Teachers’ Guide for Watersmeet, by Ellen Jensen Abbott
Marshall Cavendish, April 2009
Ø Structure of Vranille/prejudice:
o There are many forms of prejudice in Vranille. Who are the groups that are discriminated against? Why? How is this prejudice expressed in the actions, structures, and rules of the community?
o At one point Abisina refers to “the tyranny of Vran.” What does she mean? What is a tyrant? How can Vran be a tyrant since he is long dead?
o Why do you think some of the people of Vranille choose to fight against the tyranny of Vran? What are some of the forms of protest they use? What qualities do they need to protest? Why do you think Corlin protects Abisina?
o Why do you think so many people are attracted to Charach when he arrives? What does he offer them that make them want to be his followers?
Ø Abisina and her mother:
o Why do you think Sina chooses not to tell Abisina about her father? Does she make a good choice? Are there things your parents did not tell you until you were “ready” to hear them? What kinds of things? Did they make a good choice?
o Why didn’t Sina leave Vranille with Rueshlan? Was this a good choice? What factors influenced her decision?
o What do you think is hardest about Abisina’s life in Vranille?
o What is Abisina’s view of herself as she leaves Vranille?
Ø The dwarves and Abisina make assumptions about the other that are challenged as they live together in Hoysta’s cave. How do their views change? What brings about this change?
Ø How do Haret and Hoysta’s view of Obrium and the Obrun Mines differ? How do you explain this difference?
Ø What does Abisina learn on her way to Watersmeet? How is she changed/challenged by some of the significant events along the way: seeing the fauns, meeting the centaurs, eating the mushroom, leading Haret up the cliff, facing the minotaur? What does Haret learn?
Ø Abisina and her father:
o Why does Abisina find it so difficult to tell her father about Charach??
o What are Abisina’s impressions of her father before she knows he’s a shape-shifter? What are they afterwards?
o Rueshlan is a hero to the community. In what ways is he heroic? How is he not heroic? Why doesn’t he return to Sina?
Ø Judging others and ourselves:
o Rueshlan says that the Vranians’ hatred is “born of their fear.” Do you agree with him? What evidence can you cite to support his view? What evidence can you cite to suggest that there are other reasons for their fear?
o Haret accused Abisina of “judging the whole world with [her]self at the center.” Does she? To what extent do we judge the world with ourselves at the center? How does the world change when we judge it from another point of view?
o Abisina says, “My father—he sees what’s right and he acts. My mother did the same. But I don’t see as clearly, and there is so much at stake…” Do you think her parents did see their choices more clearly than she does? When have you “acted” to do the right thing? How hard/complicated was the decision? What other decisions can you imagine being faced with that might be hard to find an answer to?
o Haret says, “We all have evil in us.” What do you think he would see as his evil? What would Abisina see as hers?
o At the end of the novel we see some of the characters who tormented Abisina earlier: Lilas and Drolf and other Vranians. How do our views of them change in these final scenes, if at all? How does Abisina view them differently?
o How has Abisina changed by the end of the novel? What challenges has she faced in Part III to bring about this change? What experiences contributed to her deciding to stop the battle in the last scene of the book?
General Discussion Questions:
Ø Consider the symbol of the necklace. What does it symbolize to Abisina? To Rueshlan? To Haret? To the folk of Watersmeet?
Ø Are there good reasons for war? What are some of the reasons the folk of Watersmeet offer? Do you agree? Would it have been possible to work out the conflict peacefully? Abisina almost doesn’t go to war. Why not? Why does she?
Ø In the epilogue it says that there is the “possibility of unity [in] the divided land.” What will the challenges be that face the new nation of Seldara after the novel closes? How hopeful are you for peace?
Ø What role do rituals and celebrations play in all the communities Abisina experiences? What do they tell us about each community? Why are such rituals important? What rituals do we celebrate? Consider this in terms of your family, your neighborhood, your town/city, your school, your state, your nation. What roles do these rituals play in each of these communities?
Ø What are the elements of this story that makes it a fantasy? How does fantasy differ from realistic fiction? From science fiction? From historical fiction? How are these genres similar?
Ø The dwarves in this novel have legends around Obrium and the Obrun City. The people of Vranille have legends of Vran. The people of Watersmeet have Vigar. What is the role of legend for these groups? What are some of the legends we share? What legends do you have in your family or in your ethnic community or in our nation? What roles do they play?
Ø Watersmeet can be described as a heroic quest. How is Abisina heroic? How is she not? What is her external quest—the quest she goes on across the mountains and to Watersmeet? What is her internal quest—the journey she takes inside of herself? What is Haret’s quest—internal and external? How does it affect him? How are these quests similar?
Ø Compare/contrast qualities of Vranille and Watersmeet. Make a chart to facilitate this. (For example, you could make a PMI (plus/minus/interesting) chart: under each heading, note all the positives and negatives for Vranille. If something is both positive and negative, it is interesting! Now do the same for Watersmeet.)
Ø Stories play an important role in Watersmeet. We see this in the telling of stories during the Midsummer celebrations. Rueshlan also takes Abisina to see the wards that are being used as libraries for the community. Why are stories important? What stories are important in your family? Culture? Community? The US?
Projects/Activities (cross-curricular tie-ins and specific intelligence* noted):
Ø Reenact the Council meeting allowing students to imagine possible reasons for and against stopping Charach. Have some students play roles of characters in the book, trying to stay in character if the debate goes in ways it does not in the book. Other students can imagine their own characters and their particular opinions given imagined histories, backgrounds. (History/civics; Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal)
Ø Build a model or draw a map of one of the settings: Vigar’s garden, Vranille, Watersmeet, the battlefield, one of the homes in a Sylvyad, the Council chamber. How are the values of the community expressed in the way these communities are built/designed? (History/civics, Art; Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal)
Ø Write a constitution or a set of laws for Vranille or Watersmeet. You will want to consider what kind of government each community has. Look at nations from history or current events to help you design your government. (History/Civics; Linguistic, Logical Mathematical, Interpersonal)
Ø Investigate herbal remedies—how they’ve been used in the past, how they are used today and the controversy surrounding their use. (Science; Logical-Mathematical, Naturalist)
Ø Investigate and (if safe!) try using some element of the woodcraft Haret uses on the trek to Watersmeet: tanning deer hides, starting a fire without matches, finding clean water, edible plants. All projects should be cleared by your teacher first! (Science; Logical-Mathematical, Naturalist)
Ø Many of the creatures from Watersmeet are familiar from other stories or mythology: fauns, centaurs, the Minotaur, hags, dwarves, fairies, trolls, dragons, the Green Man, naiads, dryads. Design your own creature or adapt one of the ones you know from elsewhere in a new way. You might look at other novels, in books of folklore, or on the web. Write about or draw this creature. (Art; Linguistic, Spatial, Interpersonal, Naturalist)
Ø Research the celebration of Midsummer as it’s been used in other cultures and in other time periods. (History; Linguistic, Interpersonal)
Ø Make a model of the necklace using clay or wire or other appropriate materials (Art; Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic)
Ø Design one of your own rituals to celebrate an important event in your community or in the natural world and have your class participate in it. (Linguistic, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Naturalist)
Ø Create the music of the fairies or the fauns, or write one of the songs sung in the Midsummer festival. (Music; Musical, Linguistic)
Ø Draw or make a model of the fairies’ Motherland. We don’t see this in the novel! Given what you know of the fairies, what do you think it might look like? (Art; Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Naturalist)
Ø Write a scene from Watersmeet from another point of view. How would Rueshlan look to some of the Vranian refugees? How would Haret describe finding Abisina at the bottom of the ravine? How would Corlin view Abisina? How would Lilas view Charach? (Linguistic, Interpersonal)
Ø Write a legend from your own community—it may be a story your grandmother tells, a family story that has become “famous,” a story from first grade that you and your classmates still remember vividly. (Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal)
Ø Interview a member of your family or larger community about legends and stories they were told as children. (Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal)
Ø Write one of the stories you might find in the Watersmeet library. (Linguistic)
Web links or related reads:
Many fantasy novels draw on mythology, folklore and legend. Many also address prejudice, social structure and the experience of being an outsider. I really love the whole genre, but some of my favorites are The Farsala Trilogy and Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell; Faerie Wars Chronicles by Herbie Brennan; Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer; Wolf Tower (and the rest of The Claidi Journals) by Tanith Lee; The Giver, Finding Blue, and The Messenger by Lowis Lowry; The Golden Compass (and the rest of His Dark Materials series) by Phillip Pullman; The Lightening Thief (and all the Percy Jackson books) by Rick Riordan; The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner.
Women in Greek Myths: http://www.paleothea.com/
Botanical.com: A Modern Herbal: http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html
The Mystery of the Green Man: the Face in the Leaves: http://www.mikeharding.co.uk/
God Checker.com: Your Guide to the Gods: http://www.godchecker.com/
Some Pennsylvania State Standards that apply to Watersmeet and the discussions, projects and activities listed above.
(Since Watersmeet is recommended for ages 12 and up, the standards listed are for 8-9th grades.)
For Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening:
1.1. Learning to Read Independently
1.3. Reading, Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
1.4. Types of Writing
1.5. Quality of Writing
1.6. Speaking and Listening
For Civics and Government:
5.1. Principles and Documents of Government
5.2. Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship
5.3. How Government Works
Ellen Jensen Abbott grew up in the foothills of New Hampshire’s White Mountains—often disappearing for a whole day to build forts, pretend, and read in the fields and forests around her house. She has degrees in English and education from Brown and Harvard Universities. When she is not dreaming up stories about Seldara, she teaches English at the Westtown School in Pennsylvania. Ellen, her husband, and two children like to spend time outdoors: camping and hiking in the summer; skiing and snowboarding in the winter. She and her family live in West Chester, PA with their dog and small flock of chickens.
* I refer here to Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, described in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences [(1983) New York: Basic Books]. I particularly used Thomas Armstrong’s book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 2nd Ed. [(2000) Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development]. The eight current intelligences are Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalist.