By Sharon G. Flake
About the Book:
Mann lost his younger brother, Jason, two years ago- an innocent bystander in a shooting on his own porch. Murders are a frequent occurrence in Mann’s neighborhood. They’re so common, in fact, that he and his best friend, Kee-lee, are keeping a running tally of all the deceased, since no one else seems to be paying attention. More and more, Mann escapes reality through painting and horseback riding but eventually turns to fighting, cheap thrills, and much worse. In a last-ditch effort, his father does the one thing he thinks will teach his son how to survive- drawing on an ancient African tradition, he abandons Mann and Kee-lee in the woods, leaving them to navigate their way home, alone.
What seems like a good idea can quickly turn tragic when a father’s good intentions force his son down a destructive path. Another wrong turn, and it will all be over for Mann as well. Bang.
About the Author:
Sharon G. Flake is the groundbreaking author of the 2002 Coretta Scott King Honor Book Money Hungry. With The Skin I’m In, her first book for children, she won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for new authors. Ms. Flake lives with her daughter in Pittsburgh, PA.
About the guide:
This guide includes discussion questions and projects intended to extend the use of the novel into classrooms, book clubs, and literature circles. It should promote discussion on the themes of the novel including faith, betrayal, family relationships, racism, violence and hope.
- Compare Kee-lee and Mann. How are they alike? In what ways are they different? Do you think their personalities contribute to their fates? How?
- Mann’s dad tries to turn him into a “real man.” What is a real man? Do you think it has a different definition depending on where you live? Or what culture you’re from? How? Why?
- How does Jason’s murder unravel this family? HO wwould Mann’s story be different if this hadn’t happened? What other events can destroy a family? Why do some families survive tragedy (and even become closer) while others fall apart? What, if anything, can others do to help?
- In the beginning of the novel how does William punish his son? Did you agree with these tactics or not? How does the extreme environment they live in contribute to his father’s need to push Mann into adulthood? How would you react if you were Mann to these harsh punishments? Does his father have any other alternatives? What might they be?
- “They kill people where I live. They shoot ‘em for no real reason. You don’t duck, you die.” (p.1) Describe the neighborhood where Mann and Kee-lee live. How does this shape their outlook on the world? On their chance for a successful future? How would you be different if your neighborhood was like theirs? How would their lives be different if they lived in yours?
- Discuss Man and Kee-lee’s art. How does it help them express themselves? How does it pay off? What do they learn about themselves, each other and others as they create it?
- When Mann’s extended family arrive including the matriarch of the family Ma Dear Mann describes it like “somebody breathing air into a person who’s almost drowned.” (p.75) What do families do for each other when tragedy strikes? How is your family similar to Mann’s? As Mann’s experiences become more intense is their anything you felt this part of the family could’ve have done to help? How?
- The police don’t respond quickly in troubled neighborhoods like the one Mann lives in. What other details reveal the inequality and racism still present in our culture today? Are there any local examples that you can think of?
- Do you think Mann and Kee-lee should be help totally accountable and responsible for their actions? Why? What choices do they make that domino into other more extreme events? What choices were not left up to them? Do you think there was a point where they could have changed the outcome of their stories? Where?
- How does the story of the horses mirror that of Mann? How does Mann’s dad’s definition of what a “real man” is change from the beginning of the novel? Has Mann changed? In what ways? What did you learn from reading Mann’s story?
Create a memorial to someone who you have loved and lost. It can be a large mural as Mann and Kee-lee created or it can be done in any media of your choice. Write a brief biography about the person for whom your creation honors.
Choose five scenes from the novel and find the music you would use to accompany it. Explain why you chose these pieces of music in a brief paragraph and what they would add to the scene.
Write at least five letters from a variety of characters that shows that you read and understood the entire novel. Examples:
Mann to Jason
Mann to Ma Dear
Ma Dear to William (Mann’s dad)
Grace to Mann
Jason to Mann
Keep an illustrated journal as if you are Mann as you read the text. Write brief but accurate entries (at least five) that show your complete knowledge of the text.
Write and perform dramatic monologues based on the characters in the novel. You could stage performances for other English classes or for the whole school.
In small groups of no more than four students write a pamphlet or poster on one of the following topics:
Quality of schools between inner-cities and suburbs
Violence among teens
Comparisons of police response times in suburbs versus inner city neighborhoods