Keeper of the Night Teachers Guide
Thirteen-year-old Isabel enters her mother's room one morning before going to school. She finds her mother kneeling as if praying, but dead by her own hand. With their home filled with memories of his late wife, Isabel's father takes the family (Isabel, and her younger siblings, Frank and Olivia) to live with his sister in a neighboring town. Isabel despises feeling like a stranger in this new home. Her sister wets the bed every night, and her brother withdraws from family and friends. But, six months later when they return to their home in Malesso, Guam, Isabel struggles to understand her place within her family's new configuration as well as her changing perceptions of relatives and friends who live in her immediate community. Isabel's story, related through her observations about the people around her, her retellings of cultural stories, her lists of things to do, and her poetry, reveals a young girl coming to grips with death while she embraces her own life.
Questions for Discussion:
1. In the opening chapter Isabel writes of finding her mother and of then getting her brother and sister off to school. "That morning I eased her door shut, tied on her apron, and made breakfast for my little brother and sister. I felt proud to scramble their eggs and butter their toast. Later I tied blue ribbons in Olivia's hair and dipped the comb into a glass of water before parting Frank's. I had no idea it was the first of many mornings I'd be doing that." Her reactions to her siblings vacillate between duty and pride. How do these reactions manifest themselves during the course of the novel? Do they stay constant? Does one overpower the other? Why or why not?
2. Isabel searches for a sense of place after her mother's death. First that place is Malesso as she rejects their temporary exile at her aunt's house in Tamuning. Isabel writes: "We're stupid staying in Tamuning while our lives take place in Malesso." But she also searches for that sense of place by trying to establish a seating configuration both at home and with her classmates. More figuratively, she considers her place within her childhood group of friends, her friendship with Roman, and with relationships with her aunts and the people of Malesso. Discuss how that sense of place changes throughout the novel.
3. Why doesn't Isabel enter the contest for fiesta queen?
4. Both Olivia and Frank show signs of distress after their mother's death. Isabel records those signs, but only once does she seek help, and that is with the logistical problem of washing Olivia's wet sheets. What in her character and situation explains why she keeps these observations to herself?
5. Frank carves "I hate you" on his wall and "I hate" on his body. Whom or what does he hate so much?
6. Isabel, Frank, and Olivia are individuals, yet each contains characteristics of both parents. What traits of their mother do you see in each character? What of Tata?
7. Isabel writes two compositions based on a true, personal experience. One is a poem about Frank and she receives an "F" on that poem. She does the assignment over, writing about an imagined trip to Disneyland, and receives an A+. Why is each treated differently? What do you think each composition means to Isabel?
8. Isabel talks to Ed about her mother's suicide and tells him, "I still can't figure out why she killed . . . herself." Ed replies, "You probably never will. That's the sad part. Most survivors don't even know why. But you can learn something from what your mother did." What does Isabel learn from her mother's suicide?
9. Who is the keeper of the night and what is s/he keeping?
10. Look at the jacket of the book. It suggests certain elements about Keeper of the Night. Before you started reading, and you had only looked at the jacket, what did you think the book was going to be about? As you were reading were you surprised, disappointed, or pretty much finding what you suspected would be there? Talk about your response with other members of your group. Now look at the jacket again. How do you think the jacket conveys your interpretation of the book?
Complete guide can be viewed at the Henry Holt web site.
Teacher guide written by Betty Carter
Betty Carter is Professor Emerita in the School of Library Information Studies at Texas Woman's University where she taught classes in children's and young adult literature. She has also worked as a reading teacher and a school librarian. She is currently a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine.