely fussy, saying my work was amazing just to make me happy. Then, she would point out things I could improve. She does this not by yelling and screaming (you know what I mean), but pointing it out politely, but in a way that I could understand what to do.  She was nice, but also challenges us.  She was also particular not only about the contents of my writing, but about the spelling and grammar.  Even though she challenged us, she also wasn't too hard. People do not learn when things are too easy. When things are too hard, their brains get confused and they don't learn either. My instructor wasn't too hard, but she wasn't too soft.  She really was an outstanding teacher."

"Before I started my young readers’ course, I both disliked writing, and was bad at it. Whenever possible I avoided it. When I started my course with my instructor, I realized a talent for writing I never had before.  As the course went on I realized I was actually getting impatient, waiting for the next lesson so I could write more.  Before I thought of writing as a chore, the way most people think of school (not me!). Now I like to write and do it like it's something fun, which it is. My instructor taught me not only how to write, but also how to like to write."

"The instructor's ability to give thorough constructive criticism through an email, while keeping the tone of the suggestions unfailingly positive was amazing. My daughter learned much about writing in this course. While she reads at a high school level, her writing is much closer to her age (9). Constant positive encouragement and insightful comments enabled her to expand on her thoughts each week."