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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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.
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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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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Self-discovery though learning about nature is a common theme in novels for young adults.
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.
In Harmon's middle school, kids get harassed for a variety of reasons.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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