A remarkable novel about one of the most important and loving relationships in Gary Paulsen's life. The wonderful grandmother seen through the eyes of a young boy inThe Cookcampreaches out to him at 14, offering him a haven from his harsh and painful family life. She arranges a summer job for him on the farm where she is a cook for Olaf and Gunnar, elderly brothers. Farm life offers the camaraderie and routine of hard work, good food, peaceful evenings spent making music together, even learning to dance. Life with Alida gives the boy strength and faith in himself, drawing him away from the edge and into the center of life.
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"Homecoming," the first section of this book, serves as a present-day introduction for two of the main characters. The next section of the book, however, is written as a flashback, or a retelling of events from the past. As you continue reading this book, think about why the author chooses to structure the novel's events this way.
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. Use the define feature for the word "hustling" in this passage. Then, answer the question that follows.
Which definition of "hustling" makes the most sense within the context of the rest of the passage?
Based on the author's description of his routines, which of the following words best describes the main character, or protagonist, of this novel?
Notice that the boy's name is not mentioned in the greeting of this letter. In fact, you have probably noticed by now that his name has not been mentioned at all. When you reach the end of the novel, consider why you think the author chooses to leave the boy unnamed.
When you read a book, notice how the author chooses to structure the events of the plot. Compare this structure to your favorite TV show: is everything revealed all at once, or are details revealed gradually, in episodes? To learn more about how a story's plot unfolds, watch the video below. What do you predict the next episode of this story will be about, and what new information will you learn about the main character as a result? (This annotation contains a video)
The author writes with imagery, or descriptive language using the five senses, to introduce Gunnar Nelson. What do all of these details, from his clothing to his speech to his car, indicate about what sort of person Gunnar is? As you come across other characters, pay attention to how the author uses imagery to describe them in great detail.
Why does the boy hope that he and Gunnar don't see a policeman?
What does Gunnar's attitude about the brakes indicate about him as a character?
This novel is the sequel to another novel by Gary Paulsen, which was also about this boy and his grandmother. In fact, both of these books are considered to be semi-autobiographical. Gary Paulsen had a difficult childhood, struggled in school, and left home at age fourteen. For more information about the author and the influence his own life has on his work, watch the video below. After watching, answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a video)
Quiz One, Chapters 1-2
What connections can you make between details revealed in the video and what you've read so far?
The image below shows a picture of an outhouse on a farm in Minnesota. What other similarities do you see between this photo and the way the farm has been described? (This annotation contains an image)
When Gunnar says that the cows are "busting," he doesn't use this word literally. This is an example of an idiom, a type of figurative language in which the literal meaning is different from the meaning which is commonly understood. For more examples of idioms, watch the video below. When you continue reading, look for other examples of idioms and consider why the author includes them. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on what you can infer from details within the text, why would the boy "never remember her for the rest of his life without flour in her hair"?
This passage contains several examples of imagery and figurative language, including a metaphor describing the cows as "huge black-and-white ghosts." For more about recognizing similes, metaphors, and other types of figurative language, watch the video below. Consider how figurative language impacts this passage, and then answer the following question. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following best describes the impact of the author's use of figurative language and imagery in the passage above?
The video below shows an example of a hand-cranked milk separator in action. Today, this process is done with electricity. However, the Nelson Farm does not have electricity or running water. Does this bother the boy? Would it bother you? As you continue reading, look for other details about farm life that might be different from what the boy is used to. (This annotation contains a video)
Here, the author introduces a particular type of conflict, or problem within the story. The video below explains the most common types of conflict in literature. Which type or types best describes the conflict between the boy and the geese? (This annotation contains a video)
Based on what you can infer from details in the passage, how do Olaf and Gunnar Nelson feel about farming?
The idea of change or development is essential to any story. In this case, the boy's arrival at the farm for the summer will not only cause him to develop as a person, but his presence is already creating change for Olaf, Gunnar, and Alida as well. Continue to look for ways in which each character develops as a result of his or her interactions with one another and the environment.
The boy feels that this is the "strangest" place he has ever worked. Based on details he has already shared, such as being whipped by a previous employer, why do you think the Nelsons' farm is strange to him? Use evidence from the text to explain your answer.
The picture below shows draft horses pulling farm equipment through a corn field. How do the details of this picture compare with details in the text? (This annotation contains an image)
What does the boy think Gunnar is doing when Gunnar explains "krokono" to him?
Quiz Two, Chapters 3-5
How is life at the farm with Alida different from the boy's life in town with his parents? Use details from the text to help you summarize how life is different here.
The author often describes meals and food in great detail. Describing the process of melting butter and making homemade sausage, as shown below, can help the reader better understand the setting and culture of the farm. What do these details reveals about farm life in general and the Nelsons and Alida in particular? (This annotation contains an image)
The link below is to a site that is dedicated to preserving old games such as crokinole, which the Nelsons call "krokono." How does playing this game differ from the boy's usual experiences with adults? What is he learning from his time on the farm? (This annotation contains a link)
It might be hard to image playing bones, so watch the video below to get an idea for how it is done. Do you think this is something that Gunnar has done often? (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is most likely the reason why Olaf and Gunnar look away from the boy when he says he doesn't know how to dance?
Why does the boy have "no memory" of what his grandmother has said to him?
The setting of the farm and the company of the Nelsons and Alida have changed the boy's perspective on life. When a character undergoes a change as a result of the events in a story, that character is called dynamic. Think of a movie or another book you know well. Was the main character of that work also dynamic?
Why does Gunnar feel most girls did not speak to him when he was younger?
Gunnar's art is lifelike and beautiful to the boy. In this passage, when the boy feels like he can hear the carvings talking and giggling, the author includes an example of personification. This is a type of figurative language in which human qualities are given to nonhuman things. What effect does the use of personification have on this passage? (This annotation contains an image)
Based on what you know about the boy's character, how will this news about going to a dance with a lot of people make him feel? Use textual evidence to support your answer.
Why does the boy agree to attend the dance when it is clear he doesn't want to go?
Which of the following is not a reason why the boy feels uncomfortable?
The author uses hyperbole, or an extreme exaggeration, to demonstrate just how shy and nervous the boy is in this situation. Why does the walk to get a drink feel like "an impossible journey" to him?
Based on how the two words are used in context, what is the relationship between a violin and a fiddle?
Before coming back to Alida and the farm, the boy lived a life of isolation, fear, and monotony. On the farm, he has seen and experienced new things. In this short, simple speech, Alida sums up the book's theme, or message: all aspects of life must be experienced and appreciated fully, even those things which might be frightening. The boy wouldn't have learned so much if he had been left in his basement by the furnace. Based on the biography of the author you watched earlier, how did Gary Paulsen apply this message to his own life?
This section of the book is its final episode. How does it compare to the opening scene of the novel, before the flashback begins?
Why did the boy come to the farm?
Quiz Three, Chapters 6-8