Discussion Questions

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 28

Discussion Questions

“I knew I was standing on the edge of something strange and new and beautiful.” ~ Oscar’s Gift

In the end, the prevailing theme of Oscar Micheaux’s life was one of creative persistence.

  • Unpopular as a school child, he refused to let others define him.
  • Never having finished high school, he was a life-long learner who taught himself what he needed to know.
  • Forced to give up his land after droughts hit hard in 1911-1912, he decided to embark on a new career as a novelist.
  • Undaunted by the prospect of getting his books in the hands of readers, he went door to door selling copies and finding distributors.
  • Wanting more control than a motion picture company was willing to give him for his first film, he decided to start the Micheaux Film and Book Company.

The following discussion questions are designed to be posed after readers have finished the book. They build upon the facts of Oscar Micheaux’s life (see “The Self-Education of Oscar Micheaux” for more) and ask readers to think about their own lives, their attitudes toward luck and talent, and their ability to persist in the face of adversity.

Discussion Questions

  1. Can you think of an example of when you have felt like an oddball? What makes someone an “oddball”?
  2. How did Tomas feel at the end of chapter 2, when he learned he would no longer be going to school?
  3. Have you ever had to do hard, physical work, like the kind Tomas does to help to build their soddy and to break their land? Did you enjoy it, or not?
  4. What were Tomas’s first reactions to his new step-sisters and step-father? Have you ever had to welcome, not by your own choice, new family members or friends to your life? How did you feel?
  5. Do you have a gift or talent for doing something special? Does it make you feel different from your friends?
  6. Do you practice your gift so that you get better at it?
  7. Have you ever wanted to do something that didn’t seem possible?
  8. Do you believe that luck determines whether you will succeed? Why or why not?
  9. In chapter 10, “Thunderstorm,” Tomas is responsibility for caring for Oscar over the course of a stormy night. Have you ever been responsible for taking care of someone else? How did it make you feel about yourself?
  10. How did Tomas change by the end of the book? What led to the change?

Thank you for following along with February’s online reading guide! In a week or two, watch for a pdf version of all of the posts, re-arranged and re-formatted as a single publication. Meanwhile, if you have enjoyed the book, please recommend it to your friends and consider posting a review on Amazon.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…


Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

New Oscar Cover

 

Books as Mentors for Writing Students

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 27

Books as Mentors for Writing Students

“For two years after my thirteenth birthday I used Oscar’s books to teach myself to be a better writer. Oscar showed me how to copy paragraphs that I liked and study them until their rhythms were a part of my thoughts.” ~ Oscar’s Gift

Portrait

When I have worked with young writers, I’ve often heard parents worry that their children’s writing is too close in style or topic to that of the children’s current favorite books and authors. What I try to help the adults to see is that using books and authors as informal mentors is a wonderful way for young writers to hone their skills and to expand their repertoires.

Just as visual artists learn from the masters by copying their works, writers—young and not so young—can “try on” different ways of writing by intentionally mimicking others’ writing styles.

To get started, here is a short exercise, using the first lines of J.R.R. Toklien’s The Hobbit.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

1. Memorize the first paragraph, above, until you can say it easily. It helps to read it as though it were poetry, with stresses on specific words:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole,

filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell,

nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole

with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat:

it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

2. Imagine a thing or place in a house or in nature, where a character can do things, then answer these questions:

  • What is the thing or place?
  • Where is the thing or place?
  • Who lives there?
  • What is the thing or place not?
  • What are more details of what it is not?
  • What else is it not, again, with details?
  • What is missing from the thing or place?
  • What specific kind of thing or place is it?
  • What does the thing or place mean or what does it cause?

3. Write like Tolkien by copying the structure of the first lines of The Hobbit using your own details. Here is an example:

  • What is the thing or place? corner
  • Where is the thing or place? behind my bed
  • Who lives there? an ant
  • What is the thing or place not? sunny corner
  • What are more details of what it is not? cleaned often
  • What else is it not, again, with details or what is missing? crowded, dusty
  • What is missing from the thing or place? somewhere to hide
  • What specific kind of thing or place is it? corner in the boy’s room
  • What does the thing or place mean or what does it cause? friendship between boy and ant

Write like Tolkien: In a corner behind the bed there lived an ant. Not a sunny corner in the kitchen, swept clean daily, nor yet a dark, dusty corner in the basement, visited by no one, it was a corner in the boy’s room: and that was where the story of their friendship began.

From here, you can continue your story or not.

What authors would you like to mimic? Feel free to share your examples in the comments!

 


Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

New Oscar Cover

 

Can you match these first lines to their book titles?

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 26

Books Published in the Early 1900s

“The lid came off with a loud creak and a small cloud of dust and packing straw. Inside were books. More books than I had ever seen in one place. More books than I had seen even in a school.” ~ Oscar’s Gift

What kinds of books were published in the first years of the 20th century? See if you can match these first lines from books published from 1900 through 1905 with the correct title and author (then click on the book jackets to learn the answers and to read the works online):

Titles

  • The Call of the Wild
  • Five Children and It
  • The Little Princess
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit
  • The Wonderful World of Oz

Authors

  • Beatrix Potter
  • Edith Nesbit
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Jack London
  • L. Frank Baum

First Lines

A. Once on a dark winter’s day, when the yellow fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares. She sat with her feet tucked under her, and leaned against her father, who held her in his arm, as she stared out of the window at the passing people with a queer old-fashioned thoughtfulness in her big eyes. She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look on her small face. It would have been an old look for a child of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven.

B. Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost.

C. Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were–Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree. ‘Now my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’

D. The house was three miles from the station, but before the dusty hired fly had rattled along for five minutes the children began to put their heads out of the carriage window and to say, ‘Aren’t we nearly there?’  And every time they passed a house, which was not very often, they all said, ‘Oh, is THIS it?’  But it never was, till they reached the very top of the hill, just past the chalk-quarry and before you come to the gravel-pit.  And then there was a white house with a green garden and an orchard beyond, and mother said, ‘Here we are!’

E. Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar–except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by a trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.

421px-A_Little_Princess_cover

495px-Wizard_oz_1900_cover

426px-Peter_Rabbit_first_edition_1902a

JackLondoncallwild

FiveChildrenAndIt

 


Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

New Oscar Cover

 

Lakota Culture, Part 2: Winter Counts

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 25

Lakota Culture, Part 2: Winter Counts

“I unfolded the blanket, which was more than long enough to cover my feet and toes. The blanket, which I thought at first was made of cloth, was instead a soft, tanned buffalo hide. In the center was a large circle, painted in black and white. Surrounding the circle were carefully painted scenes of young Indian braves racing bareback across on the prairie on horses, spears at their sides. They rode round and round the circle forever, chasing an unseen buffalo herd.”

~ Oscar’s Gift

PawneeVillasur1720
Villasur and his men (center) were quickly surrounded by the Pawnee and killed. 1720 (public domain image)

The Lakota and other American Indian tribes used buffalo hides not only for shelter and clothing but as a way to tell stories and record events. The painted hide pictured immediately above, for example, tells the story of when General Villasur was killed in 1720 by Pawnee and Oto warriors in what is now Nebraska.

One special kind of buffalo hide painting was the winter count—part calendar, part historical record in which each year or winter was named and represented by a picture, usually relating to a specific event. The header image on this post (with the white background) is from the Smithsonian National Museum of the Native American, “Winter count 01 on cloth by Lone Soldier – 1902” (photo credit: Tim EvansonCC BY-SA 2.0).

Learn more: Visit the Smithsonian’s online exhibit, Lakota Winter Counts, download the teacher’s guide (all grades), and watch the video, below, where Candace Green, anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Emil Her Many Horses, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, talk about Lakota winter counts:


Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

New Oscar Cover

 

One-Room Country Schools

Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 24

Life and Learning in a One-Room Country School

“We continued walking. Winona looked straight ahead, her face as still as stone. Chumani glanced nervously between me and Winona. When we rounded a hill and saw the school house, both girls stopped.” Oscar’s Gift

First School in Tripp County, South Dakota. Photo: Library of Congress, Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.
First School in Tripp County, South Dakota, ca 1900-1910. Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo
Sod School, Winner, South Dakota. Photo: Library of Congress, Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.
Sod School, ca. 1910s, Winner, South Dakota. Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

The above photos give an idea of what school houses looked like in rural South Dakota in the first decades of the 20th century.

What would have Chumani and Winona learned in school?

“Children in a country school learned independently. They progressed at their own pace. Most lessons were memorized. Students knew what to expect in the next grade because they had heard older pupils recite lessons the previous year.10 The curriculum included reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, grammar, orthography or spelling, and hygiene. During the day, pupils were called to the teacher’s desk to read or recite. When not working with the teacher, students did arithmetic problems on their slates, diagrammed sentences, drew maps, and memorized lessons. Many students learned to read using McGuffey’s Readers, compiled in 1830 by Presbyterian minister William McGuffey of Ohio. The books began with simple alphabet work and stories and advanced to excerpts from Shakespeare, the Bible, and English and American poets. The readers also included biographical sketches and excerpts from speeches.” ~ South Dakota State Historical Society

The following resources offer several ideas for how children (and adults) today can learn about what life and learning were like in one-room schools:

Photos: Library of Congress, Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.


Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

New Oscar Cover