Here are Lois Duncan's personal suggestions for discussion and activities involving:
I wrote this non-fiction book about our own daughter’s homicide to motivate informants and prevent the facts of the unsolved case from becoming buried. I wrote it for adults, but to my surprise young readers have embraced the book, perhaps because they relate to the teenage heroine and a real life horror story that reads like a “Lois Duncan suspense novel.” The book was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, received the Pacific Northwest Young Readers Award and has been nominated for Young Readers Awards in Nevada, Tennessee and Iowa. It is not for elementary school readers, but 8th graders and up seem to handle it well.
(1) If your students were the investigators for this case, what would they do that was different from what the police did? Compare the investigation of Kait’s case with the way police investigations are presented on television. Does anything surprise you?
(2) Compare the psychic detectives who worked on Kait’s case with the psychic detectives in my fictional story THE THIRD EYE. Discuss the term “displacement,” as explained in the book by Dr. William Roll. How might displacement have played a part in these psychic readings?
(3) Have students visit the Kaitlyn Arquette web site for an update on our family’s on-going personal investigation. Click on the various links, especially the “Update Page.” Does anything students learn from this web site alter the view of the case they received from the book? (The book was published in 1992, and we’ve learned a lot since then.)
(1) Have students read WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER? and compare the heroine, Karen’s, fictional experiences with clairvoyance and psychometry with those of the real life psychics who worked on Kait’s case.
(2) At the end of Chapter One, there is a description of Karen stepping out the door of her home into "the brilliant beauty of a New Mexico spring." When I first wrote this scene, I laid it in the autumn, and described falling leaves, the sounds of football practice, etc. Later I realized that I wanted the main part of the story to take place in the summer, so I changed this introductory scene to spring. Have students revise the scene to lay it in autumn -- summer -- winter.
(3) In Chapter 20, Ron panics when attacked by a Doberman. Ron is a police officer -- isn't it out of character for a seasoned cop to react this way to a dog? I didn't realize I was going to use this "dog attack" scene until late in the writing process, at which point I had to go back and insert "foreshadowing"' in early chapters to prepare the reader for the fact that Rod was terrified of dogs. Have your students locate those instances of foreshadowing (Chapters 6 and 7) and discuss how they do/don't work to support the story's climax.
(4) Discuss Ron's conflicting feelings about his brother. Are they justified? How did they affect Ron's career decision?
(5) Discuss Karen's mother's reason for pressuring Karen to deny her psychic abilities. Was this justified? What does Karen eventually decide, and why? Has she made the right decision?
(6) Have students write a newspaper article about something newsworthy that Karen does ten years later. Include information about Karen's personal life/family life at that time.
(7) What is the significance of the Dream Child's blue eyes? What is a "dominant trait"? Have students explore the field of genetics by recording the eye colors of their parents and other ancestors. Which colors are dominant? Have students draw lots to match themselves with classmates of the opposite sex. Have the pairs work together to figure out what color their children's eyes would be if they married and had four kids. Then match each one of those "kids" to a child from another student pseudo-couple, etc.
(1) Have students go on-line and research the subject of Out-of-Body Experiences.
(2) Have students discuss the dual imagery in the book -- Lia and Laurie represent "two sides of a coin" -- dark versus light -- Jeff's two-sided face, etc.
(3) Discuss the issue of adoption. Should adopted children be told? Why did Laurie's mother not want her to know? Was it a valid reason? Should adopted children seek out their birth parents?
(4) Why did Lia want to separate Laurie from the people closest to her -- Gordon, Helen, Jeff, and Megan?
(5) In Chapter 12, Lia tells Laurie to, "Release your hold on the earth! Let go of the words that are tying you down!" But Laurie finds it impossible to think without utilizing language. Have students experiment with sitting in silence for five minutes and keeping their minds free of words. Are they able to do so? If not, what makes it so difficult? Is there ever a time during their waking hours when their minds are free of words? Under what circumstances does this occur? (During strenuous physical activity? While listening to music?) Discuss the Eastern practice of meditation.
(6) How many descriptions of the ocean can students find in this book? Contrast them.
One challenge I had in writing STRANGER WITH MY FACE was finding different ways of describing the sound of the surf so I wouldn't be using the same words over and over. Have students see how many verbs and adjectives they can come up with to describe the sounds of the ocean.
(7) This book contains a description of eternity -- "If there were a mile-high mountain of granite, and once every ten thousand years a bird flew past and brushed it with a feather, by the time that mountain was worn away, a fraction of a second would have passed in the context of Eternity." Have students come up with their own descriptions of eternity.
(8) Have students write an "Afterword" for this book, describing the lives of the characters ten years later.
(1) DOWN A DARK HALL is my only experience writing a "Gothic" novel. Have your students research that genre. How does a Gothic differ from a regular suspense novel? What elements are in this book that make it a Gothic? How does this book differ from my other suspense novels in pacing, description, etc.?
(2) Madam Duret "chemically ages" the manuscripts and paintings created by her students. Have students research the methods that might be used to create this aging effect. Have them research real life cases in which people produced counterfeit paintings by the Old Masters and passed them off as real. Have students write a newspaper article describing Madam Duret's exciting discovery of an "original manuscript" by a famous writer.
(3) Discuss why Madam Duret does not want Natalie to talk to Kit and the other students. What is she afraid that Natalie might reveal to them?
(4) Research the artist Thomas Cole. At what age did he die? Does the picture Lynda painted in Chapter 10 sound like a scene that Cole would have painted?
(5) Have students listen to music by Franz Schubert. Have them research his life. What age was he when he died? What might he have achieved if he had lived twenty years longer?
(6) Compare Ellis's poem in Chapter 11 with poems by Emily Bronte. Does "Ellis's" poem sound like poetry that Bronte might have written? Why or why not? Why does Sandy call the ghost woman "Ellis" instead of "Emily"?
(7) When I first wrote DOWN A DARK HALL, it was returned to me for revisions because the publisher feared that feminists would criticize it because the ghosts were male and the victims were female. I changed the male poet to a woman writer, Emily Bronte, but I couldn't seem to come up with any famous artists or musicians from a previous century who were female. Have students do research on famous women in the arts. What is the explanation for the great "unbalance" in earlier years?
(1) Have students compare LOCKED IN TIME with TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt
(2) Discuss Lisette's reason for wanting to stop her own aging. Was that reason valid? Why did she choose to stop the aging of her children? Does a parent have the right to make such a decision in his/her children's behalf?
(3) Have students construct a time line for the Dubois family, starting from the year in which they drank the potent to stop them from aging, and incorporating all the information Josie discloses at various places in the book in regard to places they lived, events they experienced -- the circus fire, etc.
(4) Have students write a diary entry by Lisette's first husband, when he realizes that he is aging and his family is not. Or a letter that Gabe might have written to the girlfriend who "grew past him," explaining why he is bailing out of their relationship. Or a letter to a physician, as it may someday be written by Nore's father, when he realizes that Josie has been living in his household for 30 years and still has the body of a 12-yr-old.
(5) Have a class discussion about the pros and cons of not aging. Would anyone want to live forever? If so, why? If students had the option, would they stop the aging process right now? If so, what would they gain by being this age forever, and what would they miss by not experiencing middle age and old age? After 200 years, would the "same-old, same-old" become overwhelmingly tedious? If not, why not? If one were to elect to stop the aging process, what would be the ideal age at which to do so?
(6) In what ways is Nore's acute awareness of "time" a factor in this story?
(7) A topic for discussion -- widowhood (or divorce) of parents, and parental remarriage, and the effect upon the children. Class discussions or privately written papers.
(1) Have students research the Salem Witch Trials and compare historical events with the happenings and characters in Sarah’s dreams and visions.
(2) When aspiring fiction writers ask for advice on what classes to take in college, they are always surprised when I answer, “psychology.” To create believable characters, it is important to provide them with proper motivation for their actions. Discuss the dynamics of the interaction between the characters. What were their motivations? What caused Kyra to dislike Sarah so intensely? Was she justified? Why did Ted Thompson always support Kyra instead of Sarah? Should parents always stand behind their own children, no matter what? Are there occasions on which they should not? Why did Sarah allow herself to be sucked into Eric’s moneymaking scheme? Why was Charlie so open-minded about controversial subject matter?
(3) An underlying theme in many of my novels is the danger of peer pressure. Compare the peer pressure in GALLOWS HILL with instances of peer pressure in KILLING MR. GRIFFIN and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. Have students discuss how they would have responded in similar situations.
(4) Why did the cheerleader group have so much influence over Kyra? Are there similar cliques in your school? How influential are they?
(5) If you’re comfortable doing so, have students research the subject of reincarnation as a cornerstone of most Eastern religions.
(1) Make a list of qualities required to be a “good teacher.” By those standards, was Mr. Griffin a good teacher? Is a good teacher always popular? Can a good teacher be strict and demanding?
(2) Discuss the importance of viewpoint. I wrote this novel in third person, in order to alternate viewpoints. Have students list the chapters by number and decide from which viewpoint each chapter is written. Chapter Five is written from the viewpoint of Griffin’s wife. Does this chapter in any way change their opinion of Mr. Griffin? If so, how? Who is the one main character who is never a viewpoint character in any chapter? (It’s Mark. I didn’t feel qualified to write from the viewpoint of a psychopath.)
(3) Discuss the technique of “foreshadowing” or subtly “planting” references to something seemingly insignificant that will later turn out to be crucial to the story. Find the references in chapters One and Five that foreshadow Mr. Griffin’s heart condition.
(4) I’m constantly getting e-mail from readers asking, “Was Mr. Griffin David’s father?” Have your students come up with their own answer. All the clues are in the story. Does
Mr. G's age correspond with Mr. Ruggles? His personality -- (over serious Griffin and free spirited Ruggles)? His career choice? His dedication to perfection? His huge feeling of responsibility toward his wife, unborn child, and students? The answer, obviously is NO. So why does David react emotionally to the class ring on Mr. Griffin's hand? If your students read the book carefully they will find that both men attended Stanford University. So they wear identical rings. Use this to demonstrate the importance of looking at details.
(4) Mark was a charismatic psychopath. Have students research real life people who fit that description, (Charles Manson, etc.) Compare Mark’s group of followers to Manson’s group of followers. Why are certain people vulnerable to such manipulation while other people are not?
(5) Have students stage a mock trial, playing parts of suspects, witnesses, attorneys, and a judge.. Have the lawyers present evidence from the book, the jury decide upon a verdict, and the judge pass sentence. What are the verdicts and the sentences?
(6) What is the significance of the “Song for Ophelia”? Discuss the irony in the final two lines in the final chapter. How does the presentation of that poem in the first and last chapters of the book work to bring the story full circle? Have students write a similar poem for Mr. Griffin.
(6) Have students view the video of KILLING MR. GRIFFIN and compare it to the book. What are the main differences? What do they think were the reasons for that the scriptwriter made those changes? Did they improve the story or detract from it?
(1) Why, in your opinion, did Julia work her spells on the Bryant family? What did she have to gain?
(2) If you were Rachel, how would you have tried to warn your family about Julia? Do you think they would believe you?
(3) Research some of the local folklore and superstitions of your area. Write a short report and share it with the class. Be sure to include the origins, and the stories that have come down through the years.
(4) What happens to Julia in the end? What makes Rachel think it is Julia in the newspaper articles? Suggest a plot for Lois Duncan to use if she ever decides to write a sequel to SUMMER OF FEAR?
Who Killed My Daughter?
Kaitlyn Arquette, 18, was shot to death in her car in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1989. Although police pronounced the murder a random-driveby-shooting, Kaitlyn’s family believes she was deliberately killed because she was preparing to blow the whistle on organized crime. The case is still unsolved, but the family’s personal investigation is on-going.
The Third Eye
When one of the neighborhood children disappears, Karen discovers that she can somehow "see" the missing child. Is it her duty to use her psychic gift to help the police solve crimes, even if that means she will never again be able to live as a “normal” teenager?
Stranger With My Face
Have you ever been haunted by the feeling that someone is spying on you, lurking around your house and yard, even entering your bedroom? Are your friends plotting against you when they say they've seen you do things you know you haven't done? What's going on -- and does Laurie really want to find out?
Down A Dark Hall
Why does the exclusive boarding school Blackwood have only four students? Kit walks the dark halls and feels a penetrating chill. What terror waits around the next corner?
Locked In Time
Nore’s new stepmother, stepbrother, and stepsister have a shocking secret – and they’re willing to do anything to protect it. Even commit murder.
Role-playing takes on a terrifying cast when 17-year-old Sarah, who is posing as a fortune-teller for a school fair, begins to see actual visions that can predict the future. Frightened, the other students brand her a witch, setting off a chain of events that mirror the centuries-old Salem witch trials in more ways than one.
Killing Mister Griffin
The plan was only to scare their English teacher. They never actually intended to kill Mr. Griffin. But sometimes plans go wrong.
Summer Of Fear
Why is Rachel the only one to sense the evil that surrounds her cousin Julia? Everyone else is enchanted by her -- especially Rachel's boyfriend. What sort of magic is Julia using?