by Sarah Lamstein
Hunger Moon by Sarah Lamstein
About the book:
Ruthie Tepper wants to make people laugh- to be a star on her own TV show. She wants to write stories as wonderful as the ones she reads in True Romance. She also wants her family to stop yelling- about money, about work, and especially about her brother Eddy. No one at school says hi to Eddy. He knows the name of every street in the city of Baltimore but can’t eat his dinner without making a mess of things. Ruthie is a good older sister, even though she can get mean herself.
At times funny, at times piercing, always honest, Hunger Moon is the stuff of real families, real growing up.
About the guide:
This guide includes discussion questions and projects appropriate for book clubs, literature circles, and classroom discussions. It is intended to provoke thought and insight into the themes of this novel which include family relationships, growing up, anger and abuse, and self identity.
About the author:
Sarah Lamstein lives in Newton, Massachusetts. She received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College.
Why did you decide to set the book in the 1950’s? How much research was necessary to bring it to life?
Hunger Moon is semiautobiographical, and as such, reflects a time in my childhood in the 1950’s. Because I lived through that time, I didn’t have to research it as I would have if I were writing about a period unfamiliar to me. The one little bit of research I did do was refresh my memory and watch some of the old “I Love Lucy” TV shows, especially the one mentioned in the book, in which Lucy and Ethel are working frantically and hilariously in a candy factory.
The story is revealed in brief vignettes, almost prose poems. Did it start out in this structure or did that develop?
The story came out in vignettes and that’s the way I kept it. I worried that I should try to construct it in more conventional chapters, but that’s not the way the story wanted to be told.
What advice would you give to young people who want to become writers?
My advice to young writers is: just do it! Write whenever you can, don’t let anything stop you, especially not your own mind whispering, “This is not good.” Forge ahead! And read as much as you can. The work of others often stimulates your own.
Which character is your favorite? Are you most like any of them?
I would say that Ruthie is my favorite character because she is a combination of bad and good, like all of us. I like her clowning, her compassion, and her ability to finally speak her mind. She is like me in that I have her do what I did, frighten her disabled younger brother. My memory of that childhood incident was the impetus for writing Hunger Moon.
What can your fans look forward to next?
I am currently working on a novel touching on the childhood of Ruthie’s father Billy. I also have a Chanukah tale forthcoming from Front Street, and I’m working on two nonfiction picture books about the natural world.
Read the blurbs on the back of Hunger Moon. Then, predict what you think Ruth Tepper will be like from these brief descriptions. What do you think she might look like, act like, think like, say?
1. Describe Eddy. What gifts does he have? What problems?
2. Would you want to be a part of the Tepper family? Why or why not?
3. How does Ruthie try to distinguish herself from other kids? What works for her? What does not?
4. How does Ruthie scare Eddy? Why does she do it?
5. Predict what Ruthie will be like in five years. Support your answer.
1. Ruthie often gets in trouble at school for her “antics.” What types of things does she do? Why does she try to get others to laugh at her? Does it work?
2. Does Ruthie seem like a girl of today? How would she be different if she were a girl today?
3. What clues are given in the first several chapters that the novel is set in a different time period? How were things different within families in the 1950’s? How does this affect the events in the novel?
4. Describe Ruthie’s mom. What is she good at? Why, do you think, she is so angry? What is her most difficult challenge?
5. Have you ever been mean to your brother or sister? If so, how? Do you know why you were mean? How did you feel about it? How do you think your brother or sister felt? What did they do? What did you do after you were mean?
6. What happens between Nancy Feller and Ruthie?
7. What is the book parade? How does it help Ruthie escape from her problems at home? Why is Ruthie disappointed in her mother’s reaction to her performance?
8. When do Ruthie’s feelings toward her brother, Eddy, change? What changes them? How does it ultimately transform Ruthie? What do you think Eddy would be diagnosed with today? What makes you think so?
9. Who loves Ruthie unconditionally? How would her story have been different without the presence of this character in Ruthie’s life?
10. What is the significance of the title of the book? Why do you think the author chose this title to represent Ruthie’s story?
11. Reread the scene on p.22 between Ruthie and her father doing dishes. What does this small vignette reveal about their relationship? What’s Ruthie’s father like?
12. Why does Ruthie’s mother punish her by not letting her be with Jeanie? What is Jeanie like? What do they do together?
13. How does Ruthie rebel against her mother’s rule? What actions show her anger toward her mother? Does this change over time? How does Ruthie change by the end of the story?
14. Which scene do you find most memorable? Why? Months from now what about this book will still haunt your thoughts? Why?
15. Is there anyone in your family or neighborhood with a disability? How does this person manage? How do family members react to the disabled person?
16. What is the significance of the following in the book: cake, waxed begonia, Lucy, eyebrows, books and reading, Eddy's maps, lipstick, Nuchi Kneehigh?
Write at least three letters and responses from Ruthie to her much beloved Fanya Ziller in Baltimore.
Read one of the titles mentioned in the story and write a letter to Ruthie about it.
Explore one of the following artists from the 1950’s decade and then create a piece of work inspired by Hunger Moon and the artist’s style:
Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, John T. Biggers, Romare Bearden, Henry Clay Anderson
Interview someone you know about music from the 1950’s. Develop at least five questions you would like answered about this first era in rock and roll. Listen to at least a few songs from the 1950’s and then turn in both the interview and a brief journal about your reaction to the music.
Research one of the following topics from the book and develop a pamphlet, PowerPoint presentation or poster about what you learned:
History of Television
Diagnosis of Autism/ Historical treatments for Autism
Definitions of child abuse and neglect
Find issues of magazines (or on microfiche) that were published in 1954 (like Time, Life, and even Seventeen). Compare and contrast the type of articles, advertisements and attitudes that were prevalent or subtly revealed by the content. How is it the same or similar to now? How is it different? What did you learn in your research that surprised you?
Internet Resources: (use with caution, content not guaranteed appropriate)
Historical timeline of the decade
General view of the decade