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Reading Group Guide for Bye-bye, Blue Creek
By Andrew Smith About the Book
How do you say goodbye to a place that holds all your memories? In this humorous and heartwarming follow-up to Andrew Smith’s The Size of the Truth,
twelve-year-old Sam Abernathy is preparing to leave Blue Creek, Texas, for Pine Mountain Academy, a private boarding school in Oregon. Sam’s trying his best to enjoy the remaining days of summer with his lifelong best friend, Karim, and Karim’s cousin Bahar (whom Sam definitely does not
have a crush on), when a new family moves into the old abandoned house next door to Karim. The boys are convinced that the wildly exaggerated tales of hauntings at the creepy Purdy House, going back a hundred years, are true; they’ve seen some pretty disturbing things themselves. But Bahar is not convinced; that is, until she risks babysitting the new family’s temperamental child, who is as strange as unsweetened tea in Texas. Alongside these new developments, Sam struggles to find his balance, his constant anxiety feeling like a cast of unruly spiders playing out every drama in his stomach. His familiar friend Bartleby, a wise and kindhearted armadillo, even reappears. At times like these, friends are more important than ever. Discussion Questions
1. Sam narrates with youthful innocence and a humorous, lighthearted tone without downplaying the effects of tender emotions. Which parts of his story meant the most to you? Did you relate to Sam’s perspectives? Explain your answers.
2. What does Sam most want to accomplish during the remaining weeks of summer? What emotional conflict is he struggling to resolve?
3. How does Sam honor the bonds within his family? How do these obligations affect him? In what ways does Sam’s father demonstrate his love and concern? When and how are these efforts misguided? Consider how the author portrays Mrs. Abernathy. How would you describe her?
4. Examine Sam’s and Karim’s friendship. What do their differences reveal about them? What do Sam and Karim need most from each other? What do they contribute to each other’s lives?
5. Sam describes Karim as a “perpetual-motion lie generator.” What does Karim’s lying suggest to you? What might he be protecting himself from? Do you think his lies are harmless? How do Sam’s parents respond to Karim’s wild fabrications, and what does this tell you about them? Explain your answers.
6. Do you think Karim has been lying to himself? What does he learn about being honest? How does your impression of Karim change throughout the story?
7. What are Sam’s and Karim’s first impressions of the new residents of Purdy House? What do they base these impressions on? What assumptions do they make? What are the results?
8. Discuss a time when you have been misled by a first impression or assumption you have made about someone. What was the result? Discuss ways you label yourself, and ways you and your friends label one another. How do you prevent other people’s labels from defining you? What are the dangers of gossiping, imposing stereotypes, labeling, and making assumptions? How can you recognize and counter any of these instances in your own life?
9. The journalists at the Hill Country Yodeler
are more interested in “sensationalizing the story” than presenting the truth about the Purdy House so they can attract readers and sell more papers. How much of what you read online or in a newspaper do you believe? How do you know if something you’ve read is true? What are the dangers involved? How can you protect yourself from being misled by false information and sensationalism like Sam and Karim experience?
10. Discuss the appeal of ghost stories, hauntings, and mysterious, scary things that frighten us. Do you like being scared? What do you think about disembodied spirits, human monsters, demons, cannibal ghosts, and vampires? Would you have gone into the Purdy House? How does the author use humor to balance scarier scenes?
11. Fear plays a significant role as the story unfolds. Discuss how Sam and Karim experience different kinds of fears for different reasons. What are they most afraid of? How are their fears expressed? What do we learn about them from their reactions to these fears? What are you most afraid of? How do you manage your fears? Would you think less of someone for being afraid? Explain your answers.
12. Sam says, “I never in my life thought I was brave about anything.” Choose a scene where Sam displays bravery, and explain why you think it sets a good example for other characters and readers. Have you ever had to confront your fears to do something you didn’t think you were courageous enough to do? What was the result?
13. What do you think Karim means when he tells Sam, “‘If it makes you feel good, believe it’”? Is this true for you? Do you think it’s true for Sam? Explain your answers.
14. Sam’s life has been defined by a childhood accident. He has “feelings of being lost and closed off from everything.” How do these feelings affect his life at present? What are some of Sam’s coping strategies to protect himself from the anxiety of confronting his fears? How well do you think Sam manages his symptoms? What advice would you have for Sam? Why will there always be a part of Sam in Blue Creek?
15. Bartleby has a continuing role in Sam’s story. How do you account for Bartleby’s appearance? When does he appear to Sam? How does he support Sam? What advice does he give? Who else has witnessed Bartleby? Why do you think Bartleby appeared to them? Cite references from the text. How is Sam’s relationship with Bartleby changing?
16. Boris is rude, ill-tempered, ill-behaved, and snotty. Choose additional words to describe Boris and his behavior. How does his behavior affect Sam? What does this reveal about Sam? How would you respond to someone who hates everything and enjoys making people feel inadequate? What does Boris’s behavior suggest to you about influences and experiences in his life?
17. The author creates bizarre mental images of taxidermic animals. What are your favorite details from these descriptions? Which animals are the most unnerving? Which are the most freakish, absurd, grotesque, or creepy? Which are the most comical? What is the most outrageous thing about them? What do these animals suggest about their owners?
18. Dares and pranks can be thought of as teenage rites of passage. Some are meant to be playful, but many can hit deeper. Why might people choose to tease or play cruel jokes at the expense of others? How can those actions make people feel? What are the consequences of the dare Mr. Abernathy and his friends took part in? Have you ever suggested or accepted a dare? If so, why did you do it? What was the result? What roles do self-esteem, respect, belonging, vulnerability, and peer pressure play in mean-spirited dares and practical joking?
19. What makes Sam’s and James Jenkins’s relationship unique? What support do they provide to each other? Would you want a friend like James? What qualities do you look for in a friend? How could you be that kind of friend to someone else?
20. Sam has his heart set on becoming a Michelin-starred chef, and James Jenkins has dreams of dancing professionally. Have their passions inspired you to discover and follow your own passions? What steps can you take toward your goal(s)? What challenges might you face?
21. What qualities do Sam and Bahar have in common? What does Sam admire most about Bahar? What perspective does Bahar bring to the story? How does Sam describe his relationship with her? Do you think he’s being honest with himself? How does their friendship change throughout the story? Have you ever had a friend like Bahar?
22. Name some of Sam’s characteristics, citing examples from the story. Which do you most admire? Which set him apart from other characters in the story? Which remind you of other friends or family members? What admirable characteristics do you have? Which ones would you like to have?
23. Which supporting character intrigues you the most, and for what reasons? Consider Brenden Saltarello, Trey Hoskins, and Kenny Jenkins. Describe the influence each has on another character in the story. Where and when is their impact most evident?
24. It has been said that you should never meet your heroes because they may disappoint you. Do you agree with this statement? How does it prove to be true with A. C. Messer’s visit to Blue Creek? Why do you think Andrew Smith chose to portray the author as a “deranged visionary artist”?
25. What aspects of daily life in Blue Creek are unique to a small Texas town? What aspects are universal, going beyond borders? In what ways are the people and customs where you live similar to and different from those in Blue Creek, Texas? Explain your answers.
26. Discuss how your understanding of the story and your thoughts about Sam changed with the author’s use of footnotes. Why do you think they were included?
27. What are the most important things Sam learns about his family, his friends, himself, and growing up in Blue Creek? Do you think Sam is being asked to grow up too soon? Do you think he’s ready to come to terms with his past and meet the challenges of boarding school? How do you think Sam will reinvent himself now that he has a second chance? Explain your answers.
28. Have you ever had to say goodbye to people and places you loved? If so, what feelings did you have? Were they similar to the emotional struggles Sam experienced? In what ways? How did you learn to cope with your feelings?
29. The author leaves some elements unexplained or unresolved, which gives readers an opportunity to draw their own conclusions. What else do you still wonder about? If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?
30. Which aspects of the story were most relatable to you? Which scenes surprised you or were the most humorous? Which scenes were the most inspiring, heartbreaking, or memorable? What is at the heart of this story? What does the ending reveal about this central piece? Extension Activities
Sam developed claustrophobia after being traumatized as a four-year-old in a situation where he felt trapped. Years later, he continues to make associations between the feeling of being trapped with the feeling of terror he once had spending three days abandoned in an empty well. Research the causes, symptoms, and ways to prevent the effects of claustrophobia listed on the article titled Claustrophobia (Fear of Small Spaces): Are You Claustrophobic?
on psycom.net’s website (https://www.psycom.net
). Write a short essay that relates Sam’s experiences to the information you find in the article. Cite specific scenes or direct quotes from the novel to support your research.
2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The trauma Sam experienced when he was four –years old also resulted in his suffering from anxiety and PTSD. Read about PTSD on KidsHealth.org: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (for Teens)
). Create a brief presentation that discusses the possible causes, symptoms, and treatment of PTSD. Relate your findings to Sam’s struggles.
Then form small groups; each group will choose either the causes, symptoms, or treatment of PTSD. As a panel, present your findings to a larger audience, perhaps appropriate for a family support group. Be sure to include ways to support friends or family members with the disorder who may be in crisis.
3. Graphic Novels.
Sam is a fan of A. C. Messer, the author of the Princess Snugglewarm books, who published his first graphic novel at the age of fifteen. The graphic novel format is unique in that both writer and illustrator cocreate two ways of telling the story at the same time. Investigate the graphic novel format. For graphic novel basics, read Scott McCloud’s two craft books presented in graphic novel form: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
and Reinventing Comics: The Evolution of an Art Form
(2000). McCloud’s Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels
is a continuation of Understanding Comics
that goes deeper into character development using the graphic novel format. Additional online resources include the article titled 8 Tips for Writing Graphic Novels
by Jennifer Loescher (2018, https://bethbaconauthor.com/2018/08/12/8-tips-for-writing-graphic-novels
) and How to Create a Graphic Novel: Examples, Tips, and Complete Guide
by MasterClass (2019). What information is most surprising to you? What component were you most excited to learn more about? Brainstorm a topic for your own graphic novel, and try to create a few sample panels to share with a classmate.
Historically, the use of footnotes was a formal technique used by authoritative academics when publishing their research. More recently, footnotes have become an artful style that creates a double narrative. Footnotes allow Sam to clarify and elaborate without disrupting the narrative flow.
They add another layer to the story, providing information about the past and even creating a new story, reflecting his thoughts and emotions and revealing his sense of humor. This pulls the reader deeper into Sam’s personality, making the story more engaging. Write your own fictional short story using footnotes. Use Bye-bye, Blue Creek
as a learning model to enrich your writing. There are also several resources online for further investigation that help explain the process, including the instructional video on Study.com: “What is a Footnote? Examples and Styles” (https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-a-footnote-examples-styles-quiz.html
5. Sam’s Summer Reading List.
Sam’s list includes Slaughterhouse-Five
(1969) by Kurt Vonnegut, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
by Aldous Huxley, and Animal Farm
(1945) by George Orwell. Read a short summary of these books, and discuss why the author might have chosen them to highlight on Sam’s summer reading list. What concepts do they have in common? Does Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune
(1976) have any relation to the novels on Sam’s list? What three titles would be on your own reading list?
6. Magical Realism.
Andrew Smith unveils a bit
of magic: he extends the boundaries of time and place, blending the supernatural with the real world where Bartleby’s extraordinary appearance is treated as ordinary, appearing to Sam to offer comfort and insight and guide him through his anxiety and claustrophobic episodes. Explore aspects of magical realism in literature, paying particular attention to how it differs from fantasy. There are a wide range of online sites available for authentic research, such as https://mgbookvillage.org/2019/01/30/magical-realism-in-middle-grade/
. Make a list of other books that use this literary style in middle-grade fiction, and choose a few to explore. What does magical realism add to a story? How might it give an author more room to play around with format and characters?
7. Suggested Reading. Bye-bye, Blue Creek
is the follow-up to Andrew Smith’s The Size of the Truth
where readers are first introduced to Sam Abernathy. Smith uses
a shifting narrative between four-year-old Sam’s experience of being trapped in a well and eleven-year-old Sam’s eighth-grade year. Readers meet Bartleby, the lighthearted and wise armadillo, and James Jenkins, who would still be Sam’s best friend if he hadn’t moved away. Consider reading two earlier YA novels by Andrew Smith: Winger
(2013) and Stand-Off
The books include
a character named Ryan Dean West, who entered the prestigious Pine Mountain Academy in Oregon when he was two years younger than the other freshmen. Readers
follow his social and emotional
struggles, as well as his campus life as a star student and athlete. If you wonder what life may be like for Sam Abernathy now that he has said goodbye to Blue Creek, Stand-Off
takes readers through Sam’s freshman year when he and Ryan Dean, now a junior, become unlikely roommates. Reading Group Guide prepared in 2020 by Judith Clifton, Children’s Literature Consultant, Chatham, MA. This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.