Reading Group Guide
About the Book
One of the most acclaimed fantasies in recent years -- winner of a Newbery Honor Medal and chosen as a Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Book for fiction -- The Moorchild is set long ago in an unfamiliar place where fairy folk and humans sometimes intermingle. Yet at its heart, this distinguished novel is about the timeless issues of fear and prejudice. Half-folk and half-human, Saaski has no place in either world. The human villagers ridicule and taunt her because she's different. They blame her for a pox that's plaguing their children and for the death of their cattle. Her life is threatened. But Saaski has no desire to hurt others. She is searching for the truth about herself and for some place where she can finally fit in. An "unusual blend of fantasy and contemporary concerns," School Library Journal wrote in its starred review, "The Moorchild will truly be a magical find."
- The Moorchild is dedicated to "all children who have ever felt DIFFERENT." Is this another way of saying that the book is dedicated to all children? Do you think every child -- or adult -- has felt different at some point in their lives? Have you?
- Discuss Saaski's friendship with Tam. Why is each so important to the other? How are they alike? How are they different? How long do you think they will keep traveling together?
- Almost as soon as she sees Saaski, Old Bess is convinced that the child is not human. What is her evidence? Why won't Yanno and Anwara believe what she says about the baby? What do they fear will happen to the baby if she's right? What do they fear will happen to them? Are their fears justified?
- The villagers mistreat Saaski because she is different from them. Are there people in your own community who are rejected because they are different? Who are they? How are they mistreated? Are there local individuals or groups devoted to supporting them? How can you lend a hand?
- Because she is half-Folk, Saaski doesn't understand human emotions like hate or love. She asks her friend Tam to explain them to her. How does he define them? Do you agree with his definition?
- Disobeying the orders of her human guardians, Saaski returns again and again to the Moors. Why does she feel so at ease there? Where do you feet the most comfortable? Why?
- Saaski takes enormous risks to return a stolen human baby back to her real parents. Why is this so important to her? Why is she so upset by the name that the fairy folk give to this human child?
- Back when Saaski lived in the Folk Mound, she lived "a life without yesterdays or tomorrows -- life as it was meant to be." Or so she thought, before she lived among humans. What does "a life without yesterdays or tomorrows" mean to you? Is it an appealing idea? Is it scary? Why?
- Saaski is part of two worlds -- the human and the Folk. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each world. Which would you rather live in, Why?
Activities and Research
- Saaski's long lost memories of her early life with the Folk come rushing back when she talks to one of her childhood friends from the Folk Mound. Jog your own memories. After looking through old photographs, listening to music you used to enjoy, or talking to a family member or friend you haven't seen for a long time, write about a long ago experience in your own life that you had almost completely forgotten.
- Although Old Bess tries to convince them otherwise, the villagers believe that Saaski has made their children sick. Even now, myths and superstitions still surround many illnesses. Invite a health professional into your classroom to discuss how she or he fights fears or outdated beliefs that can do harm to their patients.
- Changelings -- babies who are taken from their true parents and transformed -- often appear in fairy tales and folk tales. On your own or with the help of your teacher or librarian, search for other tales about changelings. Compare those stories with The Moorchild. How is Saaski like the other changelings you discover? How is she different?
- Depending upon who is doing the looking, the Folk Mound is either beautiful or shabby. Draw a picture on your own -- or create a diorama with a group -- that depicts both views of the Folk Mound.
- When Saaski discovers a set of bagpipes, she plays this famously difficult instrument so expertly that Yanno fears her musical gift might come from a fiendish source. Search for recorded versions of bagpipe music. If possible, invite an accomplished bagpipe player into your classroom to perform some pieces and discuss the instrument.
- The Moorchild is sprinkled with unusual words and phrases such as "argle-bargle," "cozen," and "conventical." As you're reading the book, keep a list of them. Which can you find in a good dictionary? Which do you believe the author invented herself? How would you define them?
About the Author
Eloise McGraw began writing at the age of eight, and except for a ten-year period when she became absorbed in painting and drawing, she has never stopped for long since. McGraw's first book, Sawdust In His Shoes, was published in 1950. Her twentieth book for young people, The Moorchild, is a 1996 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book for fiction and a 1997 Newbery Honor Book. Eloise received the 1996 C.E.S. Wood award for Lifetime Achievement.
She and her husband, William Corbin McGraw, also an author of children's books, live in Lake Oswego, Oregon.