Reading guide for Small Steps by Louis Sachar

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Small Steps

By Louis Sachar

Small Steps
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2006,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2008,
    288 pages.

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

TEACHING IDEAS

Pre-Reading Activities
Ask students to write a journal entry about a time when they had to make a tough choice between right and wrong. Have them include the following points: What contributed to their decision? How did their decision affect others? Was the outcome worth it? Encourage them to share their journal entries in class.

Instruct students to read the newspaper for several days and bring in articles where people have been in situations that required them to make a personal choice that could have a life-changing impact on them or others. Share the articles in class, and discuss whether the choices they made were positive or negative.


Introducing the Characters
Armpit

After spending time at Camp Green Lake Juvenile Correctional Facility for getting into a fight at a movie theater, Armpit, whose real name is Theodore, takes the advice of a counselor and makes a conscious effort to turn his life around. Though he makes a brief detour when a friend from his past involves him in a moneymaking scheme, he manages to regain focus and change his life, and those around him.

Kaira DeLeon
Kaira is a spoiled teen pop sensation who is blind to the corruption of her team, managed by her stepfather, El Genius. Off stage, she is often lonely staying in hotel suites and rarely meets her public. But when a commotion in the audience delays her concert in Austin, Texas, she meets Armpit and Ginny. She invites Armpit to California, which leads to an adventure that nearly ends in disaster for both of them.

X-Ray
Like Armpit, X-Ray has served time at Camp Green Lake. He has a talent for “verbal persuasion” and reenters Armpit’s life with an illegal moneymaking scheme that temporarily pulls Armpit off course. Though X-Ray isn’t conditioned for “honest” work, Armpit uses his connections with the mayor and his boss at the landscaping company, and gets X-Ray a real job using his other skill–digging trenches.

Ginny
Ginny is a ten-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who lives with her single mother in a duplex apartment next door to Armpit. Because she is an only child, and suffers some stress in school, she finds comfort in her stuffed animals, which all have disabilities. She and Armpit develop an unconditional friendship, and together take small steps toward improving their lives.

Cherry Lane
Ms. Lane is the mayor of Austin, Texas, who is briefly introduced to Armpit when he is working in her yard for the Raintree Irrigation and Landscaping Company. She recognizes him at the Kaira DeLeon concert and comes to his defense when he is the victim of police brutality and racism.


Getting To Know The Characters
Armpit and Ginny are both taking small steps in their lives. Write a letter that Armpit may write to Ginny from California explaining to her the consequences of taking a giant step.

Armpit tells Ginny, “I don’t know what they can do with someone with no heart and soul.” (p. 91) Write the lyrics for a blues song that focuses on the heart and soul of one of the above characters (e.g., The Heart and Soul of X-Ray).


Thematic Connections

Questions for Group Discussion

ACHIEVEMENT
Armpit feels that the way to turn his life around is to set goals. His five goals are: graduate from high school; get a job; save money; avoid violent situations; and lose the name Armpit. Ask students what Armpit’s greatest obstacles are in achieving his goals?

Explain the metaphor “his life would be like walking upstream in a rushing river.” (p. 4) At what point does the river appear to be rushing out of control? How does Armpit almost give up hope of achieving his goals?

RACISM AND PREJUDICE–
Discuss the difference between overt and covert racism. Find examples of each type of racism in the novel.

Armpit’s parents have an image of the type of people who go to rock concerts. Armpit tells them, “Just because people have tattoos or pierced tongues doesn’t mean they’re crazy.” (p. 94) Discuss the relationship between labeling, image, and prejudices. How are Armpit’s parents expressing a prejudice?

TRUST
Armpit takes Ginny to the Kaira DeLeon concert. Why is his mother more worried for Ginny’s safety than her own mother? Discuss why Armpit’s mother hesitates when Ginny’s mother says, “You must be very proud of Theodore”? Why does the mayor’s telephone call at the end of the novel help Armpit’s mother look at him differently?

Discuss ways X-Ray has proved to be untrustworthy. Why does Armpit allow himself to become involved with X-Ray’s get-rich scheme when he knows that he can’t trust him?

HONESTY AND BETRAYAL
Armpit knows that Coach Simmons has the reputation for giving better grades to football players. When he tells the coach that he intends to go out for football, Tatiana responds, “So you lied to him. Isn’t that kind of cheating?” (p. 29) How does Armpit justify his lie?

X-Ray is hauled to police headquarters about the counterfeit tickets, and tries to blame Armpit. He says, “Armpit is not someone you can say no to. I’m talking big, and mean, and tough.” (p. 183) Why doesn’t he tell X-Ray that he heard the entire conversation? Debate why he doesn’t realize that one betrayal leads to another with X-Ray.


One Step Beyond
  1. Explain what Armpit means when he says, “It wasn’t Camp Green Lake that released him from his anger. It was coming home and meeting Ginny.” (p. 117) What might Armpit and Ginny teach the other characters in the book about taking small steps?

  2. Discuss how making bad choices are sometimes driven by temptation and peer pressure. Role-play a conversation between Armpit and X-Ray where Armpit refuses X-Ray’s get-rich scheme.

  3. Read aloud the entire song that Armpit hears Kaira DeLeon sing on radio at the end of the novel. How does her song make him think about his new goals? The last two lines read:

    Then maybe I’ll discover
    Who I am along the way . . .

    What is the most important discovery that Armpit has made about himself?

OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST

Holes
Louis Sachar
Yearling paperback • 0-440-41480-6
Laurel-Leaf paperback • 0-440-22859-X

Stanley Yelnats' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake
Yearling paperback • 0-440-41947-6

Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, South Carolina.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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