Here Today Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
About the Book
Ellie’s mother, Doris Day Dingman, has named all three of her children after famous people — Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Marie Curie. She also has big dreams for herself. Doris sees herself in a career as a model, a Broadway actress, or a movie star; and her ambitions are much larger than the small town where the Dingmans live. Ellie, on the other hand, is coping with the problems of everyday life: bullies at school, prejudice against her neighborhood, and cooking for the family when her mother is too busy pursuing her dreams. The year is 1963, and the assassination of President Kennedy in November tips the scales for Doris; she decides that life is short, and that she must make her escape from their stifling town and family life.
When Doris leaves abruptly for New York City, Ellie shoulders most of the burden of caring for her younger brother and sister, while her father withdraws into his work. With only her friend Holly to share her anguish at school when classmates trip and “slam” and shun them, Ellie finally makes a break of her own. Traveling to New York on the bus, she finds her mother and tries to convince her to return.
The trip only confirms what Ellie knew already, that Doris is incapable of giving the care and attention her family needs. It is Ellie’s father who comes to her rescue in a moment of danger and finally realizes that he must take control of the family his wife has deserted. Ellie’s ordeal on her journey teaches her that she can take charge of her own destiny and stand up for herself against the bullies who have been tormenting her. And it confirms her deep love for her family and her quirky neighborhood.
- Why did Doris name her children after famous people? Why did she change her own name? Why does she insist on her children calling her Doris?
- Discuss Ellie’s mixed feelings about her neighborhood, her “mixed pangs of love and shame.” What do these feelings tell us about Ellie?
- What motivates the “sparrows” to treat Ellie and Holly so badly? What are Ellie and Holly’s options in reacting to this behavior? Is it necessary for Ellie and Holly to suffer the abuse?
- Why does Doris take the children to visit their grandparents, Nan and Poppy? Why don’t they know their grandparents better? Why do they have to leave so abruptly?
- Why does Doris go to New York? Why doesn’t she tell the family more about her life in New York?
- How does Ellie's father change after Doris leaves the family? How does Ellie change?
- Why does Ellie go to New York? What does Ellie learn about her mother on that trip? What does she learn about herself? What does she learn about her father?
- Look up the word “spectacle” in the dictionary. Why do you think the author used this word as the name of Ellie’s town? How many meanings of the word apply to this story?
- What is the importance of the Witch Tree? What does it mean to the neighborhood? What does it mean to others in the town?
- Would life be different for Ellie if she didn’t live on Witch Tree Lane? Would she be happier if she lived somewhere else? What makes a true “neighborhood”?
- Is Doris happier in New York than she was in Spectacle? Can the place where a person lives change that person’s feelings about themselves and others?
- Should Ellie be allowed to wander around New York by herself? What is the difference between Ellie being alone in the city during the day and at night?
- How does Ellie feel about living in Spectacle after she returns from New York? Would Doris ever come back to Spectacle?
- Why does the author tell you in the beginning that the Dingmans are going to “fall apart”? Would this be obvious if she didn’t tell you on the first page?
- Discuss the meaning of being a “mother.” Which characters are actual mothers and which ones act in a motherly way?
- How do current events affect the lives of ordinary people? How does the Kennedy assassination affect the various characters in this story? What current events in your life have affected you and your family and friends?
- The bad things that happen on Witch Tree Lane seem to be motivated by dislike of the people who live there. Is this prejudice directed against the children or the adults? What makes people commit acts of vandalism against others? How can the victims protect themselves and their property?
- Discuss the way Holly and Ellie are treated in school. What would you do if you were treated this way? How can bullying be stopped in a school situation? Is there a difference between teasing and bullying?
- There are many different ways that the characters in this story learn to develop self-respect. How does Ellie develop her self-respect? Discuss this theme with regard to Mr. Dingman, Doris, Holly, Selena, Miss Woods and Miss Nelson, and other characters? Which of these characters grow and learn about themselves throughout this story?
About the Author
As a child growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, Ann Martin loved reading. With her younger sister, she once set up a lending library in her bedroom for the neighborhood children. After graduating from Smith College in 1977, she taught school for a year and then went to New York City to work in publishing. While editing other people’s books, Ann began to write her own, and soon she was devoting all of her time to writing about the lives and adventures of young girls. She is the original author of the popular Baby-sitters Club series, which contains many incidents, situations, and characters that she remembers from her own childhood. The series now has nearly 125 million copies in print.
Ann Martin’s thought-provoking middle-grade and young-adult novels have been praised by reviewers for their sensitivity, integrity, and humor in handling difficult situations. In 2003, her novel A Corner of the Universe was awarded a Newbery Honor Book Award.
She lives in upstate New York.
Other Books by Ann M. Martin
A Corner of the Universe
Hattie’s world revolves around her small town and the boarding house her parents run, but the year she turns twelve her life is changed by two strangers, one of them a relative she didn’t know about until that summer.
Fifth grader Belle struggles to handle the changes in her life — her grandmother’s aging, her mother’s long work hours, and the desegregation of her school in the early 1960s.
Missing Since Monday
Two teens are left in charge of their younger half sister and are plunged into a frightening mystery when she disappears.
P.S. Longer Letter Later, by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin.
Danziger and Martin, friends in real life, have created a page-turning “novel in letters” between two seventh-grade friends, Elizabeth and Tara*Starr, who are forced to move away from each other.
Snail Mail No More, by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin.
Elizabeth and Tara*Starr discover e-mail in 8th grade, and their correspondence changes as they continue to explore the problems they face at school and home.
Suggestions for Related Reading
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Ann is uprooted from her home in Wisconsin when her mother takes her to Los Angeles to become a star. This complex mother/daughter relationship is explored in depth as the sparkling dreams turn to lackluster reality.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club
The long-buried secrets and sorrows of four immigrant mothers and their grown daughters are revealed in a series of stories that explore the intricate connection between cultures, generations, and intimate friends.
Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey's Song
Thirteen-year-old Dicey has taken on all responsibility for herself and her younger siblings since being abandoned by their mother. She finds it hard to let go when her grandmother takes charge, in this Newbery Award-winning novel.
Yolen, Jane and Heidi Stemple. Mirror, Mirror: Forty Folktales for Mothers and Daughters
A mother and daughter writing team explore the many issues of this relationship, both good and bad, that can be found in traditional stories from around the world.
DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn-Dixie
Opal adopts a stray dog and makes friends with some of the more eccentric people in her town as all the while she is learning to accept the abandonment of her mother years before.
Funke, Cornelia. The Thief Lord
A group of runaways form a family of their own in Venice, looking after each other and helping two brothers stay together. How they learn which adults can be trusted and which cannot makes for a riveting and rollicking story.
Paterson, Katherine. The Same Stuff as Stars
Twelve-year-old Angel Morgan acts as the head of the family and cares for her younger brother as their mother often acts in strange ways. When the mother suddenly leaves the children with their great-grandmother, all of Angel’s resourcefulness is necessary to create a solid family experience.
Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Becoming Naomi León
Naomi and her brother are happy living in a trailer park with their great-grandmother. With no warning, their long-absent mother arrives to claim Naomi, and for the first time she wonders where she really belongs.
Voigt, Cynthia. A Solitary Blue
Jeff’s mother leaves him, when he is seven years old, to be raised by his reserved and quiet father. When she returns years later, Jeff learns that a “free spirit” is hardly ever capable of the love a child needs.
Woolf, Virginia Euwer. Make Lemonade
LaVaughn goes to work for Jolly, an unwed mother of two, and in the bargain both of them gain more understanding of what being a mother is all about.
Kaufman, Gershen, et. al. Stick Up for Yourself! Every Kid’s Guide to Personal Power and Positive Self-esteem
Learn how to combat bullying with personal self-esteem.
A site dedicated to increasing awareness of bullying, helping individuals who are affected by bullying, and looking for ways to prevent and resolve bullying issues.
Excellent advice on many aspects of bullying, including helpful hints from kids who have experienced bullying at school.
Discussion guide written by Connie Rockman, children’s literature consultant and adjunct professor of literature for children and young adults at the University of Bridgeport, Sacred Heart University, and Manhattanville College, and editor of The Eighth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators (H. W. Wilson, 2000).