1. What gave the author, Irene Hunt, the inspiration for writing the book?
2. Briefly describe the main event(s) of the "five Aprils".
3. Is anything left "up in the air" at the end of the book.
4. Is any character untouched by the war? Back it up with details from the story.
5. Pick one (or two) characters and explain how they are forever changed or touched by the Civil War.
6. The book mentions numerous important battles in the war. Plot them on a map. Re-create Shadrach's "line of x's" in which he sets up the geography behind the strategy.
Look into some of the the battles that are mentioned. Especially keep an eye out for first-hand accounts (especially letters) from people living at the time.
7. In the book, Jethro writes a letter to President Lincoln. Why? Choose a current issue that you are familiar with. Write a letter to the current president about this issue.
8. Do you see anything of yourself in the main character, Jethro? In what ways are you similar and different? Is there another character that you connect with?
9. Toward the end of the book, Jethro is contemplating what post-war "peace" will look like. Briefly research Reconstruction. Did it achieve the long-awaited peace?
10. Many of the characters and people mentioned in the book must grapple with the idea of right and wrong. (Wilse debating Jethro's family, Lincoln and the deserters, Jethro helping Eb are just a few). In several cases, a back-and-forth debate is given. Choose an issue which you are familiar with. Can you set up the back-and-forth arguments of both sides of the issue?
Bonus: The act of "writing" is so central to this book. Letters are used to help characters communicate with one another, newspapers bring news from the war, and the editor's English grammar book educates young Jethro. Has writing always been this important in people's lives? Is it still as important today? In a time when we can receive instantaneous text and e-mail, can we appreciate the agony of waiting weeks for news of our loved ones? When was the last time you wrote an old-fashioned letter to someone?
#1-The author's note in my copy explains how her Jethro's family was modeled after her grandfather.
#2-A sample answer: The First April-Fort Sumter and the beginning of the war, preceded by much talk, debate, and anticipation/The Second April-Jethro had just "left his childhood behind him" the week before, when his father became ill/The Third April-Jethro received his letter from Lincoln just recently which explained his April 1 plan regarding the deserters/The Fourth April-Much talk of the presidential election of 1864/The Fifth April-End of the Civil War and assassination of Lincoln
#3-A few things left uncertain by the end of the book include Bill's final fate, the '49er son, and the state of the United States. Many readers will have their own questions which they are curious to know, which are not stated in the book.
#4-I would like to hear other people's answers to this one. Most, if not all, characters seem quite affected by the war. Even the ostracized Burdow family sees something of a change because of all this war has brought with it.
#9-The success or failure of Reconstruction is somewhat "up in the air" itself. Since it depends upon who you ask, be sure to seek more than one source of information on this topic.
#10-I find with many students that it's the process that's important here, even if we disagree on the right answer. "Can you back up your case?" "Can you do it respectfully?" "Can you do it without an ad hominem?" Knowing what the "other side" argues is also helpful in honing your own case.