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  • Heroines and Heroes Like Us:A Diverse Cast of Fantastical AdventurersA Book Discussion Guideby Miriam LarsonFinal Project, Literature and Resources for Young AdultsMay 8th, 2012
  • AudienceWith the rise of high profile fantasy books and movies like Harry Potter and The HungerGames, fantasy has moved to a level of unprecedented visibility. But many of the maincharacters are white and their stories represent a mainstream view of European orAmerican culture. This book group aims to specifically reach out to African American,Latino and American Indian youth to engage in dialogue around less traditional fantasyand science fiction. Of course, youth of all identities are welcome to participate and it ismy hope that any participant will gain something from reading beyond the traditionalbounds of Euro-Fantasy.This book club will be open so that teens can come when they are interested in the book.However, there will be strong encouragement for teens to come to multiple sessions sothat we have more of a chance to build community and comfort in discussions. The targetage range is high school teens ages 13-18. Because the majority of the books (four out ofsix) feature girls, and because reading for pleasure is less common among boys, Ianticipate that participants will be majority girls.Publicity PlanSuccessful publicity will be key to having dynamic and rich discussions. In order tosuccessfully recruit participants, I plan to maximize publicity via face-to-face contact andword of mouth. These social means of communicating allow people to make personalconnections and feel comfortable joining a new activity group. The following are plansfor outreach:At the end of the school year, I will visit English and Language Arts classrooms to booktalk the selected books and meet students. I will also make connections with extra-curricular teen groups, particularly creative writing clubs and community service groups.In addition to talking specifically with adults, I will share the list of books andinformation about the book club with teachers and school librarians who may knowindividual students with an interest in the theme.An additional venue where I will recruit students is at local summer enrichmentprograms. I will meet with program leaders to introduce the book club and invite theirteens to participate as part of the summer program. Teens involved in summer programsmay come to the library initially to check out the reading club books or other books andthen return for a discussion group on the book they have chosen. I will talk with theprogram coordinators about the best way to facilitate participation. One option is forteens to have a weekly library visit built into their schedule. That time would coordinatewith the book discussion group, allowing teens that are interested to join the discussion.Alternatively, teens might vote to choose one book they will all read and travel to thelibrary on the day when that book will be discussed. In discussing the best option with
  • program coordinators, I will emphasize that the best scenario allows teens to choosewhich book(s) they read and allows teens the option to participate or not in the book club.In addition to community outreach, I will use established library programs and publicitychannels to publicize the book club: • I will book talk these books for the Manga Club and encourage teen participants in other library programs to consider reading a book club selection over the summer. • I will post information about the books and the book club on the teen blog for the library as well as the adult blog to encourage parents to tell their kids about the book club. I will utilize book trailers when available including the following: o Wolf Mark: o Half World: • In advance of each week’s book, I will feature targeted publicity about the book on the library website, when available, make use of the gripping video trailers (see web links below). • I will create a display with the books and book club information in the teen space. • I will encourage all reference desk staff to mention the book club to teens they know or teens that have readers’ advisory questions. The handouts will be useful to allow staff to give teen visitors information about the book club that they can take home with them.Additional publicity and flyering: • Local teen hang-out spaces including movie theaters, malls, restaurants, community centers and churches. • Parenting listservs and blogs (like and homeschool listservs).About the ThemeIn many ways, this book club is about a genre. The genre could perhaps best be describedas speculative fiction but I use the word “fantasy” in the title because it is a more familiartitle. Within this genre, the theme is narrowed to a focus on books with a diverse cast ofcharacters and many of these books challenge norms of fantasy and science fiction. Asstated in the discussion of audience, with the increasing popularity of fantasy youngpeople of color will find that there are fewer fantasy and science fiction books withcharacters and authors that look like them. In order to cultivate a pluralistic society,librarians must take the lead in advocating for books written by and about people ofcolor. This benefits not only young people of color who benefit from seeing themselvesrepresented, but all youth who are growing up in an increasingly diverse and globalizedworld.Depending on the book club participants, we may delve more deeply into themes ofcultural diversity and representation in literature. Other groups may be more interested inhow each author builds their world, and these books provide a rich variety of
  • “otherworlds” that will inspire teen writers and readers to be creative in theirinterpretations. In my questions I have included prompts that approach the books from avariety of interest angles.About the Selection ProcessThese six books were chosen with the explicit intent of encouraging teens to read fantasybeyond the mainstream. I chose to begin with The Hunger Games both because of itspopularity and because there are many issues that can be discussed in the book. For teensnew to fantasy and science fiction, The Hunger Games is likely to be familiar and theymay be interested in reading more fantasy and science fiction. In this way I hope to createan entry point for new readers.The remaining books all feature main characters that are American young people of coloror teens in fantasy-inspired lands set outside of the United States (Japan, Brazil andNigeria). Akata Witch and City of Beats appeal to a slightly younger audience, while thelast three books in the series have more complex plots and deal with more maturecontent. Parable of the Sower and Half World in particular will appeal to older audienceand contain some violence and sexually explicit content. By leaving these to the end, Ihope to set younger readers up with skills to discuss these later books and appropriateexpectations for each book’s content. After each book club meeting, I will book talk thebook for the next week in order to familiarize youth with the books and allow them toassess which books best fit their interests. This will also be a chance to encourageparticipants to come to multiple book club meetings.Book SummariesHunger Gamesby Suzanne CollinsA dictatorship must have a means of sustaining intimidation. In Panem, a dystopianfuture United States, the Capitol dominates twelve districts by taking one teenager fromeach district and pitting the twelve young people against each other in an event known asthe Hunger Games. When Katniss’ sister is chosen, Katniss volunteers to sacrifice herselfinstead. Will she survive?City of Beastsby Isabel AllendeAlex must rely on his new friend Nadia and his instincts to survive his journey throughthe Amazon jungle. But there is more at stake than his own survival. The survival of theindigenous people is at risk and depends partly on Nadia and Alex’s role in helping todefeat the profit-hungry businessmen who want to destroy the jungle.
  • Akata Witchby Nnedi OkoraforTo get into Leopard Knocks, the local village of the Leopard People, Sunny has to learnto call her spirit face. Before she knew about Leopard Knocks, Sunny only knew she wasdifferent because her Nigerian classmates thought it was weird that she’d grown up inAmerican and because she was albino. But when Sunny meets three other young peoplewho have powers and can cross into Leopard Knocks, the foursome must learn to usetheir powers quickly if they are going to face the coming evil that threatens the surival ofthe Earth.Wolf Markby Joseph BruchacLuke is an Abenaki Indian American with unusual skills and a birthmark shaped like awolf on his wrist. After his mom’s death, Luke knows that his drunk and depressed dadwill not help him understand his powers. And then his father is kidnapped. As Lukebegins to uncover the bioterrorist threat he’s up against, he must rely on his ownresilience to find his father and face the international threat.Parable of the Sowerby Octavia ButlerLauren Olamina is an empath; she can feel what other people feel. Lauren lives in afuturistic United States where violence and poverty run rampant; and it is hard for her toavoid feeling other peoples’ emotions, especially pain. When her walled community isdestroyed and Lauren is forced to find a new place to live, her empathy, vision anddetermination make her a beacon of light and others begin to follow. Will Lauren’s newcommunity survive and be able to carve out a new home amidst the rubble?Half Worldby Hiromi GotoMelanie’s life is a struggle. She is teased by classmates for being overweight, her motherhas little money, and she has no close friends. When she comes home to find that hermother has been kidnapped into another world, her struggle transforms into a struggle forsurvival in a nightmarish world where Melanie’s actions may determine the balancebetween the world of the spirits and the world of the living.
  • Discussion Guide: The Hunger Games bySuzanne Collins • Hunger Games has gained a huge following, particularly since the release of the movie. What made you interested in reading the book and discussing it in a group? • Katniss describes District 12 as a place where you can “starve to death in safety” (pg 6). Does District 12 seem like a convincing city trapped under the thumb of the Capitol? Why or Why not? Does Panem and its atrocious dictatorship seem like a place that could exist in the real world? • It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the hunger games but it is also a horrendous gladiator-like tradition. Did you find yourself at times getting caught up in the Capitol’s excitement about fashion and stardom in the games? When were you horrified by the spectacle of the hunger games? Did you ever feel both caught up in the spectacle and horrified by it? • When Peeta declares his love for Katniss in the interview, does he really mean it or did Haymitch create the “star-crossed lovers” story? What does Haymitch mean when he says, “It’s all a big show. It’s all how you’re perceived”? Why do they need to impress sponsors and what are those sponsors looking for when they are watching the Games? (From Scholastic Discussion Guide, f) • In 1848, Karl Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” How does this statement apply to the society and government of Panem? Do you believe there is any chance to eradicate class struggles in the future? (From Scholastic Discussion Guide, f) • There are many instances when competitors in the hunger games take mercy on each other, even when they could make a kill (Thresh takes mercy on Katniss, for example, pg. 288). And they also form intentional alliances, the ultimate alliance being the one between Peeta and Katniss. Are these instances of cooperation futile? What might they mean for the viewers across Panem?
  • Discussion Guide: City of Beasts by IsabelleAllende • Throughout the book, Alex is confronted with a lot of emotionally intense situations. In the beginning of the book, Alex explodes with anger when he sees his dad shaving his mom’s head. As the adventure unfolds, does Alex change as a character? Does he change because he chooses to or because of his circumstances? • Professor Leblanc is a character that seems purposefully depicted as an archetypal misogynist, conceited pig. How did you respond to his character? Did he seem realistic or exaggerated? • The members of the exhibition repeat different stereotypes about Indians. Sometimes they expect the Indians to be violent and savage, other times they are described as naïve and in need of being protected. In what ways does this story reinforce stereotypes about Indians? In what ways does it oppose stereotypes, perhaps by presenting different perspectives? • Allende’s novel communicates a strong moral about the importance of preserving cultural heritage and natural resources? How does the fantasy genre help or hurt the communication of Allende’s moral? • Some reviewers have critiqued this book as wordy and containing “labored language” (Kirkus Review). Did you find this to be the case? Do any passages stand out to you? Do you think this has anything to do with the fact that this book is a translation?
  • Discussion Guide: Akata Witch by NnediOkorafor • Some have called this book “Africa’s answer to Harry Potter.” What are the similarities and differences between Harry Potter’s story and Sunny’s? Is this a comparison that you would use in telling other people about this book? • Because so much fantasy is set in Europe, many fantasy readers are used to European culture as the backdrop for fantasy. In Akata Witch the author is very intentional about challenging Western dominance. For example, Sasha scoffs when Anatov talks about the scholar who wrote Fast Facts for Free Agents who went to Europe and American in search of “civilized ideas” (pg 112). What other instances do you notice where Nigerian culture is integral to the story and characters? If you are a fantasy reader, what is it like to have a different cultural setting for a magical world? • “The only way you can earn chittim is by learning,” explains Orlu (pg 82). What are examples of times when Sunny or the four friends earn chittim? Did you appreciate this aspect of the magical “world building” the author does? What other examples of “world building” did you appreciate? Where there parts of the magical world that felt like they did not fit or were not fully formed? • Although knowledge is more valued than money by the Leopard People, they are not above greed for power. How do the four friends struggle with thirst for power? Black Hat Otokoto is the ultimate symbol of greed; he was a Nigerian oil dealer who did business with the Americans. Is greed and thirst for power the evil in this story? Or are there characters who are more identifiable enemies? • How does Sunny develop as a character? How does her growing knowledge of her family history impact her growing power? Why is Sunny’s mother so distrustful of magic and of the reality of Leopard People?
  • Discussion Guide: Wolf Mark by JosephBruchac • Joseph Bruchac employs many examples of foreshadowing and suspense building throughout the book. What evidence did you see of either foreshadowing or suspense building in the language of the text? In the structure of the text? • After the first time Luke wears the skin, he notices changes in his personality. What has changed? Where do these changes come from? How does Luke feel about these changes? • Because Luke is a skinwalker, he is unable to touch electronics like cell phones and computers. What would your life be like if you were unable to use these items? What skills has Luke developed to adapt to this restriction? • In an interview about the book, Joseph Bruchac says of Wolf Mark, “I hope it both entertains and teaches a lesson.” What are some themes or lessons that you see in the novel? If you wrote a novel, would you try to communicate a lesson? • Maxico is a company that uses genetic engineering for sinister purposes. Do you think something similar could ever happen in real life? What are some of the moral or ethical debates surrounding genetic engineering?From Discussion Questions for Wolf Mark, available on Lee and Low Books’ website:
  • Discussion Guide: Parable of the Sower byOctavia Butler • “All that you touch/You Change./All that you Change/Changes you./The only lasting truth/Is Change./God/Is Change.” These lines from the Earthseed religion that Lauren is creating present a view of the world that has very little divine support. Why does Lauren see the world this way? Why are her followers drawn in by her vision? • Lauren’s hyperempathy is described as a “disease.” Do you think it is a benefit or an impediment for Lauren? • Butler’s vision of the future of the United States is bleak and harsh. Are there aspects of the dystopia that you feel might become reality? Are there aspects of it that you do not think will become reality? • Butler started writing science fiction at a time when there were very few African American science fiction authors. Do you think her racial identity impacts the way Lauren and others are portrayed? Or does the identification of Butler as an African American science fiction author unnecessarily categorize her as different from other science fiction authors? • An important issue in this novel is how well people know one another and when and how to trust people. Lauren struggles between her love for Curtis and her concern that he might not understand or accept both her hyperempathy or her Earthseed ideas. She also tells Harry Balter about her hyperempathy, and he worries that he cant trust her because he feels like he doesnt really know her. How do you learn to trust? How much do you have to know about a person in order to trust that person? What sort of lessons about trust do you think this novel holds for us? (from Reading Group Guides, guides_P/parable_of_the_sower1.asp)
  • Discussion Guide: Half World by Hiromi Got o • Melanie is character fated to follow the path of prophecy, but she is not a particularly heroic character. Did you relate to her more because of this? If not, would you have liked her to be more adventurous, decisive or self-assured? How would a more heroic character have changed the story? • When Melanie meets Gao Zhen Xi, the elder scholar describes Half World as follows: “For eons upon eons we are caught in our Half Lives, repeating our moment of greatest trauma. Over the years some of the stronger ones have managed to extend their patterns, and make small changes, and in this way we have built societies and cities, occupations and some kind of purpose. But always we are yanked back to the Spirit-breaking moment, to begin the cycle once more. Some have never been able to break their pattern” (pg 101). This is in contrast to how Half World is supposed to work. In the Prologue, Half World is described as the place where “all the ills of mortality had to be integrated and resolved before they could rise from mortal fetters into light and Spirit” (pg 1). • Which characters seemed caught in their patterns? Which characters in Half World have broken their patterns and seemed able to create meaning for themselves? What do you think allowed them to do this? • What pattern does Mr. Glueskin seem to be trapped in? Although he seems like the evil character, even Melanie recognizes that he is trapped in Half World. How would you attribute good and evil in Mr. Glueskin’s actions? In Half World at large? • Half World could be interpreted as a metaphor for the ways in which we have to struggle with our negative and destructive patterns. Did you this interpretation strike you as you read the book? Are there any individual or collective patterns that you feel like you, your friends or your community repeat unnecessarily? • This book is very image-rich. What descriptions of images stay with you? Can you share a passage? Given the image-rich description, did the illustrations add to or detract from your imagining of the story?