From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun Discussion Guide
- Grades: 9–12
About this book
Fourteen-year-old Melanin Sun thinks his biggest problems are figuring out what to say to he girl he likes, learning to be less withdrawn, improving his slam-dunk, and wishing his name was something like Donald or Carlos. Then his mama, his only parent and near best friend, tells him something that changes his life and shows him, for the first time, what problems are really all about. Her news makes him question who he is, what love means, and if he can love his mother in spite of what she tells him she is.
Ask students to discuss the recurring references to endangered species, beginning with the introductory poem After John Muir. Also, have them discuss the recurring images of light and dark including the explanation of Melanin Sun's name. Why does the author continually bring readers back to these two images?
Have students reread the italicized pages (4-10, 27-28, 51-51, 70-71, 108, 123). On paper, have students make three columns with the following headings: Person Against Person, Person Against Self, Person Against Society. What conflicts does Melanin describe in his notebook writings? Place them under the appropriate headings. Which conflict is most important for Melanin to resolve? Does he resolve it?
Have students reread the following passages: last paragraph page 8, first paragraph page 9, last paragraph page 32, last paragraph page 48 through last paragraph page 49, middle paragraph page 59, last paragraph page 88 through second paragraph page 89, page 105. Then have students discuss how the situations and feelings in these passages have changed in the past 50 years, 25 years, 10 years, 5 years. What does their change or lack of change tell us about human nature? How important is the time setting to this novel?
Remind students what EC says about melanin on page 7: "They'll call him Mel, they'll call him Sun…. There'll be a hundred names for him. But he'll know who he is." On page 50, Kristin says, "I like who you are, Mel." Mel thinks to himself, "You have no idea who I am." Then on page 77, he asks, "Who am I, anyway?" Have students reread pages 2-3 and 140-141. What characteristics did melanin use to define himself on page 2 and then on page 140? Was EC right? Does Mel know who he is?
- On page 3, Melanin says, "Difference matters." What difference is Melanin referring to there? What other differences occur throughout the book? Do differences matter? If so, what makes differences matter?
- Titles of books usually give insight into something about the book. What insight comes from this title referring to the notebooks of Melanin Sun? Let students discuss other titles that they might choose for this book.
- Some readers might be surprised at the frank discussion of homosexuality and melanin's response to learning that his mother is gay. Ask students what can be gained by reading this book. Students might look at issues such as judging others, understanding oneself, tolerance, and parent-child relationships. Let them discuss if books with controversial subjects should be discussed in classrooms.
Other books to compare and contrast
The Second Bend in the River by Ann Rinaldi
Dogwolf by Alden R. Carter
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Teaching guide written by Kylene Beers, Lecturer, Department of Library Science, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas.