by Gary Paulsen. Novel. 128 pages. Grades 5-9.
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Mr. Paulsen is a prolific writer who has given us many treasures, probably the best known of which is Hatchet (Penguin, 1988 ISBN 0-14-032724-X). His books often deal with a character in isolation who goes through a sort of rite of manhood through survival in that isolation. Gary Paulsen lives in northern Minnesota, and Foxman as well as many of his others are set in that area. While it deals with isolation, it is primarily a book about the horrors of war and the various ways we deal with it.
The book does have some sexual references although they are far from explicit. They are alluded to rather than narrated and they are not the focal points of the book. However, they are there and forewarned is forearmed. You would never assign it or start reading it aloud without a prereading. Right? Right!
In Foxman the narrator, a 15 year old boy and his cousin find the Foxman, a recluse with a horribly disfigured face, in a remote cabin in Northern Minnesota. The narrator has been sent to live with relatives in Minnesota because of the violence of his alcoholic parents. The relatives have accepted him and made a place for him in their lives, including him in the storytelling on winter evenings or, rather, including him in the audience for storytelling.
It is two of the men who tell stories each night and their stories are always about their adventures in World War I. The audience is expected to laugh at many of them and the narrator finds nothing to laugh at, feeling instead the horror of war. As the boy's relationship with the Foxman grows, he becomes aware of the contrast between the Foxman's handling of the war experience and that of his two uncles.
Things to Talk About and Notice
- You'll want to focus on the Foxman as the book does. What caused his disfigurement? Notice the ways in which he deals with it, living away from society, hiding his face even hiding himself so that the boys don't have to look at him. Find examples of his behavior which show his constant awareness of his physical appearance. Imagine the horror of being horrible to look at.
- Look at some of the minor characters here. The uncle is concerned about the boy. He asks if he is happy and if he knows the woods well enough now so that the uncle can relax a bit when the boy is gone for long periods of time. Does the uncle know about the Foxman?
- What about the person who brings the supplies once a year to the Foxman? What does he/she know? How does that person deal with it? How was the routine established? Did the Foxman go to town once?
The Foxman says at one point, "Science kills beauty." What does he mean? What is his example of knowledge ruining wonder? What are some other examples?
- Talk about the effects on both boys of knowing the Foxman. Why is Carl's reaction different than his cousin's? What will change in the boy's life after this book? Will he stay in the north? with the family? alone? Will he go back to his alcoholic parents?
- Finally, there is the burning of the cabin with the Foxman and all he owns inside. Is that what Foxman wanted? Why did the boy take only the fox pelt? Was he right?
- Another quote says that the storytellers are "plucking roses from manure." What about that one? Can you cite examples of it in the book and in life?
- There is violence throughout this anti-war novel. Pick out the references to it and debate their cause and effects.
- Speaking of alcoholism, investigate Alanon and Alateen. Could they have helped the boy?
The battle of Verdun in World War I is talked about in the book. Find out what you can about it.
- Find out about the use of mustard gas. Who used it? What were its effects? Was it the first and last time poisonous gas was used in warfare?
- Can there be rules to war? Who makes the rules?
- The work on the farm is important to the book. Everyone does his or her share, even the animals. Talk about the draft horses. Do some research on the different breeds and their particular strengths.
- The cold plays a part in this story. He talks about the blue of cold. What does he mean? Frostbite is dealt with. Is rubbing snow on frostbite recommended? At one point the boy is freezing to death. Are his experiences consistent with those of real people in the cold? What about snow-blindness? Is it a real thing? Talk to an eye doctor about it. How would the author have known about such things?
- A distinction is made in the book between killing and hunting animals. How do you feel about it? Is hunting still necessary? Is there a connection between the killing of animals and the killing during war in Foxman? Is trapping necessary? Why? Is there a humane trap? Contact animal rights organizations and furriers to get their sides of the debate. There are some pretty graphic descriptions in the book of preparing killed animals for food. Who prepares the meat you eat?
- There are other disfigured characters in literature and in real life: the Elephant Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, the boy in "Mask." Compare their handling of the problem with that of Foxman. What would you do?
- Tree by Leaf by Cynthia Voigt
Macmillan, 1988 ISBN 0-689-31403-5.
Compare the Foxman to the father in Tree by Leaf. The father was also gassed and is hiding out in the boathouse rather than facing his family.
- Collected Stories by Richard Kennedy
Harper, 1987 ISBN 0-06-023256-0.
This book contains a story called "Oliver Hyde's Dishcloth Concert". In that story Oliver hides his face with a dishcloth, not because of a physical disfigurement, but because of an emotional one.
- Fireweed by Jill Paton Walsh
Farrar, 1988 ISBN 0-374-42316-4.
This novel deals with war more directly.
- Keeper of the Doves by Betsy Byars
Viking, 2002 ISBN 0670035769.
Another novel which focuses on an outcast.
- The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss.
Random, 1984 ISBN 0394865804. Picture Book.
In this fable, a great wall separates the Yooks from the Zooks, but that's not enough to keep matters peaceful. The competition escalates until each side has a bomb and is standing at the wall ready to drop it.
The Goats by Brock Cole. (2010, Square Fish. ISBN 9780312611910. Order Info.) Novel. 192 pages. Gr 5-9.
In this modern survival story Laura and Howie are the victims of a camp prank where a boy and a girl are stripped and left on an island in the lake. They are the Goats, chosen because of their inability to fit in. Laura and Howie decide to disappear both for revenge and because they don't want to return to the cruelty of the kids at the camp.
- Other works by Gary Paulsen
Read some of his other books (they're all good) and see if you can decide what his values are. There are links to reviews of many of them below.
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