Junior, a Native American boy growing up on the Spokane reservation in Washington, decides to attend Reardan — an all-white school that’s located 20 miles away from home.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
This informational text details the final conflicts of the 300-year American Indian Wars and their devastating effects for Native Americans.
Introduce this text before students begin reading the novel, to provide them with background knowledge on the history of the American Indian Wars, how The Dawes Act affected Native Americans and how this history continues to shape their lives today. Ask students to consider how the history of Native Americans’ struggles might affect them today. How does history impact how we live today? What type of person do you expect Junior to be? Use the article to discuss what you feel life might be like for Junior and other Native Americans that live on reservations.
In “Life on Reservations,” Jessica McBirney discusses the history of reservations, as well Native American’s quality of life living on them today.
Introduce this text after students have read through to the end of the chapter “Rowdy Sings The Blues” (page 53), after Junior has introduced his family and environment to the reader, in order for students to analyze how history and social setting influence a character’s perception. How might both history and life on reservations today impact Junior? Why do you feel Junior has such a negative view of life?
In “American Indian School a Far Cry from the Past,” Charla Bear discusses how Native American boarding schools today, specifically Sherman Indian High School, differ from boarding schools of the past.
Introduce this text after students have read through to the end of the chapter “Hope Against Hope” (Page 43), in order to provide additional context about the Native American education system. Mr. P. tells Junior that he needs to leave the reservation in order to better himself. Ask students to compare the experiences of Sheila Patterson and Steve Yankton in the text with Junior’s public school experience, and Mr. P’s views as a teacher. Does the article help support Mr. P’s opinion that Junior needs to leave the reservation in order to thrive? What are the positive experiences for Patterson and Yankton at boarding school, and how do they compare with the negative experiences that are described? What are the reasons why students leave the reservation to attend boarding school? Do they help support or challenge what we know of Junior’s life so far and Mr. P’s experience teaching on a reservation?
In “Behind the Native American Achievement Gap,” Celeste Headlee interviews Anton Treuer, a professor of Ojibwe History and Language, about the education of Native Americans.
Have students read this text before they begin reading the chapter “How To Fight Monsters” (page 54), in order to provide them with context on the struggles that Native Americans face in school. Ask students to consider how Native American culture continues to be impacted by the forced assimilation that took place in the past. How do Native Americans continue to be isolated from their culture and history in classrooms?
Yul Kwon’s early life was mired with a host of challenges. Born to South Korean immigrants in New York, Kwon never had a positive role model from his community. In 2006, he decided to join the cast of Survivor and make a name for himself - and other Asian Americans - in popular culture.
Introduce this text after students have read through to the end of the chapter entitled “Halloween” (Page 81), and have learned about Junior’s early experiences at Reardan, in order to analyze the conflict at the root of these experiences. Ask students to consider how prejudice can be used as self-motivation. What experiences does Junior have that are similar to Yul Kwon’s? How does Junior begin to combat prejudice? Discuss your thoughts on whether or not Junior has the right approach and how he may or may not benefit from Yul Kwon’s story.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s poem “An Obstacle,” she urges us to remain strong when facing everyday obstacles. Gilman was writing as a feminist during a time when it was not socially acceptable to identify as such.
Introduce this text after students have read through to the end of the chapter entitled “Hunger Pains” (Page 113), in order for students to identify and analyze the conflict Junior is experiencing within the novel. Instruct students to discuss Junior’s struggles at Reardan in context with the themes discussed in Gilman’s poem. How does Gilman personify her obstacle? In the context of the poem, how does Junior react to his adversity? Discuss the different ways he might have taken the polite approach or the passionate approach that the speaker describes in Gilman’s poem. What obstacles does Junior face with different people and how does he begin to tackle them?
This article summarizes the life of American general Benedict Arnold and how his name has become synonymous with treason and betrayal.
Introduce this text after students have read through to the end of the chapter entitled “Reindeer Games” (Page 149), in order to generate a discussion around issues of identity and how they pertain to loyalty and treachery. Ask students to compare and contrast the factors behind Benedict Arnold switching loyalties, to Junior playing for Reardan against Wellpinit. How can the driving factors behind Benedict Arnold’s change of loyalties explain his actions, even if they can’t justify them? How does Junior’s driving factors behind him attending and playing for the Reardan Basketball team compare to Arnold’s actions? Is Junior really an “apple?” — red on the outside and white on the inside? Is the reaction he receives from the Wellpinit team and crowd justified?
“ICU” is a poem that explores the difficulty of understanding the loss of a loved one.
Introduce this text after students have read through to the end of the chapter entitled “Valentine Heart” (Page 178), in order to analyze a key moment in Junior’s life as he experiences the loss of his Grandmother and Eugene. Have students compare and contrast the speaker in Chua’s poem to the way Junior expresses his grief. How do both the speaker in the poem and Junior deal with the pain they are experiencing? Ask students to draw on evidence from both texts that highlight how the speaker and Junior are confused by their experiences. In what ways does Junior question the recent losses he has experienced? How do they differ from the thoughts that the speaker has in Chua’s poem?
In Ralph Fletcher’s “Funeral,” a group of boys have a funeral for their friend who is moving away.
Introduce this text before students read the chapter “In Like A Lion” (Page 179), before they begin to read about Junior’s basketball rematch with Wellpinit — a game he sees as “him against Rowdy.” Use this text in order to generate a discussion on the love-hate relationship between the two friends. Ask the students to discuss the ways in which the boys, in Fletcher’s “Funeral,” take the symbolic act of a funeral and use it to illustrate their love. How does Fletcher use dialogue, memory and nostalgia to achieve emotion? How has Sherman Alexie used similar methods so far to illustrate the complex relationship between Junior and Rowdy?
Published in 1916, this poem is one of the most frequently cited and most misunderstood of Frost’s poems.
Introduce this text after students have completed the novel, in order to discuss one of the main themes of the book: how Junior chose a different and more difficult path than others in his community, in order to grow as an individual and achieve success. Ask students to use the imagery in Frost’s poem to discuss Junior’s life and the decisions he made. What are the two different roads that Junior encountered? How has the path that Junior has taken, in Frost’s words, “made all the difference?”
In “How Native Students Can Succeed in College: ‘Be As Tough As The Land That Made You’,” Claudio Sanchez discusses the obstacles Native American students face regarding college and how one particular program has helped.
Introduce this text after students have read the novel, in order to generate a post-reading discussion on Native Americans in education. Now that Junior’s story has given some insight into the difficulties that Native Americans face in education, both within and outside of their communities, ask students to read the text and discuss how they believe Junior will fair in college. Do they believe that he will be successful or unsuccessful? Ask them to use evidence from both Alexie’s novel and Sanchez’s article to support their answer.