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The Giver

by Lois Lowry

Book Club for Middle School outlines a complete theme-based unit with Book Club lessons focusing on The Giver.

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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 Giver.

A Synopsis

Twelve-year-old Jonas will soon take part in his community’s Ceremony of Twelve and receive his Assignment—the career he will have throughout his adult life. The community long ago eradicated poverty, fear, pain, and disorder of any kind. To maintain this “perfect” world, however, individual choice and freedom of expression are sacrificed. People are assigned careers by a Committee of Elders. Families are contrived units that operate under strict guidelines. Behavior and language are carefully monitored, and people deemed inferior or burdensome are “released” from the community, never to be seen again.

Jonas, like everyone else in the community, has never known any other life and is generally comfortable and content. At the Ceremony, however, Jonas’s life changes more than he ever could have imagined. Instead of being assigned a typical job, such as Nurturer or Engineer, Jonas is singled out for the most honored job in the community: Receiver of Memory. He is to receive special training from a community Elder known only as The Giver. The Giver alone holds memories of another time—when lives were filled with pain and complications as well as colors, choices, and true pleasures. He must now pass these carefully guarded memories on to Jonas.

At first, Jonas is afraid to enter the strange world of memories. After several training sessions, however, he is thoroughly repulsed by his own world. He suddenly knows the abuses that occur in his controlled community and sees everything that he, his family, and his friends have been denied. One day Jonas, with the support of The Giver, boldly escapes the boundaries of his community in search of freedom and truth.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Meet the Author and Read Reviews

  • Lois Lowry — This is the author's official website. It includes a biography, speeches, videos, and other fun things, including a part about The Giver.
  • Learn More About Lois Lowry — This page has a photo of the author, the text of her Newbery Award acceptance speech from 1994, and other articles.
  • A Video Interview with Lois Lowry — The Reading Rockets site offers video clips from an interview with Lois Lowry, as well as a transcript of the interview and a biography.
  • Lois Lowry Interview Transcript — This site presents an interview between the author and Scholastic's Online Reading Club.
  • Common Sense Media — This review of the book gives it 5 out of 5 stars. You can read details about the book and user reviews.
  • The New York Times — This site provides another review of the book.

Explore Related Topics

  • American Library Association: Banned Books Week — The American Library Association holds Banned Book Week each year to celebrate people's freedom to read. This website tells the history of the celebration and addresses the topics of inclusion and intellectual freedom. The Giver, which explores themes of individual freedom, is on the list of frequently challenged children's books.
  • Library of Congress: Digital Collections — This site is the keeper of some of America's most interesting and important memories. Visitors can reach into the past and look up a specific event, invention, or person in history or can find out what happened on a specific date in history. Learn how people and events of the past affect our lives today for better or worse.
  • Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of First Names — In the world of The Giver, all words must be chosen very carefully, and naming is an important ritual. This website can help anyone who wants to take a closer look at the meanings behind names in many languages. It allows visitors to research names and access a variety of related links.
  • Exploratorium: The Memory Exhibition — Study the fascinating world of memory and the human brain, learn how we keep and access our memories, and examine the ways in which we can use our powers of memory. The site includes articles, online exhibits, activities, and illustrations.
  • Smithsonian Libraries: The Science of Color — This informative site explains color from a scientific perspective, from Aristotle's theory of color to Isaac Newton's work with prisms to ways of testing for color blindness. For a quick overview of how the human eye perceives colors, see this article from the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

Related Readings/Other Media Available Online

  • "Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed," and "The Lottery" — These two classic stories explore the tension between community and individuality. "Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed" appears in Ray Bradbury's A Medicine for Melancholy and Other Stories. "The Lottery" appears in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories. You may also find these stories in other anthologies.
  • "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost — Read the text of Frost's famous poem about making one's own choices in life.
  • "The Unknown Citizen" by W. H. Auden — Read Auden's poem about the life of a man who lived his life as a "number" and never explored his individuality.
  • "Warning" by Jenny Joseph — Joseph's poem—which begins, "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple"—expresses ideas about nurturing individuality and a free spirit.
  • The Wave — Watch this 1981 made-for-television drama. In it, a high school teacher carries out a social experiment to demonstrate how easily people move to follow a charismatic leader—regardless of the leader's message and actions.

Big Theme Questions

When is it best to conform to the wishes or rules of others?

What problems are avoided when people conform?

What new problems does conformity create?

When is it important to act as an individual and stand up for one’s own beliefs?

How important is it for people to have choices?

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 for Middle School. The Lesson Plan includes blackline masters for 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.

Chapters 1–3 | Response to Literature: The Tripod Log Format

  • Begin to list characters in the book. Write one line about each character.
  • Identify places in the text where Lowry builds suspense or raises questions in your mind.
  • At this point in your reading, does Jonas’s community seem like a good place to live? Why?

Chapters 4–5 | Response to Literature: Extended Responses to Text

  • Would you want to be an elderly person in Jonas’s community? Why?
  • What reaction does Jonas get from his parents when he describes his dream? What do you suppose is the reason for this reaction?
  • In Jonas’s community, why do you think so much importance is placed on the sharing of feelings and dreams?

Chapters 6–7 | Comprehension: Build Vocabulary

  • Find some interesting words in the chapters you’ve read so far.
  • How would you describe the special language of Jonas’s community, which includes words such as Assignment and Stirrings?
  • In our own society, how do we use words to distance ourselves from things that are unpleasant or difficult to face (e.g., the phrase passed away for died)?

Chapters 8–9 | Response to Literature: Me and the Book

  • If you could give Jonas one of your memories, what would it be and why?
  • Put yourself in Jonas’s place after he learns of his selection. How might you feel in this situation?
  • “Now, for the first time in his twelve years of life, Jonas felt separate, different.” Recall a time when you felt different and alone. In what ways was your experience similar to and different from Jonas’s experience?
  • Have you ever been given a responsibility that you felt you didn’t deserve or worried you couldn’t handle? Explain.
  • In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of Jonas’s world?

Chapters 10–11 | Comprehension: Compare and Contrast

  • In a Venn diagram, compare something from your life to something in Jonas’s life. (Think about family, school, friends, etc.)
  • Use the tripod format to respond to Jonas’s first experience with The Giver. You might focus on the events of the meeting, words and phrases that give the meeting a feeling of mystery, and how you would feel if you were Jonas.
  • Describe your first impression of The Giver. What details about this man and his function in the community stand out to you?

Chapters 12–13 | Literary Elements: Author’s Craft

  • Write about an image from Chapter 12 or 13 that you find particularly appealing or disturbing. What specific words and phrases bring this image alive for you?
  • What sensory details (sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste) help you visualize Jonas’s experiences on the sled?
  • Draw a picture based on an image in The Giver.
  • Jonas’s fleeting glimpses of color begin to take on special meaning as he learns more about them. What does color come to symbolize?
  • What do the bridge and the river symbolize for Jonas?
  • The more Jonas learns, the more he begins to question. Find an example of foreshadowing in his conversations with The Giver.

Chapters 14–15 | Responding to Literature: Dialogue

  • Respond to two of these or to any other quotations that caught your attention. Explain the circumstances surrounding the dialogue. What do the words reveal about the character or situation?
  • “If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things!”
  • “We really have to protect people from wrong choices.”
  • “It gives us wisdom. Without wisdom I could not fulfill my function of advising the Committee of Elders when they call upon me.”
  • “But why can’t everyone have the memories? I think it would seem a little easier if the memories were shared.”
  • “They selected me—and you—to lift that burden from themselves.”
  • “Back and back and back.”

Chapters 16–17 | Response to Literature: Favorite Story Part

  • What have been your favorite and least favorite parts of the story so far? Explain your response.
  • In The Giver’s memory, Jonas sees candles and a fireplace. He recognizes that indoor fires are “risky” but at the same time enjoys their light and warmth. What might the fire symbolize for Jonas?
  • “‘There could be love,’ Jonas whispered.” Respond to this quotation.
  • Explain why Jonas has such overwhelming feelings of loss and frustration when he sees his friends Fiona and Asher.

Chapters 18–19 | Response to Literature: Story Characters

  • Describe two characters from The Giver in creative ways (for example, a character profile or map, a personal ad, a job application, etc.).
  • Discuss characters or events in Chapters 18–19 using the tripod format. For each section of the tripod, you may write about a topic of your own choosing or you may respond to these three topics.
  • Explain what happened to Rosemary and why.
  • How does Lowry show The Giver’s feelings toward release?
  • Describe how you felt as you read about the release of the baby.

Chapters 20–21 | Comprehension: Sequence of Story Events

  • Make a sequence chart of important events in the book so far.
  • “She’s very efficient at her work, your red-haired friend. Feelings are not part of the life she’s learned.” Explain what The Giver means in describing Fiona’s attitude toward release, using your knowledge of Jonas’s community.
  • Do you understand Jonas’s decision, or do you believe he is wrong? Explain your response.

Chapters 22–23 | Literary Elements: Author’s Purpose and Genre

  • Describe images from Jonas’s journey that help you understand his experience.
  • What do you think happens to Jonas and Gabriel? What in the text makes you think this?
  • Do you like the book’s ending? If yes, explain why. If no, rewrite it.
  • Describe what you think happens to Jonas’s community after he leaves.
  • What might the music that Jonas hears symbolize?
  • Is The Giver a science fiction novel? Give details to support your opinion.