Under the Baseball Moon
Contributed by Patty Campbell, critic, librarian, writer, editor, and teacher in the field of young adult literature, and winner of the Grolier Award from the American Library Association and the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English.
1. In the early part of the story, Andy cruises the streets of Ocean Beach on his skateboard, turning the rhythms he hears into riffs on his trumpet. Reread that section for inspiration, and then as you go through your own day, listen for the rhythmic patterns in the sounds around you, beats that can be tapped out, or hummed as a short melodic phrase. Share some of these with the group. You might even want to try combining them all together into a fusion-style musical piece.
2. This book is rich in "tongue-in-cheek overspeak" as Ritter plays with the rhyming, punning language of young California surfer-town musicians. A particularly sly pun is the name of the bar-owner OB Juan Quixote (hint: pronounced key-hoh-tee). Spot some other puns and amusing expressions and explain their origins. Rhyme within a sentence is a characteristic of hip-hop and rap that shows up in Andy's speech on nearly every page. Point out some of your favorites. Andy is proud of himself for getting good at Glory's baseball talk, like DH for "designated hitter." What are some of his "music talk" terms that she might not understand?
3. Long ago, Andy's parents "decided to back off from the stress and strain of life in order to be happier." Andy, on the other hand, wants to reach the top, to play his new brand of music as a world-class trumpeter. Which is better? Can a person have both? What differing bits of advice do the various wise people in the book (Olivia Olivetti, the Holy Jokester, Andy's grandfather, father, mother, and Max Lucero) give Andy about his goals? Which of them do you think are right?
4. Glory, too, is ambitious to reach the top. How does this goal make her happy? How does it make her unhappy? Andy says, "In a way we help each other reach a higher level." Is this mystic bond good for them? What are its drawbacks, and what must they learn to make room in their relationship for both of them to be excellent?
5. Who is Max Lucero in this story? What other stories about "selling your soul" does he remind you of? Does the kind of "success" he gives Andy always involve somebody else losing? What does his last name mean in Spanish? How does this connect with the idea of the baseball moon as a new beginning?
These discussion questions were written by Patty Campbell, a critic, librarian, writer, editor, and teacher in the field of young adult literature, and winner of the Grolier Award from the American Library Association and the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. Permission is granted for classroom use only.
Under the Baseball Moon
TEACHER'S GUIDE AND LESSON PLANS
Contributed by Susan Vreeland, Author, Educator, and Historian.
(Best-selling author of six novels including Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Clara
and Mr. Tiffany, Ms. Vreeland was also a well-loved high school English teacher
for many years.)
I. LITERARY QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What is a baseball moon and what effect does it have? How does this title reflect Andy's thinking?
2. What purpose in the novel is served by the Holy Jokester? Why is he holy? Or perhaps he isn’t, and the author is the jokester playing a joke on the reader.
3. Do you see any examples of magical realism (the realistic description of something that couldn't be real)? What do they contribute to Andy's thinking and to the plot?
4. Andy is given the advice that he must be pure in heart to realize his dreams. He lost this purity for a time when he accepted Max Lucero's promises. What does purity consist of, and what event or what feeling brings Andy back to being pure in heart?
5. Max Lucero insists, "I only want your happiness." What is the darker meaning of this sentence? When does Andy discover it? Who is Max Lucero? Is he evil or benevolent? What is his motivation?
6. Reread the introduction to Part II, page 127. What implications does it have for Andy?
7. Think about the setting of the novel, Ocean Beach, California. Make a list of ten adjectives that describe it. Make three of them compound adjectives. Would you like to live in OB or a community that has these qualities? Why or Why not?
8. What makes this novel so visual that you can see the action in the scenes? Is it the story or the author's use of concrete words or something else that allows you to see the action?
9. Interpret the meaning of "I'm already there." Write three separate sentences that convey the same thing, such as, “Of course, I’ll meet you later.” You may find that the explanatory sentences don't have the zip or style or punch that "I'm already there" has. This shows the skill of the writer to have come up with such a short sentence that has such power.
10. Finish this sentence in five ways. "This book is about..." Follow the three suggestions, and then do two more of your own.
This book is about a boy who...
This book is about a place that...
This book is about the idea that...
Make one of your sentences contain an abstract word. [Teachers: Explain the difference between abstract and concrete.]
11. By the end of the novel, what does Andy learn? What quality does he come to exhibit?
12. Speculate as to what Andy's future will be. What emotion has changed his future?
13. Think about Andy's song, "Degrees of Love." What degrees of love are present in the novel? What specific action exhibits the highest degree of love?
II. PERSONAL AND INTERPERSONAL EXPLORATION
1. In part, this novel is about aspirations and dreams. A wise person once said, first must come the private inclination. Then, the declaration. And finally, the action. What are your aspirations or dreams? Be brave enough to write them down. Then you've declared them. You're already on step two!
2. Andy's grandfather, his abelito, comes to his mind whenever he is confused or in need of direction, and he recounts to himself the advice his grandfather gave him. Has anyone given you advice about a dream or yearning of yours? If so, write who it was, what was the setting for the telling of the advice, and finally, what was the advice? If you cannot think of anyone, make up someone and answer the same questions. What would you hope this person would tell you or do for you? Note that it doesn't matter if this person is still living. His or her advice and thinking make him or her alive to Andy and to you.
3. Interview three classmates, separately, to find out what their aspirations are. Think about their goals overnight, and report back to one of these three with (1) some advice you could give him or her, and (2) a way you could help him or her reach his/her aspirations.
4. Although Andy's parents did not become well-known beyond their community, do you see any evidence that they are saddened by this or disappointed in life? Do you know someone who fits this description? What kind of person does it take to be at peace with never being able to reach his or her dreams and find other joys in life? What kind of person does it take to “just say no” to society’s concept of success and be content with a simple life?
III. CREATIVE WRITING
1. Describe a Place
Pre-writing: Is there a place you go to for quiet, solitary dreaming, or planning, or thinking something out? If not, invent one that suits you. Think about what it is that makes it give you a good feeling to be there.
Writing: Describe the place in writing, showing how the elements or atmosphere of that place affect you. Include several details of sensory experience—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. Consider temperature, the movement of air, the feel of something underneath you. Indicate some element of the time of day you like to be there.
a. If you have written "I like this place because...” try writing sentences that start with the place, then the feeling it gives you, such as, “Behind my neighbor's house, there is a tree... (describe the tree); or "At the south end of Mission Beach where the sand is wide"; or "In the town where I used to live..."
b. Take out any vague words and replace them with particular, specific words.
2. Invent a Conversation
Invent a conversation between HoJo and Max Lucero concerning the definition of success. Be sure to have some conflict or a difference of opinion. Try to mimic the distinctive way each of them speak. Who has the upper hand in the conversation?
IV. LANGUAGE STUDY
John Ritter's Word Play:
The author's joyful play with words takes several forms.
1. Word Derivations:
A derivative of a word is a related word, spelled somewhat differently, and functioning as a different part of speech. Example: music, musical, musically; carnal, Carnalito, carnation. Find examples. Ritter purposely uses word derivations incorrectly. Why do you think he does this and what does he gain from it?
2. Mid-sentence Rhyme, and End Rhyme:
Sometimes within a single sentence, other times in two sentences following each other, Ritter makes a rhyme similar to what rap musicians do. Here are some examples:
fierce, pierce (p. 159); joint, points (p. 160); hair, extraordinaire (p. 189); force, horse (p. 225); quiet, riot (p. 227). Find three more examples from the novel and record them with their page numbers. Then write a narrative about something happening (true or invented) and end a paragraph with a sentence pairing two words in a rhyme.
3. Changing Parts of Speech:
One function of an adverb is to tell how an action was done: slowly, enthusiastically, joyfully, quietly. Many adverbs end in "ly."
Ritter has Andy use an adjective or a noun instead of an adverb to modify an action, that is, to describe how an action was done and provide an image, which is nothing more than a picture in words. Often his constructions make use of a hyphen to join two words together that are not adverbs, to show how an action was done. For example, slow-hammered (p 189); piano-keyed (p. 140); shoe-slapped.
a. Find three more examples from the novel, and record them with their page numbers.
b. Go back over the narrative you wrote for number two and insert one changed part of speech.
4. Ritter invents the abbreviation THTH to mean "too hot to handle," and the boys use it as a code. Invent one of your own and teach it to three friends.
5. Jazz Riffs:
A riff in jazz is an improvisation or variation on a musical phrase which jazz musicians play with as a solo while the other band members play softly in the background or not at all, and when the soloist is finished, he hands off the musical phrase to another musician to play with it on his instrument. Ritter tosses words in phrases or full sentences back and forth between characters, and there is a sense of delight when one encounters the repeated phrase. Three examples are: We never had this conversation; You're free to go; I'm already there. When Andy says something remarkable, you are likely to find Glory saying it later.
Find in the book a phrase that the author could have used as a jazz riff but didn't. Insert it into another scene or conversation, and have it said by a different character.
6. Abbreviated Names
The name of Andy's band is devised on page 35 by taking elements from words in a phrase and fusing them together into an abbreviation that stands for the whole concept. "Fusion Charge Sk8rs Rool" becomes FuCharSkool. Invent a name or title of at least four words for a band of your own, a book you can imagine yourself writing, a poem you have written or intend to write, a video game you concoct. Then select elements from the words to fuse into an abbreviation.
7. Unexpected Manipulations.
Ritter takes well known or often repeated phrases and sentences and manipulates a word to give a different meaning than expected. Here are two examples:
"Don't jump to any delusions," instead of "conclusions."
"Here today, gone to sorrow," instead of "tomorrow."
a. In each case, explain how the unexpected word gives a secondary or deeper meaning.
b. Find another example of this technique.
c. Write two of your own. Insert one of them into your description of place that you wrote in Creative Writing #1.
Specialized Vocabulary and Context
Make three lists of specialized vocabulary: one for music, a second list for softball, and a third list for some activity with which you are familiar, for example: surfing, skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding, dance, basketball, drama/theater, painting. Label each term with a "U" for unique to this activity, "B" for borrowed from common speech. The B words will have different meanings depending on the context. [Teachers: Define context and encourage students to use this term in their conversation and writing.] Add a word of your own devising to list #3; define it; use it in the context of the activity. Read aloud your lists in groups. Which is your longer list—U or B? Which is the longer list among all the students in your group?
The Teacher's Guide and Lesson Plans were developed and contributed by Susan Vreeland, Educator, Author, and Historian.
Permission is granted for classroom use only.