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Discussion and Activity Guides


Some relevant topics: Friendship, loyalty, creativity, social evolution, the “functions” of art and history, where names come from, the evolution of English.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Islanders wear knee-breeches but they also have motorboats. Why do you think they have such a mixture of old-fashioned and modern possessions and ways of doing things?
  2. What is “Book Talk”? Who uses it and when? Can you think of real-life examples of people changing their style of talking to match the situation?
  3. How have Medford and the Goatman changed by the end of the book? What have they taught each other?
  4. Why does Old Prudy turn into New Prudy? And how has she changed by the end of the book?
  5. How have the events in the book changed Island as a whole? Do you think Island will continue to change after the book ends?


  1. Choose several works of art and talk about what their “use” might be.
  2. Choose Island-like names for everyone in the class (e.g. Board-writer or Pencil-sharpener). For one day, everyone’s function in the classroom must match his or her name. Discuss how that worked and what it felt like. Talk about how our own names may have developed.
  3. For one day, give everyone Goatman-like names (e.g. “Milk spiller”) that change with every new situation. What did it feel like to have your name change constantly? Why do we have names?
  4. Do plaster-of-Paris carvings like Medford’s Prudy carving. Here’s how:

You’ll need: sawdust or cornflakes or similar cereal or grain, plaster of Paris, water, a mixing container (plastic or glass), a stick for stirring, several small paper milk cartons with the tops cut off, and, for each participant, a simple kitchen tool such as a butter knife or spoon.

  1. Cover the work area with paper.
  2. Mix equal amounts of sawdust and plaster of Paris in the container. (Do not breath in the dust from plaster.)
  3. Stir enough water into the plaster and sawdust to make a mixture like a thick sauce. (Too little water will leave a mixture that is too stiff and dry. Too much water will make the mixture watery and thin.)
  4. Pour the mixture into the milk cartons. You need to do this quickly as the plaster will begin to harden in just a few minutes. (Dispose of the mixing container and any scrapings of plaster in the trash. Do not pour them down the sink drain, as this could seriously clog the drain.)
  5. After about an hour, the mixture will be solid and you can tear away the paper milk carton. You will find a lump of “wood” (actually more like stone) which will feel damp and warm.
  6. Participants will use a kitchen knife or spoon to scrape away the surface of the plaster to make a sculpture. (If you want, discuss the fact that Michelangelo always said a sculpture already existed inside a block of marble, and all he had to do was chip away the excess marble to get at it. Medford would agree.) Tell participants to get the general shape first, then go for the details. It is easiest to carve the plaster when it is still damp and soft, but you can carve it after the plaster has hardened. Note: plaster of Paris does affect the metal so use old utensils.

Thanks to Peggi Stevens, art teacher at Brooklin Elementary School, for suggesting this activity!