SUMMER SONG appeals to a wide audience of young
readers, many who may be facing difficult issues
themselves. Because the plot deals realistically about a
fractured family and a teen's struggle for control, students
can better grasp what Etta May herself finally comes to
understand: while we cannot control life, we can affect
parts of it. Bits of humor lighten what could be a heavy
tone as it asks readers to think about family, separation,
Friendship -- Ask students to describe Etta May and
Quentin's friendship. Etta May calls him her best friend.
What are the qualities in Quentin that she says, "made
me forget the rough edges?" Both of their mothers have
left for different reasons. How might this strengthen their
friendship? At first Etta May doesn't trust her neighbor
Mrs. Moreles who she thinks is a snoop. How and when
does her attitude change?
Family -- Ask students to describe the relationship
between Etta May and Gent, and Etta May and her
mother Claire. Ask how Etta May deals with the feelings
she has for Claire, bringing in during the discussion the
word "ambivalence." At what point in the story does Etta
May finally gain a sense that the three of them are truly a
family? How does this affect what she does next?
Compromise -- Etta May is caught between her promise
to Gent who wants to die at home in his "own bed" and
her mother who wants to move them to Pittsburgh to live
with her. Could Etta May have resolved her dilemma
differently? Would it have been better than the path she
chose and why?
Separation and Loss -- Etta May and Quentin both
experience separation from their mothers. Ask students
to compare and contrast the way each one deals with
their feelings. Later, Etta May and her mother face the
loss of Gent. How do you think they might help support
each other after his death? While readers know that Gent
will eventually die, still they are left with a sense of hope.
Have students explain.
Language Arts -- If Etta May were to keep a journal,
what might she write after she and Claire return home
from the hospital (pages 38-39) and they are starting to
get along? What might Etta May write the next day when
she finds out about Eddie and the fact that her mother is
going back to Pittsburgh for what she calls "an
emergency?" Does it remind you of a similar experience
you might have had or read about?
Math -- Quentin has his heart set on an electric guitar
that he has seen at the mall in Liberty. Have students
look up the price of a new instrument verses the cost of
renting a similar one. Make a chart showing all the
charges and insurance fees. Over a year's time, which
would be more economical? What are the
advantages/disadvantages of renting verses purchasing an
Social Science -- Invite a Hospice volunteer to the
classroom to share his/her own experiences with the
students as well as the philosophy of the program.
Music -- Quentin makes up his own country western
songs. Bring in to class a variety of music (country
western, jazz, rap, rock/roll, classical, etc.) Ask the
students to describe how they are similar and how they
are different. Discuss the fact that the various styles do
not remain static; they evolve over time (i.e., the number
and type of electrical instruments used today verses
Art -- Etta May first hears about the "WHUG Jumpin'
Jamboree Talent Show" on the radio. Ask each student to
design a poster advertising the event.
Closure -- Etta May finally came to understand that while
we cannot control life, we can affect parts of it. How did
this help Etta May resolve what seemed an
insurmountable problem? Ask students how might it help
with their own lives.
Copyright © 1999 by Susan Rowan Masters
All Rights Reserved