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Sing Down the Moon

by Scott O'Dell

The Book Club Novel Guide outlines a complete theme-based unit with Book Club lesson plans focusing on Sing Down the Moon.

Buy the Novel Buy the Book Club Novel Guide

Below you will find a synopsis, further reading materials, discussion topics, and reviews that you might find useful during your teaching of Sing Down the Moon.

A Synopsis

Fourteen-year-old Bright Morning is a Navaho girl living in the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “shay”) in Arizona in the mid-1860s. One day as she and a friend are tending their sheep, Spanish slavers kidnap them. They travel for several days until they come to a town where the girls are sold as slaves. Bright Morning vows that she will never smile in this place. Then she meets a Nez Percé girl who has a plan for escape. As they flee, the girls meet up with Tall Boy, the young man Bright Morning hopes to marry. The group continues toward home but arrives there only after a skirmish with some Spaniards. Tall Boy is wounded and loses the use of one arm.

Life returns to normal for a while until some Long Knives—American soldiers—arrive in the canyon and order the Navahos to leave. The Navahos remove to a high mesa for a while, but when they run out of food and must return to the canyon, the soldiers force them to begin a long journey southward. As they walk, they are joined by many other Native Americans who are being forced from their homes. The journey, known as the Long Walk, is treacherous, and many people die along the way.

Finally Bright Morning and her people reach a camp called Bosque Redondo. Tall Boy and Bright Morning are married, but they are separated when Tall Boy gets into a fight and is thrown in jail. Bright Morning, now pregnant, yearns to escape and have her baby at home. When Tall Boy breaks out of prison, she rouses him from his despair and convinces him to start the long journey back to the Canyon de Chelly.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell.

About the Author and the Book

  • Scott O'Dell — This is the official website of the author. Besides a biography, it lists his books, awards, and reader reviews.
  • Book Trailer — Watch a video trailer for the book and find some information about the author. This site is provided by Slimekids.
  • Interview with Scott O'Dell — This site offers an interview with Scott O'Dell from 1984 which was published in the The New York Times.
  • Crossword Puzzle — A puzzle that involves vocabulary from Sing Down the Moon is offered at this site.

Explore the Setting of the Novel

Learn about Navajo History

  • The Navajo — This site traces the history of the Navajo people from their migration to the Southwest in the 15th century up to the Navajo culture today.
  • Navajo Timeline — Although not put together by an historian, this timeline seems to be an accurate chronology of important Navajo events in the period from 1848-1868. A global perspective is given by the inclusion of world events for the same time period.
  • The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo — The New Mexico Office of the State Historian article is an illustrated description of the forced march of the Navajo to Bosque Redondo.
  • Photograph of Navajo Prisoners — A vivid sense of the circumstances and time period is captured in this photograph of some of the Navajo prisoners at Bosque Redondo.
  • Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson — This short biography looks at Kit Carson's life and involvement in the Civil War in New Mexico as well as the economic warfare he waged against the Navajo tribe.

Find Out about Navajo Culture

  • Explore the Navajo Nation — The information in this comprehensive look at all aspects of Navajo culture is presented in an enthusiastic and positive style.
  • Frequently Asked Questions — Through many questions and answers, a great deal is learned about the Navajo nation ­ language, customs, traditions, dress, etc. From this site, it is possible to move to more questions or go back to the Navajo Central home page.
  • Kinaalda—Womanhood Ceremony — A detailed examination of the components of the ceremony and their significance as well as references to sources of further information is found on this site.
  • Diné Clans — Harry Lapahie, a full-blooded Navajo, explains the clan names and clanship system, offering charts as well as text.
  • The Hogan — Charming sketches and straightforward explanation of the Navajo hogan are found on this site.
  • Navajo Weaving — The University of Arizona and the Arizona State Museum took a look at the history and techniques of Navajo weaving.

Investigate the Navajo Sheep

  • Navajo-Churro Sheep — The Navajo-Churro Sheep Breeders Association offers facts on the history and origin, the description, and the preservation of this rare breed of sheep. Many photographs accompany the text.

Big Theme Questions

Think back to a time when only Native Americans lived in North America. What do you think life was like for them?

Consider what happened when Europeans began to explore, settle, and expand land claims throughout North America. How did these activities change the lives of Native Americans?

Think about various groups of people who have been oppressed in the history of the United States and/or the world. What causes such oppression to happen? What can be learned from these events?

What kinds of things give people the strength to survive and overcome hardship and injustice?

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 the Book Club Novel Guide for Sing Down the Moon. 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.


Chapters 1–2 | Language Conventions: Responding to Sing Down the Moon

  • What do you think this book is going to be about? Why do you think so?
  • What is your first impression of the world in which Bright Morning lives? What details in the first two chapters stand out to you?

Chapters 3–5 | Comprehension: Summarizing

  • Summarize the story so far. You may use pictures(make sure they are labeled and detailed), flowcharts, concept webs, or text.
  • Put yourself in BrightMorning’s place. What thoughts and feelings would you be having at the end of Chapter 5?

Chapters 6–7 | Literary Elements: Genre—Historical Fiction

  • Think about the first seven chapters. Which parts of this book seem to be historically accurate and true? Which parts seem to be fictionalized, or created by the author? Use Think Sheet 5 to record your responses.
  • In Chapter 7 Bright Morning says, “I wanted to tell her more about the Canyon de Chelly, but my throat filled up with sadness.” What might Bright Morning miss most about her home?
  • How do you feel about Bright Morning’s situation? What would you do if you were she?

Chapters 8–9 | Comprehension: Sequencing

  • In these chapters, Bright Morning and her friends plan and begin to carry out an escape. Sequence this important event. You might use a flowchart, a numbered list, or some other format.
  • Pretend that you are one of the girls planning this escape. Write a brief diary entry about your feelings as the events in these two chapters unfold.

Chapters 10–12 | Comprehension: Visualizing

  • Choose one of the scenes from this section to illustrate. Make sure you include the details and vivid descriptions provided by O’Dell.
  • You probably have identified with one of the characters in the story by now. Name that character and analyze his or her traits. You may use a concept web or another format.

Chapters 13–14 | Comprehension: Compare and Contrast

  • Compare and contrast Sing Down the Moon with Sweetgrass or another story that features Native Americans. You may use a Venn diagram or another format.
  • Go back to your historical fiction chart and add any new events or items that have occurred in the last few chapters.

Chapters 15–16 | Language Conventions: Questioning

  • Write at least three good questions for your book club group.
  • Think about all you have learned about Native Americans. What else could the Navahos have done when the Long Knives arrived? Come up with at least two possible alternatives.

Chapters 17–18 | Literary Elements: Setting; Author’s Craft

  • Scott O’Dell sometimes tells smaller stories inside his main story. What is the story of Meadow Flower? Why do you think O’Dell included it in this book?
  • List the places that are named in this book. Which ones really exist? How do you know?
  • Plot a possible route for the Navahos’ journey, using the descriptions of the physical features of the land and the directions that Bright Morning includes in her narration.

Chapters 19–20 | Assessment: Student Self-Assessment

  • What stories might Bright Morning and Tall Boy tell their child to help him or her preserve the Navaho culture? Make notes and prepare to tell such a story to your group.

Chapters 21–22 | Literary Elements: Theme

  • Identify a theme that you see in this book and support it with examples from the story.
  • Revisit the character map you created after Chapter 12. Add new information from the chapters you’ve read since then, using a different color of pen or a different style of writing.
  • Look at the predictions we made yesterday for the book’s ending. What is your best prediction now about how the book will end? Why?

Chapter 23 and Postscript | Response to Literature: Exploring Response Types

  • Choose one of the themes from yesterday’s class chart and write a brief paragraph in support of it. Be sure to include specific examples from the story.
  • Think about how you feel right now, having just finished the book. Write, draw, or visually represent your feelings.
  • Revisit your prediction for the end of the book. How did you do? Were there any surprises? If so, what were they?