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Monkey Island

by Paula Fox

Book Club: A Literature-Based Curriculum discusses Monkey Island within a themed multi-book unit along with three other stories Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry, and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.

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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 Monkey Island.

A Synopsis

Eleven-year-old Clay Garrity suddenly finds himself on his own in New York City. Clay thinks back on the events that led to his situation. First his father lost his job and, unable to cope, left the family. His mother found a good job but was forced to quit because of her pregnancy. Then she abandoned Clay, leaving him alone in the sparse hotel room where they had been living. When a neighbor suggests calling the police, Clay leaves the hotel; he is afraid that Social Services might take him away, and then he would lose his mother forever. He ends up living in a park with two homeless men, Buddy and Calvin, who, over the course of several harrowing months, become Clay’s new family. The men do the best they can to keep Clay warm, fed, and safe. But life on the streets is hard, and Clay ends up hospitalized with pneumonia. He is eventually reunited with his mother, who has been searching for her son and putting her life back together again. Clay visits the park at least once a week to look for Buddy and Calvin. When he finally finds Buddy, he learns that Calvin has died. His conversation with Buddy helps him appreciate the luck that led him to good friends and eventually back to his mother and new baby sister.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for Monkey Island by Paula Fox.

About the Author and the Book

  • Paula Fox — A brief biography including some of her works is provided by The Pennsylvania Center for the Book site.
  • Interview with Paula Fox — At this site, read an interview provided by the Paris Review. It talks about Paula Fox's life, childhood, and beginnings as a writer.
  • Paula FoxThe Guardian U.S. Edition provides a biography and a description of some of Paula Fox's works.
  • Publishers Weekly Book Review — This site allows visitors to read what the magazine said about the book when it was first published.
  • Kirkus Book Review — At this site, visitors can read a review about Monkey Island published by the magazine Kirkus.

Explore the Setting of the Novel

  • New York CityA View on Cities created this site. It offers quick information about the city and links to maps, photos, and popular attractions.
  • Homeless Kids — Covenant House is an organization founded in 1972 to help homeless kids escape the streets. It has a page dedicated to those kids and their stories. Stories similar to Clay's, but factual.
  • New York City Homelessness — The Coalition for the Homeless provides this site with information on New York City's homeless population. The site also gives includes comprehensive statistics and historical data about homelessness.

Related Topics

  • Explain Homelessness — Education.com offers this site. It explains how to talk to children about homelessness. It also offers a list of do's and don'ts.
  • Facts and Figures: Homelessness — PBS created this site to answer some of the major questions regarding homelessness. On the bottom of the page it gives hints on how anybody can help.
  • Poverty — The Children's Defense Fund talks about children and poverty. It offers facts, reasons, and some personal stories.
  • How You Can Help — "PBS Kids" provides a list of ideas about how to help poverty-stricken people by holding a food drive, collecting old clothes, and just treating people with respect.

Big Theme Questions

What is the meaning of value?

What do you consider valuable?

How do you determine the value of something?

Why are some things more valuable than others?

What intangibles—things that cannot be seen, touched, tasted, heard, or smelled—have value?

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 themed multi-book 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.


Chapter 1 | Literary Elements: Setting

  • What do you learn about setting (the time and place in which events occur) in this first reading assignment?
  • What kinds of things seem to be valued in the setting in which the book takes place? Explain.

Chapter 2 | Comprehension: Characters

  • Describe the main character Clay. Explain how the author reveals his traits (provide details, sample dialogue, description).
  • What is most important to Clay at this point in the book?
  • So far, which characters do you like or dislike?

Chapter 3 | Response to Literature: A Little Help from Our Friends

  • Describe a time when a relative, a friend, a neighbor, or even a person you don’t know very well helped you with something. Maybe the person did you a favor, gave you something you needed, made you laugh, or just gave you some good advice. How did you feel when you were helped?
  • Describe a character (or characters) from your reading who help(s) Clay in some way. How is he affected?

Chapter 4 | Literary Elements: Imagery

  • What images does the author use to help you see a scene or moment in the book? Write down specific words and phrases that stand out to you.
  • In a paragraph, use imagery to describe something that’s valuable or important to you.

Chapter 5 | Literary Elements: Point of View

  • Describe the point of view of the narrator. Support your response with details, words, and phrases.
  • Different people value different things. Something that seems unimportant or foolish to one person could be extremely valuable to another person. Describe something that is valuable to a specific character in your reading.

Chapter 6 | Comprehension: Plot and Sequence; Prediction

  • What questions are raised in your mind by events in the book? What is one thing you predict will happen next?
  • Describe one event in the book so far that has had a strong effect on Clay.
  • Does Clay now value different things than he valued at the beginning of the book? Explain.

Chapter 7 | Response to Literature: Making Value Choices

  • In today’s reading, what struggle or problem does Clay deal with?
  • How would you feel if you were in his place? What worries would you have?

Chapter 8 | Composition: Diary Entry

  • What advice would you give Clay if you could speak with him?
  • Review the predictions you made earlier in the unit. Have you been surprised by anything? Explain.
  • Has anything in the book made you angry or sad? Explain.

Chapter 9 | Response to Literature: Big Theme Questions

  • What is your favorite part of the book so far? Why does this story part appeal to you?
  • Predict how the book will end. Give reasons for your predictions.
  • What role does setting play in shaping the values of characters?

Chapter 10 | Response to Literature: Analyzing Story Endings

  • Did you like the ending of the book? Why or why not?
  • What does Clay's experiences teach him about value?
  • Do you respect the choices and values of Clay? Why or why not?