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The Fighting Ground

by Avi

Book Club: A Literature-Based Curriculum outlines a complete theme-based unit with Book Club lessons focusing on The Fighting Ground.

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Below you will find a synopsis, further reading materials, discussion topics, and reviews that you might find useful during your teaching of The Fighting Ground.

A Synopsis

Thirteen-year-old Jonathan wants to fight against the British in the War for Independence, but his father, himself wounded, will not allow his young son to join the army. Jonathan wants so much to carry a gun and be a soldier that one day when the tavern bell calls soldiers to arms, Jonathan rushes to join—without telling his father. Borrowing a gun from the tavern keeper, he falls in with a small militia led by a serious and dedicated corporal.

Jonathan proudly marches with his fellow soldiers to the fighting ground, at the crest of a nearby road. Before long they hear the advancing enemy. They are Hessians, German mercenaries who have a reputation as fierce fighters. The Corporal orders the men into two lines. Jonathan is in front when the Americans open fire. Within moments, he sees a family friend killed and others wounded. Horrified and confused, he flees into the woods, where he is taken prisoner by three Hessian soldiers.

While he is held captive at a small log house, he discovers a little boy whose parents have been killed. He pleads with the Hessians to help him bury the parents, and the youngest soldier obliges. Later, after the three Germans fall asleep, Jonathan manages to escape, taking the child. Although he has the chance to shoot the sleeping Hessians, he cannot bring himself to do it. Jonathan finds his way to where the Corporal and his men are camped and tells his story.

The Corporal reveals that the boy’s parents were killed by Patriots because they were Tory spies. He then asks for Jonathan’s help in getting the Hessians. Jonathan is reluctant. He knows they are the enemy but does not want to see them killed, because they did nothing to hurt him. When the Corporal orders him to reenter the cabin, Jonathan decides to wake the Hessians and tells them to surrender. Then one of them grabs Jonathan and uses him as a shield as all three soldiers try to escape. When Jonathan breaks free, the Hessians are shot dead by the waiting minutemen. Upset at this outcome, Jonathan destroys the borrowed gun he was so proud to carry into battle and returns home safe to his parents.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for The Fighting Ground by Avi.

About the Author

  • Avi's Official Website — Contains biographical information about the author and a list of all his books. In particular, you might want to check out Avi's comments about The Fighting Ground and what inspired him to write it.
  • Avi — This page, created by Scholastic, provides more biographical information about the author.
  • Video Interview — The Reading Rockets site provides a series of brief interview clips in which Avi discusses his experiences with symptoms of dyslexia, writer's block, writing historical fiction, and more.

Explore the Setting of the Novel

  • New Jersey During the Revolution — This site gives accounts of the history of the Revolutionary War in New Jersey. It offers information on battles, places, documents, and activities during those times.
  • New Jersey — Infoplease provides the basics about New Jersey—location, history, government, famous residents, and other facts.
  • LIBERTY! The American Revolution — Official online companion to a series of six one-hour documentaries originally broadcast on PBS.
  • The American Revolution — The National Park Service created this site. It offers an interactive tour of the Revolution as well as a timeline, stories of people, and a day-by-day account. The content is supported by images, paintings, and maps.
  • American Revolution — The History site provides videos, images, and information on the events during the American Revolutionary War. Furthermore, it offers links to related topics.

Big Theme Questions

How can difficult experiences help a person develop a better understanding of life?

What is war like for the people who do the fighting?

What is the definition of a good soldier?

How can fictional stories provide a window into the past?

Outline of Lesson Plan | Discussion Topics | Writing Prompts

The following section can be used to get discussions started in your classroom. It is based on the Lesson Plan within Book Club: A Literature-Based Curriculum. The Lesson Plan includes blackline masters for the students that support the writing prompts. The writing prompts provided are meant as suggestions only. As students become more comfortable with the Book Club format, they will certainly have ideas and questions that go beyond the prompts. Consider giving students “free choice” as a log option. Book Club Reading Logs help students respond to literature and organize ideas as they participate in Book Club.

9:58 a.m.–11:00 a.m. | Response to Literature: Reading Logs and Checklists

  • Connect what you’ve learned about the Revolutionary War to this story. Make several predictions about the story based on your knowledge of the war.
  • Why do you think Jonathan is so eager to fight in the war?

11:30 a.m.–1:05 p.m. | Response to Literature: Author’s Purpose

  • Have you ever done something against your parents’ wishes? In what way was your experience similar to or different from Jonathan’s experience in this section?
  • What might have been the author’s purpose(s) for writing this book?

1:30 p.m.–2:41 p.m. | Comprehension: Wonderful Words

  • What do you think is the “fighting ground” in this story? Explain your response.
  • Predict what the battle will be like. Remember to consider the factual information you’ve gathered about this war.
  • Record some “wonderful words” you found in this section.
  • What is your impression of the Corporal? Note some statements in the text that reveal what he’s like.

2:43 p.m.–3:05 p.m. | Comprehension: Vocabulary

  • Write about Jonathan’s thoughts and feelings during the battle. How would you feel in his situation?
  • Write about puzzling or interesting words in The Fighting Ground.
  • Point out some contrasts between the Hessian soldiers and the American soldiers.

3:16 p.m.–4:01 p.m. | Literary Elements: Characterization

  • What are Jonathan’s thoughts and emotions after he has run from the battle?
  • What does Jonathan observe about the three Hessian soldiers who capture him? How do they treat Jonathan?

4:10 p.m.–5:30 p.m. | Comprehension: Summarizing and Reviewing Story Content

  • Summarize four or five important events or ideas from the section.

5:40 p.m.–6:35 p.m. | Literary Elements: Point of View

  • Pick a character in the story other than Jonathan and retell the story so far from his or her point of view.
  • How does Jonathan feel toward the Hessians? How do you know?

6:45 p.m.–7:40 p.m. | Comprehension: Intertextual Connections

  • Connect this book to any other books or movies you’ve read or seen about the Revolutionary War. Feel free to compare and contrast, if that is helpful.
  • Continue writing about Jonathan’s attitude toward the Hessians.

8:15 p.m.–11:25 p.m. | Language Conventions: Fluency Review

  • Based on what happens in this section, would you describe Jonathan as courageous? Would you describe him as a good soldier? Explain.

11:35 p.m. | Comprehension: Drawing Conclusions

  • Has Jonathan’s attitude toward the war changed at this point in the novel? How do you know?
  • Analyze the behavior of the Corporal.

11:50 p.m.–5:30 a.m. | Literary Elements: Suspense and Climax

  • Describe how Avi builds the story to this point. Consider critiquing as well as reporting on this.
  • How are Jonathan and the Corporal getting along?
  • What ideas about being a soldier are offered in this section?

5:35 a.m.–6:10 a.m. | Comprehension: Building Background

  • Have you ever been in a situation like Jonathan’s, in which you had to do something you didn’t want to do? Describe it. Be sure to include your feelings.
  • Describe the different groups of people involved in the Revolutionary War.
  • Sequence the action in this section. Describe the climax of the story.

6:13 a.m.–10:30 a.m. | Comprehension: Predicting Outcomes

  • Why do you think Jonathan destroyed the gun? What might the gun symbolize?
  • Did you find the ending of the story satisfying? Explain.

Planet Book Club's Review

We would like to introduce Planet Book Club's student book reviewers: Phoebe and Charles.

Note to Our Readers: You will notice that the book gets two reviewers. Why? Because we believe two opinions are generally more helpful than one opinion. Remember that people have completely unique sets of experiences that shape how they think and feel about things. Something else to keep in mind: Even perfectly pleasant human beings can have cranky days, lazy days, and confused days. Let's face it—we can't be thoughtful, clear-headed, and fair every moment of our lives. Our reviewers, though friendly and occasionally brilliant, are only human. So, to be fair to you and to each book, we always give two points of view. That way, if one reviewer is having a bad day and seems completely out to lunch, you can perhaps connect with the other reviewer. Got it? Good.

Knowing something about the reviewers might help you to understand their opinions. So, let's get to know them:

Planet Book Club Reviewer Phoebe

Greetings. This is Phoebe. My sign is Leo, my personal planet is Jupiter, my favorite color is purple, my lucky number is 3, and I was born in the year of the dragon. In my free time I work with white socks—decorating them and selling them to friends and family. I also like to sit beside the cool rock fountain I got at the mall last year and listen to music. I love English, math, and art and hope to be a massage therapist or a clothing designer one day. Here is what I think about the book...

Phoebe: We've all had them—those moments when we ask "How on earth did I get myself into this??" You might ask yourself this question when you stand at the end of a diving board, about to plunge into a cold swimming pool. Or when you take the stage at the school talent show and catch your first glimpse of the audience. Jonathan, the thirteen-year-old main character of Avi's The Fighting Ground, experiences one of these moments in a BIG way. Of course, his situation is of a more serious nature—he finds himself in the middle of a bloody battle of the American Revolution. And he actually chooses to be there! His loving parents want him to stay safe at home, but Jonathan cannot ignore the local tavern bell calling men to arms. Why does he want so badly to be a soldier? Does being a soldier turn out to be everything he thought it would be? Will he survive his daring plunge into the brutal war? You will know the answer to these questions by the time you reach the final page of this terrific novel. The entire story takes place in a twenty-four-hour period—the most intense twenty-four hours in a boy's life.

Some of you might be thinking, "War stories don't interest me," or "I have nothing in common with this kid." Well, I don't like war stories either. Avi's novel is not just another war story. And you might have more in common with thirteen-year-old Jonathan than you think. Have you ever been in a hurry to be treated as an adult? Have you ever had a difficult experience that taught you a valuable lesson? Have you ever felt conflicted inside? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then you do have something in common with Jonathan. The Fighting Ground is a novel about growing up and learning through experience. It is about finding the true meaning of courage. It is about discovering that people and situations are not always either right and wrong, or good and bad; they are usually far more complicated. These meaningful themes, combined with an exciting plot and a unique format, make The Fighting Ground a novel worth reading.

Planet Book Club Reviewer Charles

Hey—this is Charles. I like to write poetry, play football, play drums, and cook. I'm really good at making spaghetti sauce. My goal is to be a famous author and chef someday and get invited to give talks and speeches all over the country. I would really like to read one of my poems at a presidential inauguration. I would also like to write a book that combines recipes, poetry, and short stories. Here's what I have to say about The Fighting Ground...

Charles: I've always wanted to be one of those reviewers who is quoted on the back cover of a book. They always sound so wise and important. And, the quotations they give are so short, how much of the book do they really have to read? I will craft my comments with this goal in mind.

"Staggering drama . . . Avi hits a home run . . . he sketches a striking portrait of a boy's struggle for survival . . . it is a lesson about life . . . it would make a fine video game."

I'll be submitting my comments to Avi's publisher, so look for them when the next edition of the book comes out.