Study Questions for Children’s Literature

English 112A, Spring 2002 Study Questions

Charlotte’s Web / The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe/ Holes/ Walk Two Moons.

Charlotte’s Web:

1. What is a runt? Explore the extended meanings of this term.How does this portray the differences between parents and children? Are their values different? Explain.

2. How are Fern’s fears very like Wilbur’s? Are they also similar to Hansel’s and Gretel’s? Do Fern’s fears extend beyond the immediate problem? Explore the possibilities.

3. What is the meaning of the chapter "Escape"? What are the dynamics involved in this chapter? What, for example, does Wilbur decide to do? Why does he give up his freedom? This is an example of a dynamic tension, conflict, or polarity within the work.

4. Describe the character of Templeton? How does what Templeton does differ from Charlotte’s work? from the other animals? Explore the nature of "ratness."

5. Children’s literature can best be understood by examining important episodes. One such episode is in Chapter 5 (39-42) in which the characters discuss the importance of food. Discuss how food is a metaphor in the book.

6. Discuss the importance of Wilbur’s failure to be able to spin a web? Connect this to your previous discussions of Templeton and being a runt. In this context, what does "versatility" mean (116-17)? Its value?

7. How is Charlotte’s tale about her cousin connected to the story’s theme? Explain the value of her identity as shown in the following paragraph. "I am not entirely happy about my diet of flies and bugs, but it’s the way I’m made. . . . Way back for thousands and thousands of years we spiders have been laying for flies and bugs.

8. Look closely at the death of Charlotte. What is the dynamic connection between Charlotte’s magnum opus, her death, and the everyone’s role? "Is it a plaything?" "Plaything? I should say not. It is my egg sac, my magnum opus."

9. Explore the significance of the last paragraph of the book. "Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. . . . She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

10. What is the meaning of the title of the book? Think of the implication when we say we are reading Charlotte’s Web. Are we getting trapped the way Charlotte’s victims are trapped? What about the power of words?


The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

1. What is the relevance of the setting to the story? "This story is about something that happened to [four children] when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids" (1). What does this add to the story?

2. Picture the architecture of this very old house, in which "no one will mind what they do." What is implied in this statement? Connect the architecture of a house with all its sections, attics, basements etc. to conceptions of ideas of the self.

3. What are the laws of time and space that govern Narnia? Are they different from the ordinary world? Discuss how the transition is made between the natural world and the imaginative world (hint: in the closet). Compare and contrast the differences in chronotopes (we will explain this part of the questions in class).

4. This story involves the act of reading–interpreting signs–on several levels. What are some of the conventional signs which must be read or interpreted correctly? Why does Lucy seem better at this than Edmund?

5. Madness–lack of control–as a theme is touched upon directly or indirectly several times in this book, most notably in the figures of Lucy, Edmund, and the White Witch. How is this insanity akin to excessive imagination? What might your definition of madness be?

6. Look carefully throughout the book for images of darkness, "vanishing," light, warmth, cold, and touching. Is there a pattern? What conclusions can you draw?

7. C. S. Lewis incorporates mythologies from very different sources, mixing them together. Discuss a few of them, how Lewis’s use differs from the original and how they make the story more understandable.

8. How is magic defined in this story? What are the characteristics of magic? synonyms?

9. Note the change in Edmund during the course of the story. How is his educational background different from his siblings? Examine Edmund’s "addiction" to turkish delight.

10. Analyze the ways in LWW can be seen as a text for teens or adults. How does this story compare to Joseph Campbell’s hero cycly?



1. The book starts by explaining what is not at Camp Green Lake. There used to be trees, a lake, a town, shade, and people, now there are only lizards, rattlesnakes, and scorpions. How is this puzzle attractive reading? How does this beginning illustrate the basic pattern of the narrative? A braided narrative? juxaposition as narrative form?

2. "My name is easy to remember," said Mr. Pendanski as he shook hands with Stanley just outside the tent. "Three easy words: pen, dance, key." How is this sentence a metacritical comment? In other words, how does this sentence show us how to read this book? How does Stanley’s own name illustrate the narrative plot?

3. This is a story about juvenile delinquents, about learning, about reading, about crooks, thieves, and pig-stealings. Or is it? What satirical comments are being made about our views of these folks? Give two examples.

4. "Do you hear the empty spaces?" she [the Warden] asked (67). What are some other "empty spaces" in the book? Discuss the connection between empty spaces and the statement, "Zero was nobody" (81). How are these connected to black holes and time warps.

5. What are all the connections between Clyde Livingston, smelly feet, Zero, and Stanley? Digging holes makes character. Whose? Why?

6. "Doc Hawthorn was almost completely bald, and in the morning his head often smelled like onions" (109). Now look closely at this sentence: "A lot of people don’t believe in yellow-spotted lizards either, but if one bites you, it doesn’t make a difference whether you believe in it or not" (41). Examine the ways in which the ideas behind these two sentences are connected. This should also lead you to consider how myth and folk tales are woven into the fabric of this story.

7. There are some ethnic considerations elements in this story. What are they? How are these situations connected to a transcendence of these same elements?

8. Friendship. What is it? How do Stanley and Zero develop their friendship? What do they sacrifice?

9. Irony. What is irony? How does irony work in this book? Discuss some examples to illustrate how the Holes is an ironic demonstration of the onion-eating, layers of onion metaphor/episode in the book.

10. There seems to be nothing that is predictable in this book. Is this book in the absurdist tradition? a black comedy? What is serious becomes funny, and what is funny quickly turns serious. What seems to be a game turns deadly very quickly.

Walk Two Moons –Revised March 3, 2002

1. Look carefully at the following quotation: "Just over a year ago, my father plucked me up like a weed and took me and all our belongings. . . and stopped in front of a house in Euclid, Ohio" (1).

2."And that voice-it reminds me of dead leaves all blowing around on the ground" (23).

3.Look at the names of characters in the story. What are the definitions of these particular names? How are the individuals different from and/or similar to these definitions?

4. Trace the importance of the trees mentioned in this passage. Note some of the tales: the ones her mother tells her, Phoebe’s tale, etc. See how they overlap one another.

5."On their moccasins, and I thought again about Phoebe’s message: Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked tow moons in his moccasins" (58).

6."Ever since my mother left us that April day, I suspected that everyone was going to leave, one by one" (59).

7."She kept climbing and climbing. It was a thumpingly tall ladder. She couldn’t see me, and she never came down. She just kept going" (169).

8."Lately, I’ve been wondering if there might be something hidden behind the fireplace, because just as the firplace was behind the plaster wall and my mother’s story was behind Phoebe’s, I think there was a third story behind Phoebe’s and my mother’s, and that was about Gram and Gramps" (274).

9."One afternoon, after we had been talking about Prometheus stealing the fire from the sun to give to man, and about Pandora opening up the forbidden box with all the evils of the world in it, Gramps said that those myths evolved because people needed a way to explain where fire came from and why there was evil in the world" (276). Explain how this idea works, and show how it works in the book.

10."I still fish in the air sometimes" (277). Do a close reading of this sentence.


The View from Saturday

1. In class, we have talked about picture books and the importance of visual images. "Read" the cover of The View from Saturday. What does the picture on the front represent? (You may want to think about the relationship between domestic space and consciousness). What do you make of the back cover, particularly the light blue section titled "Meet the Souls"? What sort of expectations does it excite?

2. Consider the name of the group: "The Souls." Why is this name important? What does it tell us about the four individuals who constitute the group? Is there any relation to the name of the school they attend, Epiphany?

3. " ‘In the interest of diversity,’ she said, ‘I chose a brunette, a redhead, a blond, and a kid with hair as black as print on paper" (22).

4. What is a hybrid? Why does a hybrid possess power? Choose a hybrid other than Nadia and explain how that character’s or object’s hybridity makes it more than the parts it originates from.

5. " ‘Nothing.’ Nothing is never an answer, but sometimes nothing works. Sometimes nothing else does." (51) What is the idea of nothing? Look at Alice in Wonderland‘s treatment of this concept.

6. "Mostly, they could read—really read. Sixth grade still meant that kids could begin to get inside the print and to the meaning." (58). Several of the books we have read offer us a metacommentary on reading. Discuss this statement thoroughly.

7. "Sometimes silence is a habit that hurts." (70). How is this possible? Give some examples and examine a pattern as it develops in the novel.

8. Consider Julian’s backpack and the way in which Julian transforms the words Hamilton Knapp marks on it (72). What is the significance of Julian’s changed message? Of Ethan’s observations?

9. " ‘Chops,’ Julian said, ‘is to magic what doing scales is to a chanteuse. Without it you cannot be a magician, with it alone you cannot be an artist." What are "chops"? What does the analogy convey about chops?

10. "She thought that maybe—just maybe—Western Civilization was in decline because people did not take time to take tea at four o’clock." There is much going on in this seemingly simple statement. Explore as many implications as possible.