A Difficult Boy: Book Group Discussion Guide


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1.         How does Mr. Lyman try to strip Daniel of his identity? What might his motives be? What tactics does Daniel use to try to retain his identity and humanity?

2.         Fathers play an important role in the story. Ethan must choose between obeying his father and becoming Daniel’s friend. Does he make the right choice? What might have happened if he’d chosen differently? How does Ethan’s relationship with his father differ from the relationship between Silas and Mr. Lyman? What can you learn about Daniel’s father from the hints provided in the story?

3.         How are Ethan and Daniel changed by their friendship? What other characters are changed because of the boys’ friendship? In what ways?

4.         Although the story takes place in the 1830s, Ethan and Daniel encounter many problems that people still face today. Compare the attitudes, prejudices, and values of the characters in the story with your own. How much have things changed in 170 years, and how much have they stayed the same?

5.         The concept of childhood was very different in the 1830s from today. Discuss how those differences are revealed in the story.

6.         Why doesn’t Ethan tell his parents about the way Mr. Lyman treats him and Daniel? What is he afraid will happen if he stops working for Mr. Lyman? Are his fears justified?

7.         Why is Ivy so important to Daniel? How does she bring Ethan and Daniel together?

8.         What role does Mr. Stocking play in changing Ethan’s and Daniel’s perceptions of themselves and each other? Why does Daniel lose the race to Mr. Stocking, and what does it say about both characters?

9.         Mr. Lyman seems like a villain to Ethan and Daniel, but he thinks of himself as a good and charitable person. How does he justify his actions to himself and others?

10,       How do you feel about the story’s resolution? Does Mr. Lyman get off too easily or is justice served? Are Silas’s reasons for keeping his father’s secret justified? What do you think Silas’s and Mr. Lyman’s lives will be like in the future?

11.       What do you think will happen to Daniel once he leaves Farmington?

To find out more about New England in the 1830s, go to the Old Sturbridge Village Web site – www.osv.org . You can find research articles and historic documents here: http://www.osv.org/explore_learn/document_list.php .

For a HUGE collection of resources on 19th-century America, go to: http://www.teacheroz.com/19thcent.htm#various

If your book club wants to prepare some 19th-century dishes for your meeting, you can find some recipes on the Old Sturbridge Village website here:

http://www.osv.org/explore_learn/recipes.html .

Or go to “Feeding America: the Historic American Cookbook Project” for a variety of 19th-century cookbooks: http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/index.html

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