Ideas for Learners Promoting Literacy, Inquiry, and Meaningful Learning Experiences

The Paper Cowboy by Kristin Levine


Book Summary

Tommy is trying to navigate his way through life in the U.S. McCarthy area, where neighbors are on alert for communism, and where time at home is like walking on pins and needles - Tommy never knows what kind of mood his mother might be in, or how upset she will be at any given moment. There's a kid at school Tommy doesn't like much; he's an easy kid to pick on. But when Tommy's favorite sister is injured in a terrible fire, he discovers he might have more in common with the kid at school than he ever expected.
The Paper Cowboy book cover
The Paper Cowboy

Book Review

There were several places where I wanted to put this book down, because the main character kept making painful decisions, but I was glad I kept reading. While I can't say I enjoyed it, exactly, I think it is a powerful story that raises important issues about who we choose to be and what defines us. There is an abusive parent, a tragic accident, and repeated bullying. There is also resilience, community support, and redemption. An interesting study of bullies, in various forms, from communist accusers to abusive parents to schoolyard meanness. It's also an interesting study of community, and how people have different sides to them in different contexts. It's a book worth reading and discussing.

Topics and Themes for this book:

  • McCarthyism; U.S. Communism
  • Family and Community Relationships
  • Ways We Define Ourselves
  • Bullying
  • Overcoming Tragedy

Discussion Questions for this book:

The best discussion questions, of course, are generated by and contemplated by readers. These questions are designed to avoid major spoilers about the book, and to provide a starting point for teachers, parents, and student reading groups.

**Questions Coming Soon**

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