True North Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
About the Book
Lucy would rather spend time with her grandfather studying owls and going sailing than spend time with her other sisters primping for the latest parties. However, as a young woman living in Boston during the 1850s, she is expected to act a certain way. But soon she discovers she isn't the only one who is forced to act one way while really thinking and feeling another. Her grandfather, Pap, she finds out, is a conductor for the Underground Railroad. When escaping slaves make it to Boston, he helps hide them and gets them on the way to Canada. Eventually Lucy also finds herself helping an escaped slave — a girl about her age named Afrika — and both girls learn the importance of trust, of truth, and of doing what they know is right.
The meanings of freedom and individuality are the themes of True North. Though Lucy and Afrika find themselves in two very different situations, each longs for their own kind of freedom. Afrika's dream of flying in Chapter 3 is the first clue readers have of her desire to be free; Lucy's determination to be free of the constraints placed upon her because she is a young woman can be seen when she notes, "But I suppose mostly it makes me sad the world must name its freaks at all — that there is no such thing as freakish to me when it feels normal" (p. 79). While Afrika's dream of freedom can be realized with her arrival in Canada, Lucy's desire to be free of the restrictions placed upon her by society will require a different kind of effort. What steps does Lucy take to win her freedom? Why is freedom such a powerful motivator?
Though there is conflict of individuals against each other in this novel, there are other types of conflict too. Find examples of the individual's conflict against society, as exemplified by such measures as the Fugitive Slave Law and the Vigilance Committee. What about conflicts within a person's self? What internal conflicts are apparent in the lives of Afrika and Lucy?
There are several distinct settings for the story. Much of Lucy's story is set in Boston, Massachusetts. Afrika's story begins in Virginia and then travels north along the Underground Railroad. Eventually, Lucy and Afrika meet in Massachusetts and begin the arduous journey north to the Canadian border. Using maps, trace the route taken by Afrika and later Lucy and Afrika as they travel north to freedom.
As historical fiction, this story is intricately tied to the setting. However, part of the power of historical fiction is its applicability to other times, including modern times. What aspects of this story transcend the setting?
The need for secrecy is one thing that unites the two main characters, Lucy and Afrika. Lasky provides many clues in the opening pages about the need to be furtive. For example, Lucy hides at the wedding of her sister (p. ix). Lucy and Afrika both disguise their true gender, but for different reasons. There are other similarities that connect these two young women. Locate examples of their similarities throughout the novel. Does one character change more throughout this novel than another character? If so, what causes the changes?
- Why does Lasky choose to tell the story from the points of view of two different characters? How might the story be different if it were told only from Lucy's perspective? From Afrika's point of view?
- There are many references to historical figures and events. Locate information about some of the following:
- Free Soil Party (p. 65)
- Vigilance Committee (p. 65)
- Fugitive Slave Law (p. 123)
- Abolitionists (p. 66)
- William Lloyd Garrison (p. 124)
- Charles Adams (p. 73)
- Wendell Phillips (p. 70)
- Oregon Train (p. 77)
- Harriet Tubman (p. 89)
- What is meant by the following: "You cannot have law in a community if it can only be obeyed at the point of a bayonet"? Do you follow any laws/rules only because you must instead of because you believe in them? Is that bad? If the quotation is true, then is it ever right to break the law? What is civil disobedience?
- Why do you think it was against the law for slaves to learn how to read and write? Why were the slaves punished for praying?
- The Underground Railroad was one passage to freedom for slaves. What were other passages to freedom? What are the passages to freedom today for people who find themselves dictated to by others?
Other Books to Compare and Contrast
Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen
Freedom's Children by Ellen Levine
I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly (Dear America series) by Joyce Hansen
When Will This Cruel War Be Over? (Dear America series) by Barry Denenberg
About the Author
Kathryn Lasky is the recipient of a Newbery Honor Medal for her book Sugaring Time and has twice won the National Jewish Book Award. The author of dozens of books for children and young adults, Lasky lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Christopher Knight, and their two children. Lasky's nonfiction works span such diverse topics as the rain forest canopy, the bats of Madagascar, the life of Mark Twain, and the campaign against hats with dead birds on them which led to the founding of the Audubon Society. Known for her meticulous research, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, Lasky creates characters and presents facts in a way that keeps readers looking for her books again and again.
Teaching guide written by Kylene Beers and Teri Lesesne, both of whom teach children's and young adult literature at Sam Houston State University in Texas.