Educator’s Guide: Morning Girl
Morning Girl by Michael Dorris was not selected for a monthly Vamos a Leer book group meeting, but was developed instead to complement teaching about Columbus Day.
The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using to support using Morning Girl (Michael Dorris, Disney-Hyperion, 1990) in the classroom. The standards are not included here, but are included with each section of the lesson plans in the PDF. The complete guide is available for download at no cost: Vamos a Leer Educator’s Guide: Morning Girl.
This brief, lyrical novel explores the world of a sister and brother living on a lush island in the Bahamas just before the arrival of Columbus. Morning Girl and Star Boy narrate the story in alternating chapters, giving readers a view into the Taíno Indian culture of which they are a part. That they must live in harmony with nature is a given; that the children recognize the power of that harmony is elegantly drawn. Says Morning Girl: “I like the aloneness of the early morning. I try to step gently on the path so that the sounds I make will blend into the rustle of the world.” Her brother also feels it: “The first thing the wind moved was my blood. It ran faster in my arms and legs, pushing against the skin, warning me.”
Although Morning Girl takes place at a moment in time that changed the lives and culture of a people forever, Dorris never lets the global scope of history take over his story. His characters defy stereotyying, and are not called upon to symbolize or represent their people. Morning Girl and Star Boy are themselves, full developed, with concerns that even modern kids can understand: how to reconcile feelings of love and anger toward family members (including each other), and how to discover their individual identities. The ultimate arrival of Columbus is a minor footnote in their story, but the epilogue, an excerpt from Columbus’ journal, reminds us that the coming of Europeans to the island will eventually mean the nearly complete destruction of the Taíno and their way of life (Scholastic).
AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS
- Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
A little bit more about Michael Dorris in his own words…
When I was growing up as a person of mixed American Indian and European ethnic heritage, who, more than anything else, loved to read, I rarely encountered Native American fictional characters with whom I could identify.
The native peoples I read about in books always seemed to be performing rather dull crafts sort of like earnest Boy Scouts or riding around on ponies bareback, whooping it up. On the other hand, tests of courage regularly presented themselves, and those guys always passed ultimately passed with flying colors and never even bragged about doing so. In short, they weren’t like anybody I knew, and I didn’t think I’d get along with them very well…or vice versa.
The Indians I knew were neither noble nor savage most of the time. They had no natural sense of direction; they dressed in regular clothes; and they didn’t talk constantly in poetic metaphor. They tended to laugh a lot and to make jokes whenever possible, even when things weren’t going their way.
I decided that if I was going to write stories about children who happened to be Indians, the characters would have to in addition to being Indians also be fully invested children.
In the characters of Morning Girl and Star Boy, as well as in the narrator of my book Guests I allowed myself to speculate freely, to invite onto the page children who are curious, self-analytical, strong, moving toward independence. Their flaws are the flaws of youth: redeemable with wisdom and maturity.
Too often, I think, when we reflect on the sweep of history, we fail to see the individual tree for the forest. The people who met the Europeans become the Taíno or the Wampanoag instead of Morning Girl and Star Boy; their parents; She Wins the Race and Speaks to Birds; the grandfather whom they remember fondly; the new sister who never got to be born. For convenience, all distinctions, because distinctions are necessarily complicating, implicating, are swept aside in favor of lump category.
It’s an efficient process, and we value efficiency But happily, it’s not a rule that a writer must follow. Alone before a page, in the quiet of early morning, anything seems possible. Dream children can come to life and talk to one another in argumentative, demanding voices. They assert themselves, expect to be heard (Scholastic).
Check out the transcript of an interview with Michael Dorris for more information.
USING MORNING GIRL IN THE CLASSROOM
I first read about Morning Girl in Bill Bigelow’s article, “Good Intentions Are Not Enough: Recent Children’s Books on the Columbus-Taíno Encounter,” from the teacher’s curriculum guide Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years. Bigelow writes, “Of all the children’s books reviewed here, the novella by the late Michael Dorris, Morning Girl, most effectively re-centered attention on the people who were here first, those so thoroughly neglected in the traditional canon” (p. 65).
Morning Girl takes place just before the 1492 arrival of Columbus and his companions in the Caribbean. Through the story of a Taíno brother and sister, Star Boy and Morning Girl, Dorris gives us one possible vision for what Taíno life may have been like in the period before conquest and colonization. While Dorris’ book is one of the few (if not the only) that provides any kind of fictional representation of the Taíno, it’s not without some drawbacks. As Bigelow points out, Dorris does tend to perpetuate stereotypical gendered norms with his portrayal of star Boy and Morning Girl. Dorris paints a beautiful picture of a close-knit family that really listens to each other; yet, he seems to contrast this with a distant or almost non-existent community. I’m afraid Bigelow is correct: “Oddly, Dorris has invented a society of enormous individual freedom, but a freedom largely cut off from the broader community…In this respect, Dorris shares the common commercial multicultural ailment: failing to imagine a world fundamentally different than contemporary U.S. society” (p. 66). I mention these issues not to discourage anyone from using the book, but as a suggestion for some things you may want to discuss in further depth if you use the book in your classroom. In fact, many of the above-mentioned flaws may be excellent discussion starts to really unpack student notions around gender or the role of family and community relationships. I still think Morning Girl is an excellent book to use in the classroom, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a work of fiction to accompany a unit on Columbus or indigenous groups in the Caribbean. I found Dorris’ book to be beautifully written. He provides rich visual imagery that communicates an awareness and connection with nature that many of our students today are rarely exposed to.
The novel can be used in a variety of ways – as a read aloud novel, small group guided reading, or as a whole-class guided reading novel if you have enough copies. It is a short book (only 74 pages), so it could easily be read in a week or two depending upon how much time you devote to the activities and guided reading questions. The book is divided into nine chapters. The chapters alternate between the sister’s point of view and the brother’s point of view. Because of this, it makes the most sense to read two chapters in one sitting.
In addition to the lesson plans and activities included here, check out this resource below:
- Thoughts and questions for using Morning Girl from Colonial and Post Colonial Literary Dialogues
We have also created a thematic guide to accompany Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years. This novel could be used in conjunction with many of the activities included in that guide. Visit the LAII website to access the complete guide.
In addition, we also have a series of teacher-created lessons on the conquest of Spanish America. These are also available on the LAII website.
This novel can also be used in conjunction with the novel Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle. This is a Vamos a Leer featured title, so we have written a book review and accompanying Educator’s Guide.
LESSON PLANS & ACTIVITIES
The following lesson plans are divided into two categories: Character Analysis, and Guided Reading and Reflective Writing Questions.
- The activities on Character Analysis include character mapping and creating a Venn Diagram.
- The Guided Reading and Reflective Writing Questions can be used in multiple ways, in part depending upon how you are using the book. They can be assigned as individual student work, used during oral discussions of the novel to assess student comprehension, or to create comprehension quizzes or tests.
Have students create character maps of the two main characters: Morning Girl and Star Boy. These could be started after the first two chapters, and then added to throughout the rest of the story. When the class has finished their entire story and completed their character maps, the activity can be extended further. Using their character maps, students can create a Venn diagram to write a two paragraph compare and contrast essay about Morning Girl and Star Boy. Depending upon the grade level of your students, you may need to provide a template or model sentences to guide students in how to write appropriately structured paragraphs for a compare and contrast essay. Another option is to the character maps, the Venn diagram, and the compare and contrast essay as a whole class. This could be especially useful if students are new to any of these activities. This would provide the opportunity to model these activities using a read aloud book. Both blank and completed Venn diagrams and Character maps are included at the end of this guide.
The link below connects to a more interactive character map that students can fill out online – cutting and pasting images, shading shapes depending upon what they relate to, etc. It is a great way to teach character mapping and computer skills, but obviously requires access to computers. It could be used as a small group activity that students rotate through if you have classroom computers. For those students who have RtI (Response to Intervention) blocks, this could also be an activity appropriate for that time as it can be easily differentiated for each student. It could also be offered as an extra credit activity if your students have access to computers outside of the classroom.
Literary Interpretation: Guided Reading Questions and Writing Prompts
Chapter One (p. 1-6)
1. What does it mean when Morning Girl says “Father taught me to swim on land, careful as a turtle”? Why would it be important for Morning Girl to learn to “swim on land”? Use the context clues in the sentences before and after this one to help you answer. [Page 2]
Turtles are part of nature, they blend in. As someone who lives so closely with nature, it’s important that Morning Girl blend in as well. She says that she “steps gently. . .so that they sounds I make will blend in with the rustle of the world.” Turtles are also quiet. Morning Girl writes that “You’ll see more if you’re quiet” and “things don’t hide or wait for you to pass. And it’s more polite”. Morning Girl will see more if she’s quiet and respectful of nature. It’s one way of surviving without harming the environment.
2. What are the patterns that her brother sees in the sky—what would we call them? [Page 2]
3. If her parents named her Morning Girl, based on her description of her brother, what do you think they might name him? [Page 3]
Night Boy, Nighttime Boy, Evening Boy. In the next chapter we do find out what his parents name him—His name is Star Boy
4. Who are the “ghosts” that the Mother and Father are talking about? [Page 4]
Their two children—Morning Girl and Star Boy, who are waking them up with all of their talking when they would rather be still sleeping.
5. Based on what you’ve read so far, do you think Morning Girl and her Brother are close? Why or why not? Explain your answer with details from the story. The answer to this question will change throughout the story, especially by the end. This would be a good question to keep coming back to, or map out how their relationship progresses throughout the story. [Pages 3-6]
At the beginning of the story they do not seem to be close. Morning Girl talks about how different they are and that “It’s as though time is split between us, and we only pass by each other as the sun rises or sets” (p. 3). Morning Girl also talks about how her mother says that one day Morning Girl and Star Boy will be friends. Morning Girl also doesn’t seem to be very patient with her younger brother (p. 4), and possibly a little competitive.
Chapter Two (p. 7-12)
1. What lesson about nature does Star Boy share that he has learned? [Page 8]
Star Boy has learned that “the more you watch, the more you see”—the more you pay attention to what is around you, the more you are going to notice and learn.
2. What does Star Boy say that he doesn’t like? How does he deal with this when he feels it? [Pages 8-9]
Star Boy doesn’t like nothing—like when there is nothing to hear, nothing to see, nothing to touch. He seems to be describing a time when he feels very detached from the world. He deals with this by using all of his senses to bring him back—Hearing—he sings his father’s song; Touch—rubbing his fingers together; Taste—the salt water.
3. What is Morning Girl’s brother’s new name? Why do they name him this? [Page 11]
His new name is Star Boy. They name him this because he likes the night time, especially looking at the stars in the night sky.
Quick Write: Chapter Two
Do you have any siblings? Are you the oldest or the youngest? How do you feel about your big/little brother(s) or sister(s)? Do you think it’s better to be the youngest or the oldest? Why? If you don’t have any siblings, do you want any? Would you rather be the youngest or the oldest? Why?
Chapter 3 (p. 13-22)
1. How does Morning Girl describe Star Boy? [Page 14-15]
She describes him as the one who messes everything up—the one who leaves the footprints on the smooth sand of the beach. He did everything at the wrong time—laughing, talking, interrupting, etc. He jumps, he kicks, he digs, he makes messes, etc.
2. What does Morning Girl think of the new sister? What does Star Boy think of the new sister? [Pages 16-18]
Morning Girl is very excited about the new sister. Star Boy is not so sure he wants a new sister if she’s going to be just like Morning Girl.
3. How does the relationship between Morning Girl and Star Boy change by the end of this chapter? [Pages 20-22]
When they hear about the death of their little sister, both children are afraid – Morning Girl sees this in her brother, but also realizes that she and her brother are more alike than she realized. She sees him as more than just the little child who always annoyed her. At the end of the chapter, she’s not jealous of the attention her brother gets anymore.
Chapter 4 (p. 23-29)
1. What is Star Boy doing at the beginning of the chapter? [Page 23-24]
He is hiding by pretending to be a rock.
2. Do we know why he is hiding? [Page 24]
We don’t know all the details yet, but we get a hint when he says, “I wondered if the other rocks all around me had made mistakes, too” (p.24).
3. What mistake did Star Boy make? How do we find out? [Pages 25-26]
Star Boy’s mother is talking out loud, while looking for Star Boy. She says that Star Boy wouldn’t leave without saying good-bye “even if he had made a mistake, even if he had played in his father’s canoe and then forgotten to pull it high enough up the beach so that the tide would not carry it away” (p. 25). Star Boy has played with his father’s canoe and let it drift away.
4. Why does Star Boy turn from a rock back into a boy? [Pages 27-29]
Star Boy hears his father talking out loud about how his canoe has been found and there was no damage done, and that he could always replace his canoe but not his son, so now Star Boy knows he will not be in trouble. Then, his father says that Morning Girl admitted to losing the canoe, that’s when Star Boy jumps up and takes responsibility for losing the canoe.
5. Do you think that Star Boy’s mother, father, and sister all realized he was curled up pretending to be a rock when they were looking for him? Why? [Pages 27-29]
Yes, because all of them stop right next to Star Boy and start talking out loud, saying things that they think Star Boy needs to hear.
6. How has the relationship between Star Boy and Morning Girl changed by the end of this chapter? [Pages 27-29]
Star Boy realizes that his sister loves him, and Morning Girl realizes that she really loves her little brother. She worries about him when he goes to hide and even admits to losing the canoe to cover for him.
Chapter 5 (p. 30-36)
1. What does Morning Girl want to know at the beginning of this chapter? [Pages 30-33]
Morning Girl wants to know what she looks like.
2. Why is she asking so many questions? What does she not have that we do have today? [Pages 30-33]
Morning Girl is asking so many questions because she has no way of knowing what she looks like—they don’t have mirrors like we do.
3. How does her mother explain and describe to her how she looks—what does she do physically? [Pages 32-34]
Her mother takes one of Morning Girl’s hands and places it on Morning Girl’s face and then places her other hand on her mother’s face. She guides her hand over her face and tells Morning Girl to compare what she feels on her own face to what she feels and sees on her mother’s face.
4. How does Morning Girl finally see what she looks like? [Pages 35-36]
Morning Girl finally sees what she looks like by looking into the eyes of her father and seeing her reflection in his eyes.
Sketch and Listen Ch. 5
Re-read out loud pages 32-34 where Morning Girl’s mother is describing what she looks like. Give each student a piece of blank white paper. Re-read the same section again. Then, tell students to sketch what they think Morning Girl looks like based on the description. Re-read the section again, if students need to hear parts over. Give students the time to color in their drawings and then share them with the class. Discuss the students’ different interpretations.
Chapter 6 (p. 37-44)
1. Was it day or night when the storm hit? How do you know? [Page 37-38]
It was night. Star Boy says that he was outside studying the sky and watched as the stars were drowned by the storm (p.38).
2. What kind of natural disaster is Star Boy describing? What is he caught in? [Page 38-40]
Star Boy is describing a hurricane.
3. How does Star Boy describe the hurricane? [Page 41-42]
Star Boy describes the hurricane as if it is someone or something trying to beat him up:
“I was being pushed, shoved, a giant fist at my back and beneath my knees. . . .all I knew was water and movement that slammed and hissed and screamed by name. . .” (p. 41)
“The wind was angry that I had discovered how to stop myself. It slapped my cheeks and banged my head and pulled at my elbows. . .” (p.42).
4. How does Star Boy stay safe during the hurricane? What saves him? [Page 41-42]
Star Boy gets stuck in a tree and hangs on to it throughout the hurricane.
5. Who does Star Boy visit with during the storm? [Page 43]
Star boy visits with his grandfather’s spirit.
Chapter 7 (p. 45-53)
1. What do they do after the storm? What does Father decide they should do? [Page 47-48]
They don’t immediately start to work and rebuild everything. Father decides that this is a chance to be happy together, to dance, make music, play games, and share food. It was a time to celebrate that no one had been killed in the storm.
2. What does Star Boy do that causes so much trouble? [Page 48-49]
Star Boy races into the area where they are holding the celebration and immediately begins to grab food, acting like a young child, and doing whatever he wants. Star Boy is mocked by his uncle for acting so inappropriately.
3. What happens that lets us know that the relationship between Star Boy and Morning Girl has changed? [Page 50-51]
When Star Boy is mocked, he is quite stunned and embarrassed, but Morning Girl does not make him stand alone, embarrassed and the center of attention. Instead, she begins to act just like he did, running around and grabbing food. She does this to make him feel better, to take attention away from what he had done. Morning Girl shows that she loves her brother and feels loyalty to him by sticking up for him.
4. What does Star Boy call Morning Girl at the end of the chapter? What does this new name mean? [Page 53]
Star Boy calls his sister “The One Who Stands Beside” because she had not made him endure the humiliation of being reprimanded and mocked by their uncle alone.
Chapter 8 (p. 54-61)
1. Who does Star Boy get upset with first? Why? [Page 54-55]
First, Star Boy gets upset with his best friend, Red Feathers because he teases him about the scene the day before at the celebration.
2. Who does he get upset with next? Why? What does he do? [Page 56-57]
Next Star Boy gets upset with his father because he feels like his father is also teasing him about the day before.
Chapter 9 (p. 62-72)
1. How do you know that Morning Girl’s family really cares about each other? How do they demonstrate this? [Page 62-67]
When someone is in trouble, they all try and help. They all worry about Star Boy and all try and get him to come home. No one really rests until he’s back.
2. Two things happen in the morning when Morning Girl leaves her home that make her feel better. What are they? [Page 67-68]
First, Morning Girl decides that she will give her new sister a name—She Listens. Then, Morning Girl finds a perfect conch shell that would be perfect for Star Boy’s collection. Both things that make her happy are related to her siblings.
3. What does Morning Girl see when she’s swimming? How does she describe it? [Page 68]
Morning Girl sees the Spanish explorers rowing toward the shore, although she doesn’t know who they are. She describes this as “I heard an unfamiliar and frightening sound. It was like the panting of some giant animal, a steady, slow rhythm, dangerous and hungry. And it was coming closer” (p.68).
Note: This may be a good chance to discuss foreshadowing and/or predicting if those are appropriate skills for your class.
4. Morning Girl sees what we know to be Spanish explorers, possibly Columbus or his men. How does she describe them? [Page 69]
She describes their dress as “The strangers had wrapped every part of their bodies with colorful leaves and cotton. Some had decorated their faces with fur and wore shiny rocks on their heads” (p.69). She describes them physically as “very round”.
5. How does Morning Girl treat and respond to the visitors? [Page 70-72]
Morning Girl is very friendly to the visitors. She shouts out hello and welcomes them. She tells them where to leave their canoe and that she will go get the others. She doesn’t realize that they don’t understand her.
6. What does Columbus think of the Taíno based upon his journal entry? [Page 73-74]
Columbus thinks that they will be friendly, writing that they do not carry weapons. He writes that they are poor, but very handsome. He thinks that they are intelligent and will make good servants because of this. He also believes that they can be converted to Christianity quickly.
Writing Activity: Morning Girl and Star Boy
Think about the relationship between Morning Girl and Star Boy. What was their relationship like at the beginning of the story? Describe it. By the end of the story their relationship has changed. Describe what it is like now. Do you think it is better or worse at the end of the story? Why? Explain your answer
Writing Activity: The Arrival of the Spanish-What will happen?
At the end of the story, Morning Girl meets the Spanish explorers. How do you think the life of her family might change now? Do you think it will change for the better or do you think it will be worse? Why? Explain your answer.
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy. Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group. For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website. This guide was prepared 12/2012 by Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant.
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