Love Thy Neighbor Discussion Guide
The American Revolution comes to life in this story from the Dear America historical fiction series. Here, questions and activities to help you discuss the book with your class.
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
There are two sides to every story, yet many of us know only one side of the American Revolution — the side of the Patriots. Ann Turner’s Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson allows young readers to witness the days and months leading up to the Revolutionary War through the diary entries of a thirteen-year-old girl and her loving Tory family.
In 1774 and 1775 not every colonist believed America should declare its independence from Britain. Indeed, about 33 percent of the population in the thirteen colonies was loyal British subjects who felt allegiance to Great Britain and the king. But, as the cries of independence grew, the deepening division between Patriots and Tories began to separate neighbors, friends and even family members. Prudence Emerson’s diary chronicles the growing persecution of the Tories. Her father’s business is crippled as long time friends and loyal customers refuse to trade with a Tory. Rocks are thrown through the cabin windows of British sympathizers. Tory men are beaten and threatened with the punishment of being tarred and feathered. Prudence Emerson’s story is that of an adolescent whose family’s political stance causes her to lose a best friend; to fear for her life and the lives of family members; and to eventually move away from the home she loved in the hopes of finding a safe haven somewhere in America.
On writing this story from a Tory girl’s viewpoint Ann Turner says, “The more research I did, the more I came to realize that Tories were people, too, not just enemies. They had hopes, dreams and aspirations, families, farms and communities. I wanted to get behind the mask of historical facts and find out what it was like to be a Tory girl in 1774. What I found confirmed my fears: It would have been a difficult and hard time to be alive, particularly in Massachusetts, where persecution of and laws against Tories were harsher than in some other colonies. I wanted to explore how a girl survived a sad time, when what she had known and loved was taken away from her. What were her strengths, and how did she keep going through such hard times?”
Love Thy Neighbor: The Tory Diary of Prudence Emerson portrays a strong young lady caught supporting the “wrong” side in the American Revolution.
"How can I love my neighbor when my neighbor does not love me?" writes thirteen-year-old Prudence Emerson in 1774. "How I wish things were different. I wish we could step onto a magic sailing ship and head back to the time before angry words and distrust, back to the time when we truly did love our neighbors." Prudence and her family live in Green Marsh, Massachusetts, a town with divided loyalties. Most of the residents are Patriots, favoring independence from King George III of England. The Emersons, and a handful of others, are Tories, who "have always been loyal to the king and shall remain so."
Because of their allegiance to the king, Tories are being shunned by their neighbors. Prudence's best friend, Abigail, a Patriot, has been forbidden to visit anymore, and Prudence "feels as if someone I love has died." The teacher at the school begins discriminating against the Tory children. Patriot families refuse to do business at Papa's store. Then the Patriots become more aggressive. A neighbor's horse is stolen and painted with anti-Tory slogans. Another neighbor's house is stoned, and yet another receives a warning ball of tar and feathers. When a rock is thrown through the Emerson's window, Papa decides it is no longer safe to stay in Green Marsh. The family packs up to move to Boston where they will stay with Papa's brother and his family. In Boston, Prudence enjoys the companionship of her cousin Betsy, and she feels somewhat safe, writing, "I do not have to start out of my bed, imagining the worst. I do not have to be afraid of an attack on our house...This is almost a home, but not like what we left behind."
As the Patriots gain strength, war is imminent. A battle is fought at nearby Breed's Hill, and the family gathers at the harbor to watch. As Prudence remembers, "It was too far away to follow the battle, even though the cannons kept booming across the bay." The outcome of the battle is disastrous for the British, with many men dead or wounded. Among the wounded is Nicholas Spaulding, a young soldier whom Betsy likes. When Nicholas becomes ill and dies, rumors circulate that his death may have been caused by smallpox. Now it is no longer safe to live in Boston, so the family must move again, this time to Nantucket Island. Packing very few belongings, they leave before dawn to catch the ship. Prudence sketches the scene, "We sailed out into the darkness, avoiding the huge British men-of-war. A thin moon gave us some light to see by, but not so much to be dangerous." Huddled with her family behind a coil of rope on the deck, Prudence hopes that this ship will give them a safe passage to Nantucket and to the new home they will make there.
Thinking About the Book
- If you had to create a new title for Love Thy Neighbor, what would you call the book? Explain your choice.
- What does the word prudence mean? Why do Pru and her mother sometimes think this is not a fitting name for the thirteen-year-old?
- How do Tories and Patriots differ? List three reasons a person might be a Tory and three reasons a person might be a Patriot.
- How did Prudence's little sister Kate become blind? What evidence do you find that shows how Kate has adjusted to her blindness?
- Why did Prudence and her family have to be so secretive about celebrating Christmas?
- Pru often wonders whether or not her brother Walter is really a Patriot instead of a Tory like the rest of the family. In your discussion group debate this question. What do you think? Why?
- Why does Papa Emerson give the family farm and store to Walter before the rest of the family flees to Boston?
- Why does Prudence make a gold paper star for her sister Kate, even though Kate cannot see it? How does the star become a symbol of hope for the family?
- At the end of the Historical Note at the back of Pru’s diary, author Ann Turner asks: "What would you have done had you been alive in 1774? Which side would you have been on?" How would you answer these questions?
- It was common in colonial days for parents to name their daughters after characteristics or virtues, such as Prudence, Verity, or Charity. Choose a relative or someone else with an interesting or unique first name and interview them to learn why they were so named. What's the origin of your first name?
- Prudence and her family watch the Battle of Breed's Hill across Boston Harbor. Read more about this battle.What was the outcome? What did this mean to the British Army?
- Have each member of your discussion group choose one of the following to research. Why is each important in Pru’s diary?
*Boston Tea Party
*King George III
*Battle of Lexington and Concord
- In her diary entry for March 31, 1775, Prudence makes a list of six words and phrases that she believes describes a Patriot. Pretend you are a Patriot. List six words and phrases you would use to describe a Tory
- On a map, locate the island of Nantucket. Why do you think the Emerson family felt they might be safe here?
- Love Thy Neighbor is a story about how friends can become enemies and how cruel we can be to each other. The 1770s weren’t the only time this happened in American history. Read Barry Denenberg’s My Name Is America: The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp, California, 1942. How are these two stories the same? How are they different?Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.