The Beet Fields: Memories of a Sixteenth Summer

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For a 16-year-old boy out in the world alone for the first time, every day's an education in the hard work and boredom of migrant labor; every day teaches him something more about friendship, or hunger, or profanity, or lust--always lust. He learns how a poker game, or hitching a ride, can turn deadly. He discovers the secret sadness and generosity to be found on a lonely farm in the middle of nowhere. Then he joins up with a carnival and becomes a grunt, running a ride and shilling for the geek show. He's living the hard carny life and beginning to see the world through carny eyes. He's tough. Cynical. By the end of the summer he's pretty sure he knows it all. Until he meets Ruby.
Curriculet Details
22 Questions
25 Annotations
3 Quizzes

This free digital curriculum for high school students (grades 9-10) contains interactive videos exploring the leveraging of source material and Mexican/Hispanic culture as well as annotations describing references to dealing with grief and 1950's icons Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, and Jayne Mansfield. Students will explore the themes of coming of age and overcoming obstacles. The Common Core aligned questions, answers and quizzes in this free online unit will increase student engagement in the book while supporting reading comprehension.

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Homework #9

Watch the video below to learn more about how authors draw on other sources for inspiration in their writing. Gary Paulsen often draws inspiration from his own life experiences and incorporates them into his stories and novels. If you have read any other works by Paulsen, you might recognize events or experiences in this novel from other things he has written. (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter One

Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up? 
What is being expressed in this paragraph? 
By using an inflation calculator, you can determine how much a dollar in 1955 would be worth today. In 1955, one dollar was worth about what $9 is worth today. 
What is being implied in the highlighted passage? 
The video below shows how to make corn tortillas at home. This is not exactly the process the women in the book followed, but the video will give you an idea of what they had to do to make all the tortillas they ate. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is NOT a reason the boy felt so good about a simple meal like beans and tortillas? 
Lots of people don't like pigeons; the birds are sometimes referred to as "rats with wings". But pigeons are actually interesting birds. Learn more about them at the website below. (This annotation contains a link)
What is the effect of this sudden change in events? 

Chapter Two

We tend to associate the word "lust" with sexual desire, but the old man here is referring to more than just sex. He is speaking of lust in terms of wanting everything -- lust for love, life, people, things, possessions, etc. 
Pigeons are not typical American dinner fare, but the boy and the other workers don't seem at all put off by eating pigeons. What might be some reasons why they are eating these birds so heartily? Make references to the text when developing your response. 

Chapter Three

Rattlesnakes are easily identified by the diamond pattern on their skin or the telltale-sound of the rattle on their tail. While they are mostly concentrated in Texas and Arizona, rattlesnakes can be found anywhere from Canada all the way south into South America. (This annotation contains an image)
What word could be used to describe this action? 
A fandango is similar to flamenco. The video below can give you an idea what the music and dancing might be like. (This annotation contains a video)
Chapters 1 - 3 
Do you think the boy made a good decision to stay and work driving the tractor? Why or why not? Use what you have learned so far from the text to help you elaborate on your response. 

Chapter Four

Hank Williams was one of America's first country music stars. His son, Hank Williams, Jr., followed in his footsteps and is still a popular country music artist. (This annotation contains a link)
How should the boy handle this situation? Provide your insights and advice to him. Base your suggestion on what you know about Bill, the boy, and the concerns the boy expressed in the highlighted passage. 
Poker is a popular game. Some people play it for fun, and some people play it for money -- sometimes big money like the men in the story. The website below explains the rules of poker, the order of hands, and strategies for playing poker. This might help you understand what is about to happen in the poker game in the book! (This annotation contains a link)
Why did Bill give the boy all that money? 

Chapter Five

You are about half-way through the book. What is the main character's name? Did you notice you haven't been given his name, only that he is always called "the boy?" Do you think there is any significance to this? 
What effect does this turn of events have on the reader? 
The photo below shows a jail cell. How closely does it resemble the one the boy just described? (This annotation contains an image)
Why is the boy saying that he did all the things in the highlighted passage "without meaning to"? 
The highlighted text is just one of many similes Paulsen uses in his writing. Pay attention to the similes when you come across them. What effect do they have on you when you read them? Why does Paulsen use them? 
The vivid description of the crash and the driver's death is an example of which literary device? 
Meadowlarks are found all over the central and western United States. You might not have seen a meadowlark, but chances are you have heard them; their song is very distinctive. The website below gives you information about meadowlarks; there is even a tab you can choose to hear the sound a meadowlark makes. (This annotation contains a link)
What is the old woman implying about her son? 
The old woman is referring to World War II. 
What effect on the reader does this statement have? 

Chapter Six

If you use the define feature to look at the definition for "hand" the way it used in this sentence, you won't find a meaning that makes sense in context. The word hand here is used to mean helper, assistant, or worker. 
It is normal and expected for someone to grieve over the death of a loved one, but the old woman seems to be having a particularly difficult time accepting the death of her son. The website below talks about grief and complicated grief. Read a little bit about complicated grief. Is this what the old woman is experiencing? (This annotation contains a link)
Quiz Chapters 4 - 6 
What is the boy feeling about leaving the old woman? Why is he feeling this way? Be sure to mention specific details from the text to develop your response. 

Chapter Seven

The Tilt-a-Whirl is an old but popular carnival ride. The video below shows a first-person perspective of what it is like to ride on a Tilt-a-Whirl. Does this seem like a ride you would enjoy? (This annotation contains a video)
Ruby has been mentioned more than once so far in this book, but you don't know who she is yet. What literary device would this be an example of? 
While Bobby says there are no real wild men from Borneo, there is indeed a real place called Borneo. You can learn more about that island at the website below. (This annotation contains a link)

Chapter Eight

Make a prediction: do you think the boy is going to learn a lot of good things, or a lot of not-so-good things, working for the carnival? What makes you think that? Use what you have read so far to help you develop your response. 
"Gedunk" is a slang term for food sold at a snack bar. 
From Bobby's description, what seems to be the main priority of the carnival workers? 
To appreciate the image Paulsen is creating here, see the picture below that is from the 1933 release of the movie King Kong. (This annotation contains a link)
What does Bobby mean when he says that killing more than one chicken per day "softens the act too much"? 
To help you imagine what Ruby might look like, the compilation image below shows the women referenced in the highlighted text. In the upper left corner is Marilyn Monroe; in the bottom center frame is Jane Russell; and in the bottom right pane is Jayne Mansfield. (This annotation contains an image)

Chapter Nine

Why does the boy say he loves Ruby? 
Mickey Spillane was an American author noted for his crime novels featuring his signature character, detective Mike Hammer. 
What does it mean that, "Bobby, the other men in the tent, the canvas walls, the pitiful music..." were all gone? 
Why did the boy lie about his age? Do you remember how old he really is? 


The term "infantry" refers to foot soldiers. They are the ones who fight the ground war and see the most combat. How do you think the boy will like being in the infantry? 
Quiz Chapters 7 - Epilogue 
Do you think being in the army will do the boy "...a world of good"? Why or why not? Use what you know of the boy and his life to develop your answer.