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Pictures of Hollis Woods




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Title Author Grade level
"Pictures of Hollis Woods"

Patricia Reilly Giff

4th to 5th grade




Summary of the story :

Plot Summary:  Hollis is an independent, artistic young girl who struggles with her life as a foster child. Placed with Josie, an older woman who is also artistically-minded, Hollis flourishes, but Josie’s forgetfulness is becoming increasingly apparent and Hollis knows that once Social Services realizes she’ll be sent away and Josie placed in a nursing home. As Christmas approaches, Hollis and Josie seek refuge in the summer home of Hollis’ estranged former foster family, the Regans, where the brutal winter weather of upstate New York threatens their survival. Fortunately, help arrives in the form of a snowmobile-borne Santa who is able to reunite Hollis with the Regans and allow Josie to move in with her close friend Beatrice. Hollis is finally able to stop running and settle down with a family that loves and accepts her for who she is.

Major Characters: 

  • Hollis Woods, spunky 12-year-old, artist and foster child  

  • Josie Cahill, former art teacher and Hollis’ current foster parent,     

  • Henry, Josie’s cat   

  • Beatrice Gilcrest, Josie’s cousin and best friend  

  • Old Man Regan, Hollis’ last foster father  

  •  Izzy Regan, Hollis’ last foster mother                  

  • Steven Regan, Hollis’ last foster brother






Possible Design Challenges:

Page Number

Engineering Concept

Activity Ideas


Hollis wants a home to live in – sturdy structure


(Goes along with winterizing a house


Using craft materials or LEGOS, build a home for Hollis so that she will have a safe place to live and make her own.

How can a sturdy home or building stabilize someone’s life? Is the structure of a home enough? What other things in a home besides the structure can make someone happy and feel “at home”? Do the features of a sturdy building relate at all to the features of a stable life for someone?  (Strong foundation, support beams, protection from the elements, sustainable and strong materials, location/ placement of a building, circumstances while building a structure)


23-25, many parts throughout the book

Water in all its forms plays an important role in the novel – Josie’s Ocean, Hollis’ river, snow in the winter


Study of water and its different forms. Water cycle; ocean – ecosystems within ocean, tide pools; rivers – fish habitats – Steven’s interest in animals and fish he finds in the river







The engineering of a fishing rod. A big moment for Hollis as she becomes a part of the Regan family is when she catches the fish they have for dinner

How is a fishing rod designed? What are the different aspects of a fishing rod? What is the purpose of all the different aspects?

Design challenge 1: Build a fishing rod – use a magnet bottom. Then market and advertise fishing rod

Design challenge 2: Make a  movie about the history of fishing and why it is so important. How was the fishing rod developed over time?


“Josie forgot things, forgot words, forgot what she was doing. Not all the time, but still too often.”

Alzheimer’s disease – How can engineering help the medical world? What tools and medicine have engineers discovered to help develop medical diagnosis and treatment? 

How could you make a tool that could help Josie remember things better? What would the tool do and how would it help her?







Hollis’ gift to draw. To make things look exactly as they appear in real life. “the language [she] speaks on paper”


“Drawing is a language. You have to learn to speak it.”

Discussion of 2D objects vs. 3D objects – something engineers deal with often – engineering design process  - planning/building a prototype.

Civil engineers and architects use drawings to represent 3D structures accurately in 2D to plan and design buildings.

Design Challenge: How can you draw something to look more realistic? Shading, perspective, etc. Draw something in room accurately to make it look 3D.


The cabin is winterized so that Hollis and Josie can live there during the winter.


CEEO Materials Curriculum – what materials are needed to build houses for people in different climates (especially cold climates)? Build and design a cabin for Josie and Hollis to escape to that will protect them from the harsh, wet snow, cold, and wind. (Furnace, insulation, fireplace, window coverings, etc.)



Hollis climbs the mountain – symbolic of her life and goals.

Steven comes to rescue her and the truck crashes off the road


How could this situation have run better or be designed better? What could you build on the hill so that it either would have been easier to climb so that Hollis wouldn’t have fallen while she was climbing up the hill or that the car wouldn’t have fallen off the road? Safety construction – engineers must test safety features and build things to be safe. What are examples of safety features on products or buildings?



Snowmobile Santa Claus

How does a snowmobile work? What are different methods of transportation that have been invented for winter weather and cold, snowy climates? How do these methods of transportation differ from transportation methods/ machines in warmer climates? How does having transportation for all types of weather affect us and how we operate as a society.



4 hours to the nearest phone when Josie and Hollis are in the cabin

Evolution of technology over time. How have we, as a society, become so dependent on instant technology – cell phones, blackberries, Internet access, skype? Is this dependence on technology good or bad? Discuss some advantages and disadvantages in Josie and Hollis’ situation.


  Prepared by  Bill Wolfson.  Copyright © 2011
Last Updated