Family Reading- The Giver

the-giver-by-lois-lowryThe Giver is, I think, one of the best books to read with your family. Actually the first in a collection of four novels, The Giver tells the story of Jonas, a twelve-year old boy who is given the task of “keeping” all of the memories for the people of his community. As his friends are given adult assignments like taking care of the elderly or newborns, Jonas is selected to fill a much more challenging role. He must leave his family unit and take on the burden of human experience, with only his elderly predecessor as a guide. Lois Lowry brings to light topics such as family, sacrifice, and the importance of fully living and experiencing life.

– There are many redeeming qualities about Jonas’ community: strong family bonds, no poverty or unemployment, equal treatment for each citizen. How do these aspects compare to the lack of diversity? What do you think is lost and gained by adhering to community structure the way that they do?

– How is Jonas’ family different from others in their community? Do you think this has an impact on Jonas and the choice he eventually makes to leave?

– Do you think that Jonas was happy about being chosen to be the next Giver?

– While training to become the next Giver, Jonas experiences both painful and joyful memories. Why do you think that both are necessary?

– Why do you think that Jonas leaves the community? Would you have made the same choice?

– In her acceptance of the Newberry Award for this book, Lois Lowry allows for various interpretations of the ending, saying “There’s a right one for each of us, and it depends on our own beliefs, our own hopes.” How did you interpret the final scene of The Giver?

This book is particularly good for young readers. In fact, is is often included in middle school curriculum and has been included on NPR’s “100 Best-Ever Teen Novels” and Goodread’s “Listopia: Best Young Adult Books.” Enjoy it this season with your family readers!

Family Reading- The Witch of Blackbird Pond

11831725Today’s installment of Family Reading Selections features Newberry Award-winner The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. The book tells the story of Kit Tyler, a teenage heroine in seventeenth-century colonial New England. Kit, a native of Barbados, is suddenly thrust into Puritan Connecticut when she is sent to live in the small town of Wethersfield with her aunt and uncle. She finds leading a very different life in Connecticut than she had in Barbados and feels very alone amongst the conservative community. She soon befriends Hannah Tupper, an elderly woman on the outskirts of the community reputed to be a witch. While this friendship brings joy to Kit’s life, it also distances her even more from her neighbors and the community that she has tried to find a place in. Elizabeth George Speare brings to life a heroine who is smart, spirited, and kind but who struggles to find her place in her community, like so many of her young readers.

– Why do you think that the people of Wethersfield were afraid of Hannah and Kit? Do you think that this influenced their interpretation of Kit and Hannah’s actions?

– How is the theme of kindness addressed in The Witch of Blackbird Pond? Which characters do you think showed kindness?

– What different traditions or behaviors have you seen in your community? How can you help people from different cultures feel accepted in your community?

– How are characters in the novel bound by duty? Do their own wishes contradict the duty they feel towards the community? Which do you think is more important?

Share this beloved classic as a family this holiday season.

Family Reading- The Hunger Games Trilogy

With holiday breaks from school coming up, December’s posts will be for you younger readers, or parents looking for ways to entertain kids for the next couple of weeks. This holiday season, why not read a book together as a family? Throughout the month, we’ll be featuring books that we think everyone in the family will enjoy. This week, we bring you the best in young adult fiction.

the-hunger-games-books-1-3You or your family may have already read or heard about today’s selection, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This trilogy, set in a futuristic dystopian North America, introduces readers to heroine Katniss Everdeen, who must battle to the death with other children representing the twelve “districts” of her home, for the entertainment of the privileged elite of The Capitol. The writing is quick and witty, keeping even the most picky of young readers entertained. The themes are heavy enough to engage adult readers, as well, and provide parents the opportunity to discuss real-world issues with their children, set against a fictional landscape. The story can get fairly violent–they are fighting to the death, after all–so I would think hard about how much you want to delve into the topics of suffering and death before giving it to kids over the age of 12 or 13.

– What are Katniss’ priorities as a citizen in District 12? Do you think her priorities change when she volunteers as a tribute and has to participate in the Games?

– Each District in Panem is responsible for a good or service necessary for their society to operate. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a society set up in this way? Do you think it is a good system?

– The Hunger Games was established to remind the citizens of Panem of the uprising against the authority of the Capital in their past. How do you think that this affects the growth and development of their society?

– How does Katniss’ home life with her family and friends influence her choices later in the book?

– Before going into the arena, Peeta says “I want to die as myself.” What do you think he means by this?

The Hunger Games is followed by Catching Fire and Mockingjay, which continue Katniss’ story after her survival in the arena and how she becomes a symbol for a new way of life in Panem. Both are also good for family reading and discussion, and include themes like revolution, establishing government, and the moral implications of actions during conflict.

After finishing the books, you can check out Catching Fire, now in theaters, starring Jennifer Lawrence (Academy Award for Best Actress- Silver Linings Play Book) and Josh Hutcherson (Bridge to Terabithia, Red Dawn), and directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants). The film version of The Hunger Games is available online here.

Have you or your family read this book? What topics sparked a particularly good conversation? Did you think that it was too violent for young readers? Were you surprised by any part of the book?