Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

I am working on a training for my library over the Missouri Mark Twain Award Nominee books. My job is to read all of the Mark Twain Books and prepare to do book talks and outreach programs to promote these Missouri award books

 One thing I was really disappointed in was the lack of resources for the Mark Twain Award books.

My favorite outreach program is something my library calls "Chat and Chew." Once a month,  we pick one of the Mark Twain book awards and we do book discussion with the kids during their lunch. It is a lot of fun, but it requires a lot of work. Lately, I find myself coming up with discussion questions an hour before the outreach visit.

I am a bit of a procrastinator.....but where is a discussion kit when you need it?! 

Knowing I am not the only one who needs discussion questions and activity ideas, I wanted to try and fill this gap. If this helps you, please leave me a comment below. I will continue this series. If not, I will try and focus more on programming  & reviews instead. I want to post things that are useful for you. :)  Without further adieu, here is my discussion resource: 


Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool 

Book Talk

In 1945, twelve year old Jack is suddenly uprooted from his home in Kansas after his mother’s death. His father, who just returned from fighting in WWII, takes Jack to live in a boarding school in Maine. Suddenly, Jack finds himself in a new place with no friends and with a father he barely knows. Everyone that goes to the boarding school already has their group of friends. That is everyone except- a strange boy named Early Auden.

When everyone leaves for fall break, Jack is left alone with Early at the school. Early is determined to go on a quest in the Appalachian Mountains to find a great bear. Jack decides to go with him. This leads to an unforgettable journey where the boys must try and navigate the trail to find the bear, overcome pirates, solve a murder mystery, and try and make it home.


Book Trailer 

Discussion Questions 

In what ways is the state of Maine different from Jack’s home in Kansas? Why do you think the author chose to set the book in Maine?

Why do you think that Early did not go to class? What do you think he does while the rest of the kids are in class?

What are some things that Early & Jack have in common with the character Pi? Do you think that the author did this on purpose? Sometimes on Jack and Early’s journey, it is as if Early can predict what will happen based on his story of Pi. Why do you think that is?

What is a quest? Early’s quest was to find Pi, but did Jack have a quest? Did Gunner?  

Why do you think that Early was inspired to write a story using the numbers pi? Can you tell a story using numbers?

Gunner says, “The ones who are most consumed with their hunt- desperate, you might say- for what they think they are after, it is often a far cry from what they are really after. It is a fact, too, that sometimes, they not really looking for anything at all but are running away from something instead.” (p 169). What do think that Gunner meant by this? Are Early, Gunner, and Jack running from something?

Jack contemplates what is more meaningful. Is it the actual journey or is it finding what you are looking for?

Why didn't Fisher find Early to tell him he was alive? If Early didn't find him, do you think he ever would have came back?

Pi & Fisher believe that they have to work to earn their name. What does this mean? Do you think you have to earn your name? *Bonus question -If you could have any name, what name would you choose? *

Why does Mrs. Johansen think that Jack is her son? Jack’s mom believed that everyone is connected. How is Mrs. Johansen’s story connected to Jack’s? Do you believe that everyone’s story is connected?


When doing a book discussion, I enjoy to bring with me some activities for the kids to bring home with them or to further discuss in the book discussion. Here are some activities you may enjoy to do with this book: 

1. Stargazing

The sky is not a contest or an exam. The only question is, Can you look up? Can you you take it all in? As for the names of constellations, they are not be-all or end-all. The stars, they are not bound one to another. They are meant to be gazed upon. Admired, enjoyed.”  (page 175)

Read this quote and discuss stargazing. Pull out some pictures of the night sky. Can your group find a picture in the stars? Why do we see different things?


Star Finder Game

2. Appalachian Trail

Bring in some pictures of the Application Trail to help the kids be able to in vision the trail. Is it what they imagined? 

Appalachian Trail
Hiking Tips - Discuss hiking tips and camping. What are some things that Early and Jack could have done differently to ensure that they had a safe journey? What are some camping journeys your group has been on? Could they relate to some of the things that happened to Jack and Early's journey?
3. Grizzly Bears

Early and Jack are a on quest to find the biggest bear on the Application Trail. How big can bears get? Spend some time discussing these large bears. In the book, Early thinks this bear symbolizes a mother's love. Why does he think this?

Black Bear Activity Packet  (3rd Grade)

Books Like This One 

I hope this helps!


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