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.]