Study Guide For Finch Goes Wild
by Janet Gingold

Table of Contents

About the Author

Janet Gingold grew up in a big old house with five brothers, three sisters and two very busy parents.From the bay window in the kitchen, she watched cardinals, blue jays, juncos and sparrows politely take turns at a well-stocked bird feeder. She took piano lessons as a child, but didn't practice enough to become accomplished. While attending a small girls' high school in Pennsylvania, she sang in the glee club and developed an appreciation of harmony. While earning a bachelors degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Michigan, she developed an interest in the way life works. To learn how to use science to solve human problems, she attended the University of Michigan Medical School and completed a pediatric residency at the University of Rochester. Through twenty years as a general pediatrician in Maryland, she developed a keen interest in how families cope and how young people learn to think. As more and more families turned to her for help with school problems, she looked to educational alternatives rather than medications for solutions. Through life's ups and downs, she finds peace and solace in the wild places close to home.

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About the Inspiration

How can kids meet adult expectations and still fit in with their peers? How can schools meet the needs of so many different individual kids and still maintain an environment that promotes learning? When schools fail, how can families still raise good, competent kids? How can parents keep their kids safe in a dangerouus world? How can kids grow up strong and competent without taking risks? With these questions rattling around in her head, the author chanced upon a quote from Ralph Ellison: "In those days, it was either live with music or die with noise." Harmon's story grew from those ideas.

About the Story

Harmon Finch is failing in seventh grade--failing to do his schoolwork, failing to find respect among his peers, and failing to meet his parents' expecations. When he steps up to protect a friend from a bully, he gets suspended for fighting. His life turns upside down when his parents decide to home school him and his doctor decides he needs to exercise more and eat less. Deprived of his old routines, Harmon discovers a new way of life by exploring the natural world of the park near his home. His musical soul grows as he learns to listens to the birds in the quiet woods. Buffeted by his mother's incessant fears and the threats of a neighborhood thug, Harmon must make his own decisions to become his best self. As he finds his own way, Harmon also helps others see the world through new eyes. Inspired by the performance of a high school wind ensemble, he chooses to return to school, despite its numerouus risks, so that he can play in the band. In the end, his success results from the decisions he makes.

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The Characters

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Discussion Questions

1. What does Harmon look like at the beginning of the story? Site evidence from the text to support your description.

2. What do Harmon's classmates think of him? How do you know?

3. Harmon was a good student during elementary school, but his grades took a dive in seventh grade. Why?

4. Describe Fareed. What do his classmates think of him? Why? How does Harmon feel about him? How do you know?

5. What does his decision to protect Fareed tell you about Harmon's character?

6. Why does Harmon give his social studies paperr to Marci instead of putting it in the basket himself? What does this tell you about his character?

7. Describe Marci's relationships with her classmates. What is it like to be her in seventh grade? What does Harmon think of her? How do you know?

8. Why did Harmon's parents decide to teach him at home? Cite the text to illustrate why they were concerned about his education.

9. Harmon, like many kids his age, doesn't tell his parents things he thinks they don't want to hear. Why? Discuss how kids choose what to tell their parents. How does this affect relationships?

10. Which of Harmon's senses is most important to him? How do you know? Find examples in the text that show you what Harmon notices about his world throuugh this sense. How does this characteristic affect the story?

11. Chucky, Chelsea and their mother appear in the story three times. Discuss why they were afraid when they first met Harmon and Bud in the woods. How does their attitude toward Harmon change?

12. Discuss why the park is important to Harmon. How does his time in the woods affect his physical health and his mental health?

13. What does Harmon learn in the woods that he would not learn in school? Find at least three "lessons" from his experiences there that prepare him for his return to school.

14. Discuss the assignments Harmon does at home with his mother. How are they similar to or different from school assignments. Why does Harmon complete the assignments at home when he would not compete assignments at school?

15. Why is Harmon's participation in the Christmas Bird Count important for the story? How does Harmon's view of the world change because of this experience?

16. In middle school, kids mostly associate with kids their own age. In the park, Harmon experiences encounters with both little kids and elderly people. What effect does Harmon have on the people he meets? Give specific examples. How does these experiences affect Harmon?

17. Why is music important to Harmon?

18. Harmon has a special ability to understand what other people are feeling. Find three examples of this in the text. How does this ability contribute to his success?

19. How is the high school band different from the middle school band?

20. Compare and contrast playing in a band with playing a team sport.

21. Discuss how Harmon, his mother and his father each experience the band concert in a different way.

22. Why is Harmon like the purple finch?

23. When Harmon presents an nargument for returning to school, his parents listen. Why? What changes do they see in Harmon that help to convince them that he will do better in school in the ninth grade than he did in the seventh?

24. Discuss the relationship between Harmon and Derek. How do Harmon's actions affect this relationship?

25. Choose a character in the book who reminds you of someone you know. How are they alike? How are they different?

26. When and Britney see Harmon with his jazz band in the park, they barely recognize him. How has he changed? In what way is he still the same?

27. Why did the author choose the title "Finch Goes Wild"? Discuss the various meanings of "wild." How is the "wild" Finch of the first chapter different from the "wild" Finch of the epilog?

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Topics for Research and Discussion
Topic #1: Boy meets nature

Self-discovery though learning about nature is a common theme in novels for young adults.

  1. What other books have you read in which the protagonist learns survival skills or important life lessons by spending time alone in a wild place? How is Harmon's story similar? How is it different?
  2. What experience have you had in a wild place? How did that experience affect your attitude and your view of the world?
  3. Discuss the pros and cons of being alone and being with people.
Topic #2: Appearances and expectations

People often make assumptions about other people based on the way they look or their racial or ethnic origins. Harmon doesn't want to be the person others seem to expect him to be.

  1. If you saw Harmon in the hallway in yourschool, would you talk to him? Why or why not?
  2. Discuss how friendship groups form.
  3. Would you expect someone who looks like Harmon to be interested in birds and music? Why or why not?
  4. Discuss how the expectations of teachers and classmates affect school performance.
Topic #2: Harassment at school

In Harmon's middle school, kids get harassed for a variety of reasons.

  1. Describe three incidents of harassment described i n the book. Do you think these episodes are realistic? Why or why not?
  2. Do a survey of people you know to determine how frequently harassment occurs. Find out how they felt about harassment and how theier feelings affected their performance. See if you can include both adults and kids in your survey.
  3. Describe Harmon's resonse to the harrassment of others. What does he do to avoid being harassed? Why does he do what he does? How do people you know respond to harassment? What would you do? Why?
  4. How is the high school environment described in Finch Goes Wild different fom the middle school environment?
Topic #3: Home Schooling
  1. When does school get in the way of education?
  2. What experiences does school provide that can not be had elsewhere?
  3. What important experiences do not happen at school?
  4. In a typical day at school, how much time do you actually spend learning? Discuss how schedule changes might increase learning time.
  5. List the skills you think you will need to be happy and succeed in your adult life. Why kind of experiences will help you to develop those skills? Propose an educational program that will give you the opportunity to have those experiences.
Topic #4: Obesity, Diet and Excercise

In recent years, more young adults are overweight. Excess weight can lead to Type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol, with resulting increase in heart disease and strokes.

  1. Harmon's doctor advises him to change the way he eats and to get more exercise. Why is a balance between food and exercise important for long-term health?
  2. Visit to learn more about current guidleines for healthy eating and exercise. Summarize the recommendations. How do your own habits compare to the recommendations? Try out the SuperTracker to analyze your own diet and activity and see what changes might make your life style a bit healthier.
  3. The guidelines suggest limiting the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugar. Choose one of these nutrients to learrn more about. Check out some reliable information about dietary guidelines to find out For three days, read the nutritional information on labels of he foods you eat to see how much of this nutrient is in your food. Calculate your average daily intake of this nutrient. How does your intake compare with the guidelines?
  4. Can a healthy diet taste good and be fun to eat? Try using what you've learned to fix yourself some healthful meals. Try some of the recipes at
Topic #5: Birds

As he starts to notice the birds around him, Harmon realizes how much he doesn't know about all of these creatures that live right in his own neighborhood.

  1. Make a list of the birds you see the next time you go out.
  2. Use one of the references in Harmon's Bibliography to find out more about a species that interests you. Where does it live? Does it migrate? How can you recognize it and distinguish it from similar species. Wha does it eat? Describe its nest and eggs. How are the males different from the females? How or the young different from the adults?
  3. Go to to find out about citizen science activities such as the Christmas Bird Count and Project Feeder Watch. Check the recent CBC data for your area. Go to "Historical Results" and make a table for the purple finch and the house finch in the United States since 1900. Convert the table to a graph. Describe the graph and explain what it means. Do you think these results are accurate? Why or why not? Discuss factors that might interfere with accurate bird counts.
  4. Listen to some bird songs. Can you imitate them by whistling or singing? What syllables can you say to help you remember what the bird song sounds like? As you walk in a wild place, count how many different bird songs you hear. How many can you recognize? Visit the Online Bird Guide of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology to listen to the songs of species in your area.
  5. Find out about a place in your area where you might see species that are unfamiliar to you. Check it out. If possible, bring a field guide and binoculars.
  6. How can you attract birds to your backyard? Which foods attract which species?
  7. Sometimes birds become infected with viruses that can also affect people. Go to to find out about West Nile Virus or Bird Flu. How does the infection affect birds? What birds are most likely to be infected? How does it affect humans? How does the virus move from place to place? Discuss the role of wild birds in the spread of infection.
Topic #6: Music

In their attempts to ensure that all students learn to read, write and do math, many schools have eliminated their music programs. Thinkabout the importance of music in your life and talk to young musicians about their musical experiences.

  1. What does it take to learn how to play a musical instrument?
  2. What makes young musicians more or less likely to practice
  3. How is playing alone different from playing in a band or orchestra?
  4. How is making music different from listening to music made by others?
  5. In an essay about jazz, Ralph Ellison wrote,"In those days, it was either live with music or die with noise." Write a riff on that idea in which you discuss both Harmon's experience and your own. What does this have to do with Harmon's decision to rieturn to school?
Topic #7:Safety and Risk

Harmon's parents, like most parents, are very concerned for their son's safety. His mother is particularly concerned about a variety of health risks, as well as the dangers of school violence. Many of the health problems of young adults can be prevented through better decision making.

  1. Describe a preventable injury or illness that happened to someone you know because of a decision they made. How might this problem have been avoided?
  2. Why do park employees perform trail maintenance tasks such as removig poison ivy, clearing awy fallen branches and filling in holes? Why should hikers be prepared with appropriate clothing, sturdy shoes, a map and a water bottle? Whose fault is it if a hiker gets hurt or gets lost?
  3. Why do people take risks? Describe a situation where something good came out of taking a risk?
  4. How do parents' fears affect the behavior of young people? Support your ideas with examples from Finch Goes Wild and from real life. Compare and contrast different reactions of different people.
  5. Is it possible to live a risk-free life? If so, how? If not,does that mean we shouldn't bother about risks at all? Use specific examples to support your idea.
  6. Choose a decision that Harmon made in Finch Goes Wild. What was he thinking? Make a list of the risks and benefits that he may have considered before acting as he did. Would you make the same decision? Why or why not?
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