The Harlem Charade


The Harlem Charade
by Natasha Tarpley

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Related Activities & Resources:

Informational Resources:

Author Information:

Author bio:

Author interview with The Brown Bookshelf:

Author interview on the Scholastic Blog, On Our Minds:

Activities & Resources:


The Harlem Renaissance Teacher’s Guide:

Recipe for Kimchi:

Kitty Kat Bars recipe:


Information about dogs:

Fun dog facts for kids:

Horse facts:

How to ride a horse:

Information about goats:

Mystery writing with Joan Lowery Nixon:

How to draw graffiti:

How to do skateboard tricks:

How to paint a watercolor part 1 – beginner lesson (7:28):


Facts about plants:

Games and activities about plants:

Plants flowers in a window box or a flowerpot.

Create a journal to record your observations – like Jin used in the story.

MakerSpace Activities:

Design a treasure hunt. Include at least 4 clues.

Create a flyer advertising that Rose’s dog Noodles is up for adoption. Can be print or digital.

Create a piece of art – use whatever materials are available – paint, paper, beads, clay, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, etc.

Design an apartment building to replace those that Markum ordered destroyed. Use materials that are available, including cardboard and other recycled materials, or commercial building blocks, wood or plastic.

Discussion Questions:

Jin’s family owned a bodega, a small grocery store. She went there after school to do homework and help out. How would your life be different if your family operated a grocery store? Would you like  that change? Explain.

Alex and Jin live in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. If your family moved downtown in a large city what parts would you like and what might you not like?

Jin’s grandmother liked to guess about people’s lives. Jin preferred to watch. She was a collector of interesting moments and details. She’d figured out that, if you pay close attention, people will tell you their story in the way they move, how their faces look, the way they speak. Why was this helpful in the kids’ investigations? Do you like to do this – are you a people watcher?

Jin had a secret cubby behind the deli counter in her family’s bodega, where she could sit unobserved and write down interesting moments and details. Do you have a special place where you can go to be alone? If you don’t already have this place, can you think of a place you’d like to make a secret cubby? Explain.

Halmoni had told Jin that moments are like birds. It’s not good to keep them caged up in a notebook. You should let them go. What do you think Jin’s grandmother meant? Explain.

Jin liked that her aunts, uncles, and cousins came to the bodega to help with inventory, but so many people in a small space overwhelmed her. Do you feel like this when lots of your family members come together? Explain.

When Elvin first got to New York City he felt like he had landed on another planet. What do you think he meant? Have you ever felt that your town or city was another planet? Explain.

Do you think Elvin’s Mom should have sent him to stay with his grandfather? Why or why not?

Do you think Elvin should have told his Mom that his grandfather had been attacked and was in a coma?  Explain.

Alex told the gentleman managing her dad’s apartment building that Elvin was a celebrity, so that Elvin would have a place to stay. What do you think about this? What would you have done?

Elvin’s Mom told him to shift the perspective and look at a situation another way. Have you ever done this? Did it help you figure out something that had puzzled you?

When Alex asked Elvin what he thought of New York City, he said it was cold and dirty. Alex replied that, “beneath the grimy surfaces, everything has a story. You just have to take the time to look for the truth.” What do you think about this? How would you describe your town/city?

Elvin noticed that on the streets of Harlem, it was easy to feel invisible. What did he mean? Have you ever felt this way?

Alex left smiley face notes with Metrocards attached in different places in her neighborhood. Have you ever performed a random act of kindness? Explain. Has someone ever done a random act of kindness for you? If so, how did you respond?

Councilman Markum wanted to turn Harlem into Harlem World, an entertainment complex of the future. Many residents in the neighborhood were opposed. They thought the project would destroy homes and businesses and make a mockery of Harlem’s arts and culture. Which position do you support and why?

Jin disobeyed her grandmother when she continued to track down Elvin’s grandfather’s attacker. Jin hated lying to her, but felt that sometimes rules had to be broken for the greater good. What did she mean and how do you feel about the deception?

Councilman Markum said that history dies if it doesn’t get passed on. What do you think about this statement?

When Jin found out who Alex really was and that her family had wealth and position in the community, she was upset. Jin said she hated secrets. She felt that secrets meant that you could never really know the whole truth about a person. Do you agree with Jin? Why do you think Alex was so secretive about where she lived and the lifestyle her family enjoyed?

Jin and Alex were discussing their neighborhood project. Jin wanted to research the past history of Harlem, Alex wanted to explore the proposed Harlem World. She said “the future is the past”. What did she mean? Do you agree with her? Explain.

Alex, Jin, and Elvin were arguing with Dr. Sneed about why she hadn’t defended the Invisible 7 when Henriette damaged the paintings in the Harlem on my Mind Exhibit. She said that people have their own ways of accomplishing the same goals. Do you agree? Explain.

Alex had wanted her dad to promise that he’d only take on projects that wouldn’t cause anyone to lose their homes or businesses. He did promise to think more carefully about the impact of his work and he’d also made good points about how choosing one thing usually meant letting something else go. What do you think about this statement? Have you had to do this? Explain.

Jin described vacant lots as “standing out like missing teeth.” Explain what she meant.

As part of the paper that Alex and Jin wrote about Harlem, they stated that “Art is a mirror that reflects who we are, and who we hope to be. Art gives us a choice, and with it, a way to tell our own stories and to shape our own futures.” What do you think they meant? Do you agree?

Which of the three main characters are you most alike – Alex, Jin, or Elvin? Explain.

Book Talk Teasers:

Read the Readers Theater for this book.

Show this video clip of a teacher’s recommendation to read The Harlem Charade.

Scholastic book review of Harlem Charade (1:37):

Read Alikes:

Classics-inspired fiction, Mysteries, Culturally diverse:

Eulberg, Elizabeth. The great Shelby Holmes. Nine-year-old Shelby Holmes, the best detective in her Harlem neighborhood, and her new easy-going friend from downstairs, eleven-year-old John Watson, become partners in a dog-napping case. (NoveList).

Eulberg, Elizabeth.The great Shelby Holmes meets her match.Nine-year-old Shelby Holmes and eleven-year-old John Watson team up again, this time to investigate the new science teacher at the Harlem Academy of the Arts. (NoveList).

Mysteries, Culturally diverse:

Wells, Marcia. Mystery on Museum Mile. “Sixth grader Edmund Xavier Lonnrot, codename “Eddie Red,” has a photographic memory and talent for drawing anything he sees. When the NYPD is stumped by a mastermind art thief, Eddie becomes their secret weapon to solve the case”–. (NoveList).


Avi.Who stole the Wizard of Oz? Becky and her brother use some ingenious clues to identify the person who stole five children’s books from the town’s library. (NoveList).

Balliett, Blue. The Calder game. When seventh-grader Calder Pillay disappears from a remote English village–along with an Alexander Calder sculpture to which he has felt strangely drawn–his friends Petra and Tommy fly from Chicago to help his father find him. (NoveList).

Balliett, Blue.Chasing Vermeer. When seemingly unrelated and strange events start to happen and a precious Vermeer painting disappears, eleven-year-olds Petra and Calder combine their talents to solve an international art scandal. (NoveList).

Berlin, Eric.The puzzling world of Winston Breen: the secret in the box. Puzzle-crazy, twelve-year-old Winston and his ten-year-old sister Katie find themselves involved in a dangerous mystery involving a hidden ring. Puzzles for the reader to solve are included throughout the text. (NoveList).

Dowd, Siobhan.The London Eye mystery. When Ted and Kat’s cousin Salim disappears from the London Eye ferris wheel, the two siblings must work together–Ted with his brain that is “wired differently” and impatient Kat–to try to solve the mystery of what happened to Salim. (NoveList).

Messner, Kate. Capture the flag. When the original Star Spangled Banner is stolen, seventh-graders Anne, Jose’, and Henry, all descendants of the Silver Jaguar Society, pursue suspects on airport carts and through baggage handling tunnels while stranded at a Washington, D.C., airport during a snowstorm. (NoveList).

First person narratives, Multiple perspectives, Mysteries:

Chari, Sheela. Finding Mighty. Along the train lines north of New York City, twelve-year-old neighbors Myla and Peter search for the link between Myla’s necklace and the disappearance of Peter’s brother, Randall. Thrown into a world of parkour, graffiti, and diamond-smuggling, Myla and Peter encounter a band of thugs who are after the same thing as Randall. Can Myla and Peter find Randall before it’s too late, and their shared family secrets threaten to destroy them all? (NoveList).


Tarpley, Natasha. The Harlem Charade. Scholastic Press, 2017. School Library Journal (November 1, 2016)
Gr 4-6-What makes a community? What role does the past play in our present and future? These are the overarching questions posed in this Harlem-set mystery with its cast of three disparate seventh graders. Jin, who lives with her grandparents and helps run their bodega, is a keen observer of human nature and records all in her ever-present notebook. Alex, an extremely wealthy girl, spends her free time trying to help the disadvantaged, while being rude and abrasive to her fellow classmates. Elvin, who becomes the linchpin of the trio, has just arrived in Harlem to live with his estranged grandfather. When disaster strikes and his grandfather is brutally attacked, Elvin becomes homeless and the girls swoop in as caretakers. As the three begin to investigate the assault, they learn of a fascinating chapter in the Harlem art scene that has far-reaching ramifications for the present. The author’s note will be helpful in classroom discussions and may prompt further reading. VERDICT Exploring themes such as art, social justice, and the corporatization of historic settings, this selection will have strong regional appeal and will interest those who enjoyed Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer.-Amy Nolan, St. Joseph Public Library, MI © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.  Reprinted with permission from School Library Journal , 2016.

Tarpley, Natasha. The Harlem Charade. Scholastic Press, 2017. Booklist (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7)
Grades 4-7. The many worlds of Harlem come together in this exciting, mysterious story of art and adventure. Korean American Jin spends her time staring out the window of the bodega belonging to her halmoni (grandmother) and haraboji (grandfather). Alexandra is determined to use her family’s wealth to help improve the lives of everyone in her neighborhood. And Elvin, new to New York City, finds himself barely scraping by on the streets, utterly alone and locked out of his apartment after his grandfather is mysteriously attacked. When these three friends come together to solve the mystery of Elvin’s grandfather, they instead find themselves thrust into the story of an enigmatic artist whose recently unearthed painting may be the key to saving their entire community. The novel’s inner-city setting is masterful, and readers will quickly connect the glory and the struggles of the Harlem Renaissance to the Harlem of the present. With a diverse cast of characters, Tarpley’s story is a warm and endearing portrayal of the ways a community brings people together, and the power of art to endure and inspire. Used with the permission of Booklist