A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born. And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. However, these encounters hold the key to Cady's past and how she became an orphan. If she's lucky, fate may reunite her with her long-lost parent. 

A Tangle of Knots draws us in. The story is zany enough and the characters are quirky enough to fall in love with; but, they are balanced with positive role-models and positive messages of hope, acceptance, and love. When Cady bakes a cake for another orphan’s adoption day and contemplates her own adoption day, readers want to raise their hands and say, “She can come live at my house!” So, when Toby adopts her, and we see them develop their own family, we have to cheer for them.  A Tangle of Knots is told from almost every character’s point of view, revealing the interconnected lives of the characters – the knots – in ways they did not even imagine.

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
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Before Reading

Characters in this book are Talented or Fair, without a talent. Not every talent is contest-winning in A Tangle of Knots. Many of the character’s talents are pretty ordinary, like spitting or tying knots. Discuss talents with your child. Ask your child:

  • What talent do you have? Encourage your child to explore his/her own talents by thinking of occasions when (s)he has shown compassion, helped others, or encouraged someone, in addition to activities in which (s)he may excel.  Share thoughts about your own talents, or areas in which you know you're not so talented! 
  • If you could have any talent, what talent would you enjoy most? If this is something your child can learn about and develop, like tying knots, help him/her do a bit of research to see what you can learn together.

Check out the cover and publisher's description, and ask your child:

  • Have you read any other books by Lisa Graff? If so, what did you like about the way her characters’ lives interconnect?
  • What do you think the title and cover illustration reveal about the story inside? 
  • What do you think these knots have to do with a story about talents, family, and orphans?

As You Read

To help keep track of whose story is being told, make a point of reminding your child to read the headings at the beginning of each chapter. 

One of the great things about reading chapter books is that we can create our own mental illustrations as we read. Help your child to imagine the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feelings in A Tangle of Knots by talking about what your child visualizes as (s)he reads.

One particularly descriptive passage is when Toby slams on the breaks in front of Miss Mallory’s Home For Lost Girls, in Chapter 9.  Ask your child: 

  • What do you see? 
  • Can you describe that for me? What does that look like?
  • How does that make you feel? Help your child capture the mood by asking him/her if the passage seems light and happy, exciting, or suspenseful. 
  • If your child has a difficult time explaining what (s)he imagines, re-read the passage, asking your child to close his/her eyes. After you read a few lines, share what you see and imagine as you read the passage, saying something like, "I can just imagine how it is so foggy that Toby cannot see down the road. He does not even know he has driven off of the road and cannot tell he is in the yard at Miss Mallory’s Home For Lost Girls! I can imagine the shocked look on Cady’s face, her eyes must be open wide, staring straight ahead and her mouth is open, while she holds a bite of cake on her fork, frozen in mid-air. The entire thing happened so fast. The truck screeched to a stop when Toby hit the brakes. This made me feel the suspense. I even held my breath, because I was afraid that Toby was going to run over Cady. I felt that Toby would be scared, and maybe even held his breath, because he nearly hit the girl."
Next time you reach a descriptive passage, switch and ask your child to describe what (s)he sees, smells, hears, and imagines to you.  Many kids also enjoy illustrating precisely what they have imagined.  Try asking your child to sketch or draw an illustration for each chapter or character as the book progresses. 

After Reading

Ask your child:

  • Which character did you connect with the most? How is that character like you? How is that character different from you? 
  • If you could talk to any one of the characters, what would you ask him/her? What would you share? Remind your child of times when (s)he had similar experiences or concerns as some of the characters. Maybe your child lost something important, like the Owner at the Emporium, or has been lost, like Will. What would (s)he want to ask these characters about their experiences or feelings in the same situations?
  • The story is told from the view of many characters. How did this tangle of views help you learn about the tangle of knots that help bring the characters together? Point out episodes in each character’s story that reveal part of the overall story of Cady and how she came to be an orphan.

Activity: Practice Making Knots and Friends

Research and practice knot tying! There are many types of knot making activities

Some crafts that use knot tying include friendship bracelets, knitting, and tying flies for fly fishing. Even though summer is ending, we still love the idea of making friendship bracelets.  Consider them back-to-school gifts for friends and teachers!  Here is a great how-to site for creating friendship bracelets that use many types of knots.  Consider selecting colors for the bracelets that reflect the characters in the book.  What would Cady's colors be? 

Also, we have several recommended activities and related items, like yummy cake-baking, on our Pinterest page here.

Reading Tip

Eight to ten year-olds remember their favorite picture books. Sometimes, they like to revisit those old friends. Novels can be daunting, due to their length; however, chapter books written for this age group build on many of the same themes included in picture books. When reading novels, help simplify the transition for your child by: 

  1. Reading the book jacket to get familiar with the subject and the author.
  2. Examining the contents page to see if the chapter titles provide any additional information about the subject and to divide the chapters into a reading schedule.
  3. Listing the characters. In A Tangle of Knots, following even some of the seemingly insignificant characters will help unravel the tangle.
  4. Pointing out the details that characters reveal when they speak and asking your child why the character might have revealed that information at a particular point in the book.
  5. Comparing the actions of characters with what they say and asking your child if these two things align.  Follow up by determining if that is important (why or why not).
  6. Keeping a novel nearby, so you can read together whenever a pocket of time opens.  
Vocabulary Building

Have you and your child created a personal dictionary or vocabulary journal? If not, now is the time to do it!  Decorate your dictionary (aka empty paper notebook) and make it personal or use a personal dictionary app on your tablet so you have your dictionary with you all the time. Consider downloading an app that lets you add your own words and definitions but also lets you edit entries as you learn more.

Start by noticing new words and creating a vocabulary inventory by recording new words, and labeling them: 

means “I don’t know this word”

means “I have heard or read this word but can’t tell you what it means”

*  means “I own this word and I use it”

In your dictionary, include the word, definition, and one or two sentences you write together, using the word. Ask your child how (s)he would use this word and you can share one or two sentences of your own, then choose one to record in the dictionary.

Consider some of the new vocabulary words from A Tangle of Knots. Help your child look up their definitions and add them to his/her personal dictionary. Make a contest of seeing how many new words everyone at your house can integrate into conversations. One way to turn vocabulary building into a game is to announce a word and ask everyone at the table, or in the car, to think of another word with a similar meaning. See how many synonyms everyone can name.

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