Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
ABOUT THE BOOK
The story of The Conch Bearer
begins on the teeming
streets of modern-day Kolkata, India, where twelve-year-old Anand lives in a
dingy shack with his mother and sister, Meera. Anand is captivated by stories of
magic and the opportunities he believes it could create -- if only magic was a
reality. However, everything begins to change when Anand meets Abadhyatta, a
mysterious man who turns out to be a member of the magical Brotherhood of
Healers. Abadhyatta recognizes something special in the boy and entrusts him
with a conch shell that possesses mystical powers. Anand's task is to return the
shell to its rightful home with the Brotherhood many hundreds of miles away --
across arid plains and turbulent rivers, past powerful spirits and fantastical
creatures, and finally into the secret Silver Valley, high in the Himalayas.
Accompanying them is Nisha, a headstrong but resourceful child of the streets.
What follows is a series of quests and battles against the dark and powerful
forces of evil-minded Surabhanu, who was exiled from the Brotherhood years
before. Though Anand experiences doubt, fear, and sadness throughout his
journey, his unrelenting desire to achieve his mission is stronger than the evil
he is confronted with. Anand's quest will take him farther from home than he has
ever been and will teach him more than he has ever imagined. When he finally
reaches the gates of the Silver Valley, Anand faces the greatest challenge of
all -- the decision to either return home to his loving family or to become an
important citizen in the world of magic.
The Lonely Planet World Guide
says of India: "Nothing in the country
is ever quite predictable; the only thing to expect is the unexpected." Ask
students to use books in the library or sites on the Internet to find a brief
description of India. Then have them write an interpretation of the above quote.
Why is India a perfect setting for a work of fantasy?
- Anand wishes for a magic apple to make Meera better, and to bring his
father home. His mother reminds him that magic only occurs in storybooks.
Discuss what Anand learns about magic as the story unfolds. How does magic
help Meera at the beginning of the story? How is Anand indirectly
responsible for Meera's healing? Does his mother's attitude toward magic
change after Abhaydatta's visit? How? In what ways does magic help Anand on
his quest? Discuss the limitations of magic and its relationship wish
wisdom, understanding, and courage. Which of these gifts proves to be the
most important to Anand on his journey?
- Family and family life are very important in India. How does Anand's
feelings for his family almost keep him from going with Abhaydatta? Why does
his mother allow him to go? Debate whether his mother expects him to return.
Discuss the decision to leave his family for the Brotherhood at the end of
the novel. Explain how the Brotherhood of Healers becomes a family to Anand
- Anand is working at the tea stall when he first notices Abhaydatta. What
draws his attention to the old man? How does Abhaydatta know that Anand has
the desire to enter the secret domain of the world of magic? Discuss the
role of the conch in leading Abhaydatta to Anand.
- Discuss the relationship between courage and fear. What gives Anand the
courage to go on the journey with Abhaydatta? At what point does he doubt
his decision? How do his doubts feed his fear? Discuss Anand's most fearful
moments. What gives him the courage to fight the evil forces and continue
- Why is Abhaydatta willing to take Nisha, the sweeper-girl along? Discuss
her role in the story. What is she searching for? How is she a sidekick to
Anand? There are times when Anand is jealous of the girl. When does he
experience the most jealousy? How does he reconcile his jealousy?
- Abhaydatta gives Anand the conch to carry. Why doesn't Abhaydatta want
Nisha to know about the conch? Debate Anand's decision to disobey Abhaydatta
and tell Nisha that he is carrying the conch. What is Nisha's reaction when
she sees it? How does this reveal the difference between the two children,
and their individual contributions to the mission?
- How does Abhaydatta prepare the children for the danger that he is
certain will come upon them? Why does he tell Anand and Nisha the Tale of
the One-Eyed Deer?
- Anand and Nisha encounter the evil forces of Surabhanu, a former member
of the Brotherhood who wants possession of the conch. How does Anand deal
with the evil powers? Explain the conch's message: "It's a wise fool who
knows his own folly."
- Describe Anand's feelings when he discovers that Nisha has been admitted
to the Brotherhood. Discuss what Abhaydatta means when he tells Anand, "We
cannot choose you until you have made a choice yourself."
- Discuss Anand's choice to remain in the Silver Valley. What contributes
to his final decision? Why does the Brotherhood make him the Keeper of the
- Anand's journey to the Silver Valley reveals important messages about
trust, love, and power. How do these messages apply to real life?
- Why is Anand the Brotherhood's only hope? How is the Brotherhood Nisha's
only hope? What other elements of hope are in the story?
RESEARCH & ACTIVITIES
- It is a custom in India for an astrologer to write down a baby's Zodiac
sign at birth and to make statements regarding the baby's future. Study the
characteristics of each sign of the Zodiac, and determine which sign best
characterizes Anand. Write the predictions that the astrologer might have
written about Anand on the day of his birth.
- Anand is fond of Persian fairy tales. Read several different Persian
tales and select one that Anand might share with Nisha. Simplify and
illustrate the story.
- There are many truths and messages in fantasy. Think about what Anand
learns about power, and write a letter of advice to the president of the
United States or any world leader.
- Anand's final test for entrance into the Silver Valley is to answer the
following question: Which of these three virtues are the most important:
honesty, loyalty, or compassion. Write an essay that explains the
relationship between these three virtues.
- The Healers in the Brotherhood have different jobs and responsibilities.
For example, there are Herbalist Healers and Shape-Changing Healers. Make a
list of the various Healers, and write a job description for each.
- The Council meets to discuss Nisha because there has never been a woman
in the Brotherhood. Conduct a mock Council meeting that deals with Nisha's
admission to the Brotherhood.
This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom,
library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or
excerpted for these purposes.
Guide prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, SC Governor's
School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Aladdin.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.