Build homeschooling socialization while reading a good book together!
“The general tone of the team picked up immediately. It recovered its old-time solidarity, and once more the dogs leaped as one dog in the traces” (59)
Last year, Vivienne and I had such a great time hosting A Tom Sawyer book club together that we decided to do it again this year. Vivienne’s 8th grade Sonlight literature curriculum includes The Call of the Wild.
We wanted to invite some friends along for the journey north. It just so happens that I teach a homeschool middle school literature class for Viv and her peers once a week. We agreed that this would be the perfect fit: we’d devote the first quarter to a The Call of the Wild book club.
(I received Sonlight 100 in exchange for a series of blog posts that contain my honest opinion.)
It’s more fun together!
Twelve enthused peers read The Call of the Wild together, cheering Buck’s survival, wincing at the gore, fuming at the human incompetencies and cruelties, and rejoicing at the love of John Thornton.
We read the book over the span of 6 weeks, covering 2 chapters each week for 4 weeks and using the final two weeks for writing workshops. (The parents had requested that the students write a 5-paragraph literary analysis paper during the course. This ended up being a wonderful opportunity to introduce this style of writing to the students: they learned so much from one another.) I can confidently say that the students thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the book together and I was honored to sit in on their laughter and discussions.
Ideas for The Call of the Wild book club:
Whether your student is reading The Call of the Wild as part of Sonlight 100 or you are simply wanting to connect with your middle schooler in a meaningful way, creating a book club around such an engaging adventure will be worthwhile. The Sonlight 100 curriculum provides many helpful text-level questions, discussion-starters, vocabulary help, and map work. I wove this material into our book club meeting each week.
First, make a few introductions…
Reading The Call of the Wild is greatly enriched by understanding the author Jack London, the concept of the dogsled team, and a bit of history about the Klondike Gold Rush.
Meet Jack London
Before the book club began, I read a biography about London so I could share some background with the students. They were fascinated by his story: his rough start, his dog-eat-dog stint in prison, his struggle with alcohol, his love of reading, and his extremely hard work ethic as a prolific writer. A little bit of information about the man behind the typewriter helped the students to understand the themes of the story better. They loved learning that London found gold in the Klondike Gold Rush: London returned home with $4.50 worth of gold dust in his pocket + a priceless treasure in his mind. When he began writing about his Klondike adventures, Jack London became America’s first millionaire writer.
(Feel free to take a peek at the PowerPoint that I created to guide my talking points: Introduction to Jack_London PowerPoint.)
Meet a dogsled team
We watched some National Geographic videos about dogsled teams – how they train and how they live. This gave the students powerful visuals to know how a pack of dogs works together as one to forge through snow and ice in the Klondike. It also provided a reference point for how such dogs should be treated and how they are treated in The Call of the Wild.
Meet the Klondike Gold Rush
We also watched some footage about the Klondike Gold Rush so the students could see for themselves the daunting journey north-west.
Adopt a Dog.
Viv suggested that each student “adopt” one of the dogs in the book. We purchased a miniature calendar of wolves and divided the pictures amongst the students. Then, we divvied up the dogs: Curly, Spitz, Sol-leks, Dave, Teek, Koona, Billee, Joe, Dub, Pike, Nig, and Skeet. As we read, each student kept a careful eye on his/ her dog and updated us from week to week. This helped the students to care about the minor characters and to notice the personification, mannerisms, personalities, and outcome of each dog.
The first week, we sat in a circle and took turns reading aloud Gary Paulsen’s introduction as well as the first few pages of the story. We were hooked!
Throughout our meetings, we would often read aloud passages that we liked or needed to discuss.
Keep a commonplace book.
Encourage each student to jot down favorite quotations each week. Some students will copy passages about characters, others will copy the descriptive writing, still others will copy the life lessons. (This time around, a few of the boys copied down all of the gory descriptions – Curly’s downfall was a favorite.)
These commonplace excerpts are a great way to spark conversation.
Simply ask, “What did you write in your commonplace book?” and let the conversation evolve from there.
Be sure to keep a commonplace book, too! Your students will want to know what catches your eye.
Enjoy conversations about the book.
Sit back and guide the students with a few good conversation starters. This book sparks fantastic discussion: there are countless interesting topics to explore: civilization vs. the primordial, human decency, survival, the treatment of animals, greed, ignorance, love, freedom, vengeance, teamwork, leadership, and strength.
What did your students like?
What made them angry?
I am a Read-Aloud Revival fan, so I use Sarah Mackenzie’s helpful questions to prompt conversation. In her newly released Read-Aloud Family, Sarah provides 10 poignant questions that you can ask about any book and expect to connect with your student. I stick with these and am never disappointed.
Create a Klondike Gold Rush Game.
One week, I handed out slips of paper and asked the students to jot down a handful of questions and answers from the book. I distributed a few blank board games and passed around a basket of amusing figurines and a few dice. Then, I plunked a pile of chocolate gold coins on the table for each winner. The students used the trivia questions to progress through their “Klondike Adventure” and – in the end – decided to share the gold coins.
Send the students on a Klondike Adventure as a “dogsled team”.
Create a physical challenge for your students to accomplish in small groups: the goal of this is to help the students recognize the power of the leader, the follower, the dissenter, the weak-link, . You could designate each student’s role on the team or you could just sit back and watch as each student naturally takes a place in the group dynamic. Talk about the experience afterward. Compare it to the dynamic on Buck’s dogsled team.
Oh, and of course, top the whole thing off with Klondike Bars on the last day! (Yum!)
“When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack” (139).
I hope that this sparked your imagination for ways you can invite some students to join you in The Call of the Wild! You’ll have a wonderful time together.