Featured Book: Heartlight

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by T. A. Barron. Philomel, 1990. ISBN 0399221808. Order Online, Hardcover, Paperback.
This is an exerpt from Using Literature in the Middle School Curriculum by Carol Hurst and Rebecca Otis. Linworth, 1999. ISBN 0938865730. Order Online or call Linworth at 1-800-786-5017.

Comments:

Although the book's theme of the role of death is a somber one, the writing is not. That's partly because of the attendant theme of love conquering all. The book has elements of physics, metaphysics, adventure, science fiction and fantasy, broadening its appeal to many audiences. Even the author recognizes similarities in plot to Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time which many students will have read previously.

Plot:

Heartlight is the first book in the Adventures of Kate trilogy. Kate's grandfather has been working in his laboratory to uncover an unknown element in the heart of stars, called "Pure Concentrated Light". He has succeeded in making a small amount of this magical substance which has the power to liberate your "Heartlight" so that you can travel to anyplace in space. Soon his laboratory is plagued by a destructive presence and then the sun begins to lose power. Grandfather becomes "heartlight" and travels to a distant star which he believes may hold the answer. Kate, using a magical butterfly, joins him and they begin a voyage into a world where Darkness and the Pattern are battling it out. They learn about the desire to live forever in contrast to the rightness of the pattern where the death of one thing means the birth of something else.

Taking It Deeper:

What do you think the author's feeling about death is? Does that coincide with your own beliefs?

Investigate the philosophy about death in religions other than your own.

What if everyone did live even twenty years longer than the expected years today? thirty years? one hundred? What would it do to the quality of life? What accommodation would societies have to make?

Read or reread the sections of Tuck Everlasting, Charlotte's Web and Everywhere (see below) which talk about life and death.

How do you understand the Sages' statement: "There are two kinds of death for a star, and they are as different as hope is different from despair."

"If you trust in the Pattern, you trust in yourself. and if you trust in yourself, your voice holds all the power of truth." is another quote from the book. Does it have any meaning for you?

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Compare this book's philosophy about death with that in The Giver.

What did you think of grandfather's fate in the book? Would you have written it that way? How did the author help you accept it?

Make a venn diagram comparing this book with A Wrinkle in Time.

Related Books:

Picture Book

Goble, Paul. Beyond the Ridge. Bradbury, 1989. ISBN 0027365816. Paperback. 32 pages.
This is a Native American view of death. We watch the spirit of an old woman leave her body and follow the voices from the next world as they lead her up a ridge. Descending from it she finds her parents in a circle of teepees. We then shift back to the deathbed where the family prepares her body and grieves for her.

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Novels

* * * * Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting. Farrar, 1975 ISBN 0374378487. Hardcover.
The Tuck family has discovered a spring the water from which brings eternal life. Winnie Foster, a ten year old who has led an overprotected life, stumbles on their secret and becomes their friend. A man in the yellow suit learns their secret and threatens to sell the water to the highest bidder and to force Winnie to drink it, thus remain a child forever. Mrs. Tuck kills him and is jailed and sentenced to be executed. Though the family knows she cannot be killed, they also know that, when they try to kill her their secret will be revealed.

* * * * Brooks, Bruce. Everywhere. HarperCollins, 1990. ISBN 0060207299. Order Online, Library Binding.
This is a short and very accessible book with layers of meaning beneath a simple text. Peanuts' beloved grandfather may well be dying. When Lucy Pettibone, a black woman who claims to be a nurse is called to the house, she brings her nephew Dooley to keep Peanuts company while she and his grandmother tend to Grandfather. Peanut's grief and anxiety are overwhelming and the gullible, vulnerable Peanut quickly grasps at Dooley's outrageous plan to switch the grandfather's soul with that of a turtle. The reader may be as fooled as Peanuts is for the books' resolution takes some careful reading. The action takes place during one trauma-filled day. We're as repulsed and torn as Peanuts is as the day draws to its climax and just as relieved at the resolution.

* * * Hunter, Mollie. A Sound of Chariots. HarperCollins, 1972. ISBN 0064402355. Order Online.
Bridie is mourning the death of her father, Patrick McShane, in this novel set in Scotland. Then she comes across a line in a poem which puts in words her sense of transiency.

* * * * L'Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. Dell, 1976. ISBN 0440998050. Order Online, Hardcover, Paperback, Cassette.
Meg, her brother and a friend, travel through time and space to rescue her father who is held captive by an all-consuming power on the sinister planet Camazotz. They accomplish their travel through the use of a tesseract: in effect, a wrinkle in time. This they have learned from their other worldly neighbors: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which.

* * * * Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Houghton, 1993 ISBN 0395645662. Order Online, Hardcover, Paperback, Spanish, Audio Cassette, Large Print Edition.
This is a focus book elsewhere in Using Literature in the Middle School Curriculum.

* * * Paulsen, Gary. Tracker. Bradbury, 1984. ISBN 0027702200. Order Online, Hardcover. Paperback.
John, who is 13, must track and kill a deer for his family's winter meat. In so doing, he finds himself drawn to the doe which he is pursuing and which draws him ever deeper into the woods. John hates his role as hunter and he cannot accept the fact that his grandfather is dying of cancer. For John, pursuing the doe until he can touch her and NOT give her death helps him to accept his grandfather's fate.

* * * * Stolp, Hans. The Golden Bird. Dell, 1990. ISBN 0440406110. Order Online.
An eleven year old boy shares his daily experiences with us as he slowly understands that he is dying. Daniel is eleven and has cancer. In the hospital for the last five months, he tells us of his daily experiences. His father has died four years before and comes to Daniel in a dream. "Not yet, Daniel! Soon...soon...and then I'll make us both some tea." Three birds land on Daniel's window sill: one blue, one green, and one golden. The golden bird goes to build a nest and when the eggs inside have all hatched, Daniel is told, the golden bird will come back for Daniel. One of the other birds visits Daniel everyday, flying magically through the window and bringing Daniel friendship and messages from the golden bird. Daniel is excited about going to the nest and about being with his father, but he is also frightened and in pain. He feels horrible about leaving his mother alone. By the time the golden bird comes for Daniel, his father is at his side and leaving the world of the living no longer seems so difficult.

* * * * White, E. B. Charlotte's Web. HarperCollins, 1952. ISBN 0060263857. Order Online.
This classic has a strong theme of the inevitability and acceptance of death.

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