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Tristan Strong Punches a Hole In the Sky Summary & Activites

Tristan Strong is a seventh grader who lost his best friend Eddie in a tragic bus accident they were in together. Consumed by guilt and grief, Tristan holds tight to the one piece of Eddie that he has left: his journal. Their journal. When Tristan arrives in Alabama to spend a month with his grandparents on their farm, a creature shows up in the middle of the night and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan has no idea what adventures await him as he sets off to find the journal, and himself. Tristan Strong lesson plans include: hero’s journey analysis, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky characters, and themes. It also includes a Tristan Strong summary and a Tristan Strong movie poster!

Student Activities for Tristan Strong

Essential Questions for Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

  1. How does Tristan feel about himself at the beginning of the book? At the end?
  2. What are some of the themes in this novel?
  3. How does the author weave boxing throughout the story?
  4. What are some connections to African and African American folklore in the story?

Tristan Strong Summary

Seventh grader Tristan Strong feels anything but what his last name suggests. After losing his best friend in a tragic bus accident and feeling like he’s a failure at boxing, a sport that has been in his family for generations, Tristan is completely down in the dumps. Just when he thinks things couldn’t possibly get any worse, he is sent away from Chicago to live with his grandparents for a month on their farm in Alabama. On his first night there, Tristan wakes up to a strange talking doll named Gum Baby stealing Eddie’s journal. Knowing that this is all he has left of Eddie, Tristan follows the mysterious doll into the night to get it back.

When they reach the Bottle Tree, Tristan grabs the backpack with the journal inside of it, and punches the tree in anger. It causes a bottle to break, and the tree swallows him and Gum Baby up, sending them into a whole new world. Tristan and Gum Baby are brought to another world called MidPass, which is filled with all kinds of creatures and humans. Tristan learns that when he punched a hole in the tree, he created a huge problem: the hole unleashed an evil group called the Maafa, which consists of metallic monsters called Fetterlings, and they are capturing everyone that they can. When Tristan meets the others that live in Midpass, such as Ayanna, Chestnutt, and Thandiwe, he realizes that he is to blame for the chaos, and teams up with the others to fix the problem he created.

Teaming up with incredible African-American legends such as John Henry, Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and High John, Tristan realizes that he holds the power of storytelling, and that he must be the brave hero in his own story. Up against the Fetterlings, and the ultimate trickster Anansi, Tristan is in for the biggest adventure of his life.

Readers of all ages will love the adventures that Tristan finds himself on, as well as the connections to African and African American folklore. Mixed with humor and important themes such as grief and bravery, the first book of the Tristan Strong trilogy is truly a gem, and will be loved and appreciated by teachers and students alike.

More About Anansi the Spider

Anansi is a popular folktale character who originated from West Africa. He was passed on to the Caribbean during the time of the transatlantic slave trade hundreds of years ago. Anansi often takes the shape of a spider, and is known as quite the trickster. He has the ability to outsmart, outwit, and beat his opponents using his cunning creativity. Although Anansi is a trickster, he is often seen as the protagonist in his stories, as he learns lessons from his weaknesses and turns them into messages of triumph and goodness.

Check out our lesson plans for Anansi The Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott!

More About African Folktales

Folktales, which are popular stories that have typically been passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth, have been around for centuries. These types of stories were often told at the end of the day, around a fire in the dark, and are traditionally called “Tales By Moonlight”. African folktales often feature animals who take on human characteristics such as greed, vanity, honesty, humility, etc., who learn one or more lessons by the tale’s end. With such a rich history that includes forced enslavement and transportation to other continents such as North America and South America, African folktales are well known all over the world. In addition to folk tales, there are many famous African myths, proverbs, legends, and riddles.

Examples of African and African American Folktales and Myths

More About Traditional Fables

A fable is a short story that conveys a lesson or a moral that is usually stated at the end of the story. Fables feature animals and natural elements as the main characters. Fables have four main features: symbolism, anthropomorphization, humor, and a lesson learned. Some examples of well known lessons are, “No act of kindness is ever wasted”, and “Slow and steady wins the race”. Folktales and fables can often be intertwined, and like folktales, fables have been around for centuries. Fables are used in education to teach students lessons about hard work and responsibility, but they are also often used in reading and in writing as anchor texts, before students write their own stories.

Examples of Fables

  • “How the Camel Got His Hump”
  • “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”
  • “The Tortoise and the Hare”
  • “The Monkey’s Fiddle”
  • “The Gnat and the Bull”
  • “How the Leopard Got His Spots”
  • “The Swan and the Owl”
  • “The Lion and the Mouse”

About the Author

Who is Kwame Mbalia? Kwame Mbalia is a New York Times bestselling author and Howard University graduate who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife and two daughters. Believe it or not, he’s more than just an author; he’s also a former pharmaceutical metrologist!

Mbalia is also the author of the other Tristan Strong books, Tristan Strong Destroys the World, and Tristan Strong Keeps Punching. In addition to these novels, he also co-wrote Last Gate of the Emperor with Prince Joel Makonnen, and was the editor of Black Boy Joy, a book of short stories written by critically acclaimed Black authors. Kwame Mbalia loves talking to and visiting with children and often does virtual visits since COVID. Prior to COVID, Mbalia visited schools and inspired children to write and be creative.

Discussion Questions to Use in Pairs or Groups

These questions may be used during reading, or upon completion of the novel. While it is best to get students discussing what they’ve read, these questions can also be answered individually in a reader’s notebook. It is always such a joy to hear the different opinions that students have, even though they are reading the same novel!

  1. Why doesn’t Tristan like his name? What are some examples of what he thinks his name should be? Be sure to use evidence from the text.

  2. Why is the journal so special to Tristan? What does it symbolize throughout the story? Support your answer with examples from the book.

  3. Throughout the story, Tristan repeats some phrases to himself over and over again. One example is, “Strongs keep punching”. What does this mean? Give an example from the text to show your reasoning. Can you find other phrases that Tristan repeats? Discuss with your group.

  4. Choose three-five characters that Tristan meets throughout the novel. Give specific examples of how these characters contribute to Tristan’s journey.

  5. This novel has several folktales and fables woven through it. Can you think of any fables and folktales that have a variety of endings or versions? What makes them different? The same? Why do you think there might be multiple versions of the same story?

  6. How are the adults in Tristan’s life? Based upon evidence from the text, how do you think Tristan feels about these grown-ups?

  7. Although he is deceased, Eddie comes up often in the story. Give examples of how Eddie comes up throughout the story, and what his relationship with Tristan was like.

  8. How does Tristan fall into the category of a hero who goes on a journey?

  9. What is Tristan’s motivation for following through with the difficult tasks that he is faced with throughout his journey?

  10. Throughout the book, Tristan is adamant that he is “not soft”. What does this mean?

Ideas for Post-Reading Activities

Storyboard That is an excellent tool for students to create fun and engaging projects as a culminating activity after finishing a novel. In addition to our premade activities, here are some ideas that teachers can customize and assign to students to spark creativity in individual students, pairs, or small groups for a final project. Several of these ideas include Storyboard That templates that can be printed out or copied into your teacher dashboard and assigned digitally. All final projects can be printed out, presented as a slide show, or, for an extra challenge, as an animated GIF!

  1. For Groups: Choose a scene from the story and write a short play to reenact to the class. Use the traditional storyboard layout to plan out your scenes. You can add text to your storyboards, or simply use the cells to visualize each scene of your play.

  2. Using the timeline layout, retell the story in chronological order. Our timeline layout gives you the options to include year, month, day, and even hour! You may also choose to omit these altogether.

  3. Choose a setting from the story and create a map of the setting using the small poster or worksheet layout. Use free form or other text boxes to include a key or label the different parts of the map.

  4. Using one of Storyboard That’s board game templates, create a game based on the book for your classmates to play!

  5. For Groups: Divide the chapters of the book amongst your group members. Each member of the group creates a storyboard for their assigned chapter. This can be done as a collaborative project, or separately for longer novels.

  6. Using the worksheet layout and Storyboard That’s worksheet assets, create a test or a quiz for other students in the class. You can create all kinds of questions such as multiple choice, short answer, and even matching! When you are done, be sure to make an answer key.

  7. Using one of Storyboard That’s biography poster templates, create a poster about the character of your choice. Be sure to include important biographical features such as: place and date of birth, family life, accomplishments, etc.

  8. Choose a chapter from the novel and create a storyboard that shows that chapter from another character’s point of view. For an extra challenge, use the T-chart layout to compare the original point of view with another character’s point of view!

  9. Create a book jacket of the novel using one of Storyboard That’s book jacket templates. Use Storyboard That art to create the cover, and write a summary of the story on the back, just like real books have!

  10. Using one of Storyboard That’s social media templates as a starting point, create a social media page for one or more of the characters in the novel. Be sure to think how the character thinks while creating this page.

  11. Create a scrapbook page made by one of the characters in the novel. Storyboard That has lots of premade templates that you can use as is, or change to fit your character’s personality! Check out our scrapbook templates today!

How to Facilitate Activities that Promote Empathy and Understanding of Diverse Perspectives and Experiences Depicted in the Novel


Set the Stage for Discussion

Introduce the importance of empathy and understanding in building a more inclusive and compassionate society. Explain to students that literature can be a powerful tool for gaining insight into diverse perspectives and experiences. Connect this to the themes and characters in "Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky."


Explore Characters and Perspectives

Guide students in examining the diverse characters and their perspectives in the novel. Discuss how their backgrounds, cultures, and experiences shape their views and actions. Encourage students to identify similarities and differences between themselves and the characters.


Engage in Empathy-Building Activities

Facilitate activities that foster empathy and understanding. These could include role-playing exercises, journaling from the perspective of a character, or small-group discussions where students share their thoughts and reactions to specific scenes or events. Encourage active listening and respectful dialogue.


Analyze and Reflect

Guide students in analyzing the motivations, challenges, and emotions of the characters in the novel. Prompt them to reflect on how these experiences might be similar to or different from their own lives. Encourage students to draw connections between the characters' stories and real-world experiences.


Encourage Personal Connections

Invite students to make personal connections to the characters and themes in the novel. Ask them to relate their own experiences, values, or beliefs to those depicted in the story. This helps students develop a sense of empathy and understanding towards diverse perspectives.


Promote Action and Reflection

Encourage students to consider how they can apply what they've learned to their own lives and actions. Foster discussions on how to promote empathy and understanding in their communities, both within and beyond the classroom. Have students reflect on the impact of their increased empathy and understanding.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tristan Strong

Who are some of the famous folktale characters in Tristan Strong?

Some of the well known characters in Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky are John Henry, Brer Rabbit and Fox, and Anansi the Spider.

What is Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky about?

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is about a boy named Tristan who is guilt ridden and grief stricken following the death of his best friend. Tristan is transported to the parallel world of Alke, where he must battle evil and experience many adventures.

How does Tristan’s friend Eddie die in the novel?

Tristan’s best friend Eddie dies in a tragic bus accident. This leaves Tristan consumed by guilt and sadness.

Find more lesson plans and activities like these in our English Language Arts Category!
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