Elephant Run by Roland Smith
About the book:
The year is 1941, and bombs are being dropped from the night sky, blanketing the city of London. When fourteen-year-old Nick Freestone’s home is demolished, his mother decides the situation in England has grown too unstable. Nick will be safer, his mother hopes, living with his father in Burma on the family’s teak plantation.
Nick arrives at the plantation eager to learn about the timber elephants raised and trained there, and to spend time with his father. But before he can settle in, trouble erups in the remote Burmese village. Japanese soldiers invade, and Nick’s father is taken prisoner. Nick is stranded, forced to work as a servant for the new rulers. As life in the village grows more dangerous for Nick and his young friend Mya, they plan a daring escape through the jungles of Burma, determined to rescue their families. But to succeed, they will have not only the threat of enemy soldiers, but the dangers of their journey through the wilderness.
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 include friendship, loyalty, betrayal, hope, and violence.
1. What time period and setting opens the novel? Explain why Nick needs to go to Burma for his safety. Would you be as willing to go?
2. Compare and contrast the house (Hawk’s Nest) of Nick’s memory to the one he finds nine years later. Why is it so deserted? What makes this place so important to Nick’s family?
3. Who is Magwe? What conflicts swirl around him? Have you ever worked or known someone who made things more difficult? How did you handle being near this person?
4. Describe Nick’s first encounter with Hannibal. What are the effects of this event over the next several chapters? How would you have felt in this circumstance?
5. Why can’t Mya become a mahout? Are there any good reasons for this tradition? Why is Mya eager to have Nick around on the teak plantation? How does it backfire on her?
6. What is Hilltop (or Taung Baw) story? What is his history on the plantation?
7. How does the war find Nick in Burma? What does it mean for his stay on the plantation? What are the plans to get him to safety? Describe what happens instead. What would be the most frightening part of these events?
8. What deal does Colonel Nagayoshi make with Nick and his father? Would you believe him or not? Why? Does he keep his promise or not? When the Colonel learns of the Japanese internment in America he changes his mind. Do you blame him? Have you ever heard about America’s treatment and internment of citizens during WWII before?
9. Describe Nick’s days as a captive of the Japanese. Who shows mercy? Who is cruel? Do you think war brings out different parts of people’s personality or only lets the true person shine through?
10. Communication is an important element in the escape and hope of the prisoners. How do they manage to get word to one another without being caught by the Japanese? Even the letters from Nick’s mother are intercepted. Why? Is “all fair in love and war” just like they say?
11. Hawk’s Nest is more than what it appears. How? Does this prove to be important to Nick and Mya? Would you want to live in a house like this or not? Why?
12. What is the escape plan? Does it work? Who surprises them in the tunnel? How has everyone changed from the beginning of the novel? Who has transformed the most?
13. Why do you think Hilltop was able to gain control over Hannibal when no one else was capable of it? Do some people just have an affinity for animals while others do not?
14. Discuss the ten precepts a Buddhist monk novice must agree to live by. Which ones would be most difficult for you? Why must Mya and Nick submit themselves to these standards? Are there any connections to other religious traditions that you know of? Do all religions have anything in common?
15. Sonji is guarding Nick’s father. Why is this fortuitous? What does Nick learn about his father? Why is it so much easier for Indaw to escape than Jackson? Is he able to be reunited with his son? What is the climactic scene of the escape? Did you picture it as a movie? How does this help with comprehension?
Create a list of important characters as you read the novel. Include their name, their relationship to Nick, a description of important skills or attributes that they have, and conflicts that arise. Use to study for quizzes and to aid in comprehension.
Research one of the following topics from the novel and create a presentation about it: (PowerPoint presentations, web pages, etc.)
Prisoners of War
Asian theater of WWII