Gregor the Overlander

Tuesday was the November meeting of the 5th grade book group, and we discussed Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander.  Six kids showed up (impressive, considering I forgot to send my usual email reminder the day before the group), and we had an odd mix of deep discussion of heavy topics and juice-through-the-nose giggles.

So let’s get the juice spurting giggles out of the way: when the bagels and cream cheese were about half-devoured, the group’s newest member excitedly raised her hand, and I called on her.  And she burst into song, “The rocket’s red glare…Rats bursting in air…>giggle giggle snort<…”  And the whole group lost it.  I have to admit, the song works.  And though gross, it’s pretty funny.  And actually related to the book.  I let everyone giggle until the giggles started to sound forced, then I tried to rein the group back in to the book discussion.  It took a few minutes, and there were a few more attempts to start the song up again (all very politely preceded by the raising of hands), but eventually we got back on track.

I posed a few questions of my own, and then moved on to two questions from the Scholastic website that particularly intrigued me:

1.  “The prophecies of Bartholomew of Sandwich foretold many things that have occurred in the Underland including the death of Luxa’s parents. When prophecies are fulfilled, is it because of fate or because people shape their behavior to conform to the prophecy? Discuss the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies. Also discuss the belief in free will versus fate.”

2.  “Quest is a recurring theme in the fantasy adventure genre. You might argue that there are two quests in Gregor the Overlander. One is that of the Underlanders to fulfill the Prophecy of Gray and thus prevent their annihilation by the rats. The other is Gregor’s quest to find his father and bring him home. How are the two quests interrelated? Why can one not exist without the other?”  (both questions from the Scholastic book discussion guide on Gregor the Overlander.)

After the juice snort giggles, I wasn’t sure how these questions would go over, but the kids launched into a fabulous discussion of fate versus free will, and then quests and the genre of fantasy.  Interestingly, the group was split evenly on the fate/free will issue, with half of the kids believing that fate completes governs our lives, and the other half arguing that our lives progress as they do entirely because of free will.  The kids talked about the first question for a good fifteen minutes, in great depth, with intelligence and perceptivity.  I was impressed.

We didn’t spend as long on the second question, but our conversation was just as interesting, and I think we cleared up some misconceptions amongst the group members as to what constitutes fantasy.  Several of the kids mentioned that they prefer quest fantasy to fantasy sans quest, since a quest makes the plot exciting and adventurous.  (Not one of the kids mentioned Harry Potter here, which makes me very happy!)

The group’s consensus was that they all loved this book, and two of the six had already gone on to read the entire rest of the series.

As we ran out of time, I introduced the December book selection to the kids.  I told them that I had chosen my favorite book of all time, and that I’d never dared to have a book group read it before, since I love the book so much.  But that I trusted them, and couldn’t wait to hear what their thoughts on it will be…and then I showed them the book.  Anyone care to guess what this mystery book is?  [My siblings, especially Dan, will have the upper hand here.]

10 thoughts on “Gregor the Overlander”

  1. Close…but no cigar. The Diamond in the Window is definitely in my top ten. But not number 1.
    And actually, I should specify that this is my favorite book of all time up until I read Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin. So it’s probably tied now with Elsewhere.

  2. Owen – you’re getting warmer. A dog is involved. His name is Tock.
    If that didn’t give it away, I don’t know what will.

  3. The Phantom Tollbooth????

    Rats. It should have been this book, the one that Jean keeps promising to write: Owen, the Best Dog On the Planet!

  4. Owen – yay! You get the prize! Good boy!!!

    And, have you seen the Today Show spot with Nubs and his Marine? With apologies to Jim, that guy is pretty darn awesome. And Nubs is just the sweetest dog ever. Imagine how psyched I was when the book got great reviews! (It’ll be coming to my library very soon.)

  5. Rats. I can’t check your blog for two days, you pose a question that I can answer, and what happens? Owen beats me to the right answer.

    I love Tock the watchdog — even though tragedy underlies his life (his watch says “Tick” even though his name is Tock), he maintains an upbeat attitude.

    Ummm, could you give us all the lyrics to the juice-through-the-nose song?

  6. Owen liked Nubs’ “dad” too. He seems like a really good dog person. I’m so glad the book got good reviews!

  7. Dan – those are all of the lyrics for the song! By mid-way through the word “bursting,” the kids were in hysterics.
    So sorry you missed your chance to show off your Norton Juster knowledge!! You do know that I was expecting you to come up with the answer…

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