Check It Out Category: Nonfiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

The Other Wes Moore book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Other Wes Moore
Author: Wes Moore
Page Count: 233
Genre:  Memoir, pop sociology
Tone: Moving, fast-paced, thoughtful

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. What drove author Wes Moore to write to the prisoner Wes Moore? Why do you think prisoner Wes Moore wrote the author back?

2. Have you ever, or would you ever, write a prisoner? Why or why not?

3. What was the fate of author Wes Moore’s father? Do you think his father might have survived under other circumstances? (p. 15)

4. What was the fate of prisoner Wes Moore’s father?

5. What significance did fathers play in the lives of both Wes Moores?

6. Did both Wes Moores have strong mother figures? Do you think both mothers tried their best? Is there anything that either of them could have done differently?

7. Do you think one Wes Moore had a stronger family unit or a better support system while growing up? How can having a strong support system change a child’s life?

8. Outside of his family, who warned author Wes Moore about the bad path he was on? (police officer after he got caught tagging) Did Moore heed this warning? For how long? Why didn’t the change stick?

9. Author Wes Moore states, “Later in life I learned that the way many governors projected the numbers of beds they’d need for prison facilities was by examining the reading scores of third graders.” (p. 54) How did reading this make you feel? Why?

10. What allowed author Wes Moore to go to better schools than prisoner Wes Moore?

11. Author Wes Moore states, “Soon it became clear that the Riots were about more than the tragic death of Dr. King. They were about anger and hurt so extreme that rational thought was thrown out the window – these were people so deranged by frustration that they were burning down their own neighborhood.” (p. 19) Does this “deranged frustration” make sense to you? Are there places today’s America that feel like this?

12. Author Wes Moore talks about the Bronx in the 1980s and early 1990s as an apocalyptic place to be with drugs, burned out buildings, and crime everywhere. Are there still cities like this today? What causes cities to crumble like this? How does living in a neighborhood like this affect a person?

143. At what ages did both Wes Moores start to “go wrong”? Were you surprised by how young they were? What kind of crimes was author Wes Moore into? What about prisoner Wes Moore?

14. What was your first impression of author Wes Moore? What about your first impression of prisoner Wes Moore?

15. How did each Wes Moore respond to danger and aggression? Were their reactions the same?

16. How did Tony try to dissuade prisoner Wes Moore from following his illegal path? Why did it work or not work?

17. At one point, Mary, prisoner Wes Moore’s mother, flushed his drugs down the toilet. What did you think of her actions? Was it enough? Would you have done anything different?

18. Military school obviously benefited author Wes Moore. Do you think there were any other paths that could have set him on the straight and narrow?

19. Prisoner Wes Moore joined Job Corps. Did it help him? What did he go on to do after he exited the program? Why?

20. Prisoner Wes Moore continued to proclaim innocence, saying he wasn’t there for the robbery. Do you think the author believed him? Did you believe him? Do you think he should have been sentenced to life in prison?

21. What did author Wes Moore go on to do after exiting military school?

22. What do you think was the defining factor of why author Wes Moore stepped out of his cycle of destruction and prisoner Wes Moore did not?

23. What does education have to do with the path that each Wes Moore landed on then continued on?

24. What does racial privilege have to do with the stories of both Wes Moores?

25. What does economic privilege have to do with the stories of both Wes Moores?

26. Are racial privilege and economic privilege tied together? How so or how not?

27. Was there a topic you wished the author delved deeper into?

28. After the epilogue, there is “A Call to Action”. What is this section about? Why do you think the author put it in the book? Did reading The Other Wes Moore make you feel called to action? What other books have made you want to take action in the world?

29. If someone enjoyed reading The Other Wes Moore, what books would you recommend to them?

30. Are there any documentaries you would recommend to someone who enjoyed this book?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Wikispace guide to The Other Wes Moore
Brooklyn Public Library hosts Wes Moore
Interview with the Open Society Foundation
Interview with Oprah
Interview with Salon

If you liked The Other Wes Moore, try…

There are no Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz
Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough

There Are No Children Here book cover     Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria book coverWhatever it Takes book cover

Book Discussion Questions: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Outcasts United book cover

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: Outcasts United
Author: Warren St. John
Page Count: 307
Genre: Nonfiction
Tone: Uplifting, educational

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Has the book Outcasts United given you a better understanding of the lives of refugees? Did it change your opinions on refugees? If so, how?

2. Does Outcasts United fall into your normal reading patterns? How is this book similar or different to what you normally read?

3. Do you normally read on a local or a global scale? What is the worth of reading of local topics? What is the worth of reading of global topics? Is one type of reading better than the other?

4. What were some of the hardships that refugees faced before coming to America? What about after they got here?

5. What preconceptions do you think refugees brought with them about America? How was the reality of their new country different than their expectations?

6. How did the members of the Fugees build community after coming to Clarkston?

7. Talk about Clarkston, Georgia before the refugee settlement. How did it change after the refugee settlement was established?

8. Why was Clarkston chosen for the refugee settlement?

9. What were the different reactions from residents about the settlement? Did anyone’s opinions of the refugee settlement change over time?

10. Were the refugees all one ethnicity and religion? How did varied ethnic and religious backgrounds affect the refugee community as a whole?

11. Who were the Somali Bantu? Why were residents wary of the Somali Bantu settling in Clarkston?

12. What are some of the struggles with identity that the refugees faced in Outcasts United? What are some of the struggles with identity that long-term Clarkston faced in Outcasts United?

13. Who is Luma? Why did she help the students and their families? What can we learn by her example?

14. Is Luma’s refugee experience similar to that of her players? How? How is it different?

15. Why do you think Luma’s younger players were able to better connect than her older players?

16. Did the educational policies in Clarkston help or hinder the members of the Fugees? What, if any, reforms would you suggest?

17. What kind of coach was Luma? Did her gender affect her coaching style? Is there a right or a wrong way to coach?

18. Was soccer “just a game” in Outcasts United?

19. What examples of “paying it forward” did you notice in Outcasts United?

20. What does diversity mean to you? Is it something you actively encourage in your reading, watching, listening, and living patterns?

21. Can one person make a significant difference in the world?

Other Resources

Outcasts United website
Random House lesson plans
Warren St. John on NPR
CBS coverage of Outcasts United
Sports Illustrated article on Luma

If you liked Outcasts United, try…

In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda
The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof

In the Sea There are Crocodiles book cover     the Ball is Round book coverHalf the Sky book cover

Book Discussion Questions: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: Cleopatra: A Life
Author: Stacy Schiff
Page Count: 368
Genre: Biography
Tone: Academic, Deeply-researched, complex

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Does Cleopatra interest you as a character in history? Why do you think she has interested artists and writers over the millennia?

2. Chapter 1 opens with the quote, “Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.” Why do you think Stacy Schiff opened with this?

3. What is wrong with the statement that “a woman’s authority spelled a man’s deception”? (p. 4)

4. Schiff says that when it comes to Cleopatra’s history, “Affairs of the state have fallen away, leaving us with affairs of the heart.” (p. 7) What does that mean?

5. Did your perspective of Rome change at all? How did Cleopatra see Rome? Contrast that with how we might view Rome.

6. Was Cleopatra Egyptian? If not, where did her family originate from?

7. How does pop culture view Cleopatra? How has Schiff expanded that view?

8. Do you have a favorite pop culture version of Cleopatra?

9. Is Cleopatra a good leader?

10. Do you think that Cleopatra loved either Caesar or Mark Antony or did she only use them for political gain? Does it matter?

11. Who did Cleopatra have children by? Did these children matter politically? How? (p. 193)

12. What is the difference between being described as manipulative vs. being described as strategic? How was Cleopatra described? Why? Do you agree?

13. Can you think of women in today’s world that compare to Cleopatra? How are these modern women depicted by the media?

14. What could today’s female leaders learn from Cleopatra? Are those lessons different than what a male leader might take from Cleopatra’s story?

15. Women held a lot of power in ancient Egypt. What was your reaction to this?

16. Did Romans view women the same way Egyptians did?

17. What fun or odd historical anecdotes did you gain from reading Cleopatra?

18. What are reasons why people should read of the ancient world?

19. The Egyptians of Cleopatra’s era were obsessed with Homer. What is gained from memorizing poets? What is gained from the reading of classics?

20. Cleopatra was 21 when she raised an army. Her brother was 15 when he led it. (p. 11) Did the accomplishments of people by young ages surprise you?

21. In Cleopatra’s time, teachers were revered and housed by the state. (p. 39) Do you think this is a custom that should be renewed?

22. When Cleopatra first comes into power, she curries favor with religious groups. (p. 57) Why would she do this? Do you see any parallels in this concept in modern day political life?

23. What were some of the differences between Caesar and Mark Antony? (p. 185)

24. What was Antony and Octavian’s relationship?

25. What were Octavian and Antony battling over?

26. Antony married Octavia. How was she similar or different to Cleopatra? (p. 191)

27. Cleopatra is a wealthy woman. Where did her wealth come from? Did she use her wealth wisely?

28. Do you think that political leaders today are wealthy? Does this lead to any problems with connecting to their constituents?

29. Were you surprised by any of the technology mentioned having existed in ancient history? (Ex: automatic doors, hydraulic lifts, coin-operated machines, etc. – p. 75)

30. Schiff states, “Octavian continued to threaten Cleopatra publicly while privatly he maintained that if she killed Antony she would have her pardon.” (p. 288) Did you think that Cleopatra would kill Antony? Why or why not?

31. Why did Antony kill himself? (p. 293)

32. How did Cleopatra die? (p. 305 – 306)

33. Have you read any other books by Stacy Schiff? How does this one compare to previous reads? Would you go on to read more by this author?

34. What do you think the marketing of this book portrayed it as? (Cover, blurbs, reviews, etc.) Do you think the marketing matched the book?

35. Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not?

Other Resources

Stacy Schiff’s website
Hatchette reading group guide
Stacy Schiff on C-SPAN
Stacy Schiff on The Daily Show
WBEZ interview with Stacy Schiff
The New York Times interview with Stacy Schiff
Cleopatra Wikipedia entry
Cleopatra as a subject of paintings

If you liked Cleopatra, try…

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
The October Horse by Colleen McCullough

marie antoinette book cover     Catherine the Great book coverthe October Horse book cover

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Book Discussion Questions: The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story
Author: Diane Ackerman
Page Count: 368
Genre: WWII Nonfiction
Tone: Inspiring, Dramatic

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Would this make a good movie?

2. Was the book what you expected?

3. Were the characters fully realized? Do you feel as though you knew them well?

4. The book is specifically entitled The Zookeeper’s Wife, keeping the focus firmly on Antonina. Was this an effective authorial strategy?

5. Give characteristics to describe Antonina.

6. How did you feel about Jan? Did your opinion change during the course of the story?

7. How old did you picture Rys? Did he mature in the course of the story?

8. Who were some of the more memorable characters? (Human or animal!)

9. Did Han and Antonina anthropomorphize animals and nature? Would you have in their situation?

10. Do you find it unusual that Antonina does not know, nor does she want to know, about her husband’s work? Why or why not?

11. Did you want to know more about Jan’s role in the resistance or more in general about what was being done? Why do you think this wasn’t emphasized in the story?

12. What does Ackerman celebrate in the culture? What does she criticize?

13. Do you trust the author’s account? Is there anything that gives concern?

14. What do you think drew Ackerman to tell this story?

15. Ackerman is a novelist, naturalist, and poet. How do you think her telling this story would differ from a WWII historian’s telling?

16. Jonathan Safran Foer said, “I can’t imagine a better story or storyteller. The Zookeeper’s Wife will touch every nerve you have.” Would you agree? Is the author a great storyteller?

17. Would The Zookeeper’s Wife have worked as a historical novel instead?

18. Did anything surprise you about the portrayal of the Nazis? Did you find any of their ideaology contradictory?

19. Are there any environmental issues from The Zookeeper’s Wife that are still around today?

20. What are the themes of The Zookeeper’s Wife? What personal, societal, political, and scientific thoughts did this book give you?

21. Ackerman states in an interview, “It improved my idea of what a hero is. We tend to think of heroes only in terms of violent combat…but human beings also perform radical acts of compassion…Antonina’s story needs to be told, because it’s a tale of the heroic compassion that so-called ‘ordinary people’ rise to, in every era, and it’s time that they became role models, too.” Did your idea of a hero expand?

22. How does The Zookeeper’s Wife compare to other WWII narratives? To other tales of heroism?

Other Resources

Diane Ackerman’s website
Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Diane Ackerman on C-SPAN
Diane Ackerman at the Los Angeles Public Library
Powell’s interview with Diane Ackerman
NYT review of The Zookeeper’s Wife
Animal welfare in Nazi Germany

If you liked The Zookeeper’s Wife, try…

Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman

Schindler's List book cover   The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book cover   the Pianist book cover