ABOUT THIS BOOK
In this poignant novel, Armpit, a character from the critically acclaimed novel Holes, takes lessons learned at Camp Green Lake and sets out to turn his life around one small step at a time.
Armpit has been home from Camp Green Lake two years, and he is still trying to prove that he can turn his life around. He manages to get a job digging trenches for a landscape company, save a little money, enroll in school, and avoid violent situations. In spite of his efforts, he finds that he is the victim of his past. The only person who truly believes in him is Ginny, a 10-year-old neighbor with cerebral palsy. When X-Ray, a buddy from Camp Green Lake appears with a get-richquick scheme, Armpit succumbs to the plan of his fast-talking friend, and winds up in a brawl at a Kaira DeLeon concert. This leads to a chance encounter with the teen pop sensation, a glimpse at her behind-the-scenes music world, and another chance to gain control of his life one small step at a time.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Louis Sachar is the bestselling author of the award-winning novel Holes, There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes, and the Marvin Redpost series, among many others. Small Steps is his latest novel and features two characters featured in Holes.
Ask students to write a journal entry about a time when they had to make a tough choice between right and wrong. Have them include the following points: What contributed to their decision? How did their decision affect others? Was the outcome worth it? Encourage them to share their journal entries in class. Instruct students to read the newspaper for several days and bring in articles where people have been in situations that required them to make a personal choice that could have a life-changing impact on them or others. Share the articles in class, and discuss whether the choices they made were positive or negative.
DISCUSSION AND WRITING
Armpit feels that the way to turn his life around is to set goals. His five goals are: graduate from high school; get a job; save money; avoid violent situations; and lose the name Armpit. Ask students what Armpit’s greatest obstacles are in achieving his goals? Explain the metaphor “his life would be like walking upstream in a rushing river.” (p. 4) At what point does the river appear to be rushing out of control? How does Armpit almost give up hope of achieving his goals?
RACISM AND PREJUDICE
Discuss the difference between overt and covert racism. Find examples of each type of racism in the novel. Armpit’s parents have an image of the type of people who go to rock concerts. Armpit tells them, “Just because people have tattoos or pierced tongues doesn’t mean they’re crazy.” (p. 94) Discuss the relationship between labeling, image, and prejudices. How are Armpit’s parents expressing a prejudice?
Armpit takes Ginny to the Kaira DeLeon concert. Why is his mother more worried for Ginny’s safety than her own mother? Discuss why Armpit’s mother hesitates when Ginny’s mother says, “You must be very proud of Theodore”? Why does the mayor’s telephone call at the end of the novel help Armpit’s mother look at him differently? Discuss ways X-Ray has proved to be untrustworthy. Why does Armpit allow himself to become involved with X-Ray’s get-rich scheme when he knows that he can’t trust him?
HONESTY AND BETRAYAL
Armpit knows that Coach Simmons has the reputation for giving better grades to football players. When he tells the coach that he intends to go out for football, Tatiana responds, “So you lied to him. Isn’t that kind of cheating?” (p. 29) How does Armpit justify his lie? X-Ray is hauled to police headquarters about the counterfeit tickets, and tries to blame Armpit. He says, “Armpit is not someone you can say no to. I’m talking big, and mean, and tough.” (p. 183) Why doesn’t he tell X-Ray that he heard the entire conversation? Debate why he doesn’t realize that one betrayal leads to another with X-Ray.
One Step Beyond
1. Explain what Armpit means when he says, “It wasn’t Camp Green Lake that released him from his anger. It was coming home and meeting Ginny.” (p. 117) What might Armpit and Ginny teach the other characters in the book about taking small steps?
2. Discuss how making bad choices are sometimes driven by temptation and peer pressure. Role-play a conversation between Armpit and X-Ray where Armpit refuses X-Ray’s get-rich scheme.
3. Read aloud the entire song that Armpit hears Kaira DeLeon sing on radio at the end of the novel. How does her song make him think about his new goals? The last two lines read: Then maybe I’ll discover Who I am along the way . . . What is the most important discovery that Armpit has made about himself?
Armpit and Ginny are both taking small steps in their lives. Write a letter that Armpit may nwrite to Ginny from California explaining to her the consequences of taking a giant step.
Armpit tells Ginny, “I don’t know what they can do with someone with no heart and soul.” (p. 91) Write the lyrics for a blues song that focuses on the heart and soul of one of the above characters (e.g., The Heart and Soul of X-Ray).
“Fans . . . will eagerly follow the sometimes stumbling, sometimes sprinting progress of Sachar’ fallible yet heroic protagonist.” —Booklist, Starred
An ALA Schneider Family Book Award
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
A Bank Street College of Education Best Children’
Book of the Year
A IRA—BC Children’ Choice
An NCSS—BC Notable Social Studies
Trade Book for Young People
A CCBC Choice
A Colorado Children’ Book Award
An Indiana Young Hoosier Award
A Kentucky Bluegrass Award
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