Indigo Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
About this book
The following discussion guide is a class comparison of the two books Aquamarine and Indigo by Alice Hoffman.
Alice Hoffman has written over a dozen best-selling novels for adults. She has called her work "emotional fiction" and others often refer to her books as "magical realism," stories that lead the reader from everyday happenings to the inner reality of feelings, hopes and dreams through mysterious elements in the plot. These two short novels, Aquamarine and Indigo, deal especially with issues of childhood and adolescence. Hoffman has said that in children's books realism and magic go hand in hand and she believes that writing in the tradition of the fairy tale frees a writer to see all the possibilities and to reach for deeper truths.
Hailey and Claire are best friends and next-door neighbors. Throughout a long hot summer they spend their days at the Capri Beach Club, dreading the end of the season when Claire will move with her grandparents to Florida. The two girls are often the only ones using the Beach Club, which is in disrepair and will close at the end of the summer. After a violent storm that whips waves from the beach into the pool, they discover a mysterious presence at the bottom of the pool — a mermaid who has become separated from her kin and is in search of love on land. As they work together to help the mermaid survive and find her heart's desire, Hailey and Claire learn to accept their pending separation and appreciate the magic of each moment they spend together with Aquamarine.
- Are Hailey and Claire such good friends simply because they live next door to each other? What experiences have they shared that contribute to their friendship being as strong as it is? In what ways are they different?
- What makes the girls feel that Claire's grandfather can be trusted with their secret? How do they know he will believe their story and agree to help? Why can they not share their secret with other adults in the story?
- Claire has always been the one to make the plans in the past, but suddenly Hailey is the one who is coming up with ideas that will help Aquamarine. What gives Hailey this new confidence in her own ideas?
- Claire is fearful of the water at the beginning of the book, yet by the end of the story she has learned to swim. What events lead to this change? Where does she find the courage to overcome her fears?
- What kind of person is Raymond? Did you expect him to agree to have dinner with Aquamarine? Do you think he actually found her again in Florida?
- Discuss Aquamarine's personality. Compare her to mermaids in traditional folklore. Is she what you would expect a mermaid to be? Why does she act the way she does? What influences have shaped her actions and words? Why do the girls want to help her?
Setting and Theme:
- What images does the author use to create the setting for her readers? Discuss the atmosphere of the Beach Club, the intense heat of the summer, and how these play a part in the story.
- Why is the Beach Club described as being so run-down?
- Hailey's mom gives Claire's family a basket when they leave with a photograph of "the house that was left behind." The author calls it one of the "necessities for anyone who leaves home." Yet Hailey decides not to take a photograph for Claire of the Beach Club being demolished, and Claire decides not to take a photograph for Hailey of Aquamarine swimming in Florida. Why are these photographs not "necessities"?
- "Time has a habit of moving too fast," says the author on the evening that Raymond has dinner with Aquamarine. What are some of the ways the author uses time in this story? How does the passage of time affect each of the characters? How does it affect places in the story? What part does it play in the plot?
- Alice Hoffman's novels for adults have often been described as grown-up fairy tales. In what ways does Aquamarine remind you of a traditional fairy tale? In what ways is it different?
The people of Oak Grove fear water because their town once endured a terrible flood, so they do everything to keep water out of the town. Martha Glimmer and her friends, Trevor and Eli McGill, feel different from others in the town. Martha's sadness is largely due to her mother's recent death. Her father has withdrawn into his own sorrow and allowed a neighbor, Hildy Swoon, to provide meals and tend their house, but Martha resents her presence bitterly. Trevor and Eli, nicknamed Trout and Eel by those who make fun of the webbing between their fingers, have had odd habits ever since they were brought to town by their adoptive parents. The boys like to add salt to their drinking water, prefer fish to any other food, and free the frogs from the science lab at school. Martha, Trout and Eel decide to leave home to find what each most desires, but their running is cut short by a storm that brings all characters in the story face to face with their own true nature.
- Why do you think Martha becomes good friends with Trevor and Eli? What do they have in common? What are their differences?
- Why does Martha's father allow Hildy Swoon to take over their house and to throw out his wife's clothes? What causes the change in his personality at the end of the book?
- Charley and Kate McGill are wonderful parents, yet they keep Trevor and Eli away from the sea where they found them. Why do they fear the water so much? What do they fear if their sons see the ocean again?
- What is the importance of Richard Grady? How does his character evolve through the story? What causes the change in him?
- What is the importance of Jeannette Morton, a character we only meet at the end of the story? What does she represent to Martha and to Martha's father?
- Martha's mother dies before the story begins, but we know more about her than some of the other characters. Why is Martha's mother such a strong force in the story? How does the author acquaint the reader with her personality? Do we know her only through Martha?
Setting and Theme:
- The residents of the town of Oak Grove are afraid of water. How many images can you find in the description of the town that makes this clear? How have the people conspired to keep their town dry? Can anyone ever truly control the destiny of the place where they live?
- Interior settings are also important in this story. Why do the McGills paint over the boys' room after Trevor and Eli paint it blue? Why does Hildy try to destroy the shawl that means so much to Martha?
- Martha, Trout and Eel say that they are not "runaways," they are "run-tos." (p. 34) What do they mean? Does this make a difference in how they feel about their journey? Would it make a difference to their parents?
- After the flood, Martha notices that Oak Grove looks different, "as if the floodwaters had washed everything clean." What does the flood represent for Martha? What does it represent for the town, for Martha's father, for the McGills, for Hildy Swoon?
5. Alice Hoffman has said, " . . . the truest journey is always the one made within the reaches of the human heart." How does she demonstrate this belief in the story? What is the true journey for Martha? for Martha's father? for Trout and Eel? for Kate and Charlie McGill?
6. Past, present and future are all important in this story, as they are in each of our lives. How does the past affect Martha, Trout and Eel? How do their actions in the story affect the future? Discuss events in your own past that have affected you deeply, and ways you can create your future by the actions you take now.
Comparing the Novels
- Both of these stories are full of water imagery. What does this represent to you? Compare the relationship of each of the characters to water and how that relationship affects their actions.
- Discuss the format of the books. Each is short enough to read at one sitting — how does that affect your experience of the story? Alice Hoffman has said that length is immaterial to the strength of a story, that sometimes the shorter a story is, the more powerful it is. Do you feel that this is true?
- What is the significance of the titles of these books? What do the colors of the title represent to you?
- Compare the settings of the two books — how does the setting of each affect the way the story unfolds?
- Both stories have a strong theme of the importance of friendship. What other themes are meaningful to you that the books have in common?
A Conversation with Alice Hoffman:
You have been known as an adult author for many years. What made you want to write for a younger audience?
When I received gift books as a child, I often felt the writer was "talking down" to me. But I loved to read fairy tales because the tone of the stories treated me with respect — as if I knew something, as if I could make the leap to understanding what they were about. I wanted to create that tone in my own stories for young readers.
What other elements of the fairy tales were meaningful for you?
I especially loved the Grimm's fairy tales about characters who traveled through dark woods or over deep waters to reach their heart's desire. These journeys are not only of geography, but also of the soul. They point out how great our need is to find out who we are at our deepest core, especially after great loss. We can never run away from ourselves or our past, these stories tell us, for the truest journey is always the one made within the reaches of the human heart.
What other books did you enjoy reading when you were young?
I was a big fan of Edward Eager's books. I thought of them as "suburban magic." The stories always started in the everyday world, but anything might happen. It was a very empowering feeling, to know that deep magic could exist and affect our own world. I loved Ray Bradbury's fantasy books for the same reason. I read to escape, to feel less alone. I always felt the characters in the books would understand my feelings, while the real world could be painful and confusing.
Do you find it a different process to write for children than for adults?
I don't think there is any difference. I love the fact that in children's books you find magic and realism naturally blending together. And I don't think of children's books as being just for children. My grandmother used to say that she was always surprised to look in a mirror and see that she wasn't sixteen anymore. No matter how old we are, we carry with us the people we have been at different ages. I think it's important for children to understand that — and for adults to appreciate it.
Many of your books — for children and for adults — take place in or near water. The imagery of water is very powerful in your writing.
Water, for me, is a metaphor for the subconscious, for diving into the deepest part of yourself. It can be frightening as it can be liberating. I feel a strong emotional connection to water and the colors of water. Aquamarine is my birthstone and I was born under a water sign, so water imagery has always been important to me.
Andersen, Hans Christian. The Little Mermaid : the original story, illus. by Charles Santore. Random House, 1997 ISBN: 0-679-88757-1
Andersen's own story is very different from the popular Disney movie adaptation and makes an interesting comparison to Aquamarine.
Coville, Bruce. Half-Human . Scholastic, 2001 ISBN: 0-590-95944-1 A collection of stories about such creatures as mermaids and centaurs, which are part-human and part-animal or part-plant, and their struggles to understand their true identity.
Grimm, Wilhelm and Jacob. Grimms' Fairy Tales . Illus. by Fritz Kredel. Grosset & Dunlap, 1995 ISBN: 0-448-40941-0
These well-known stories first appeared in print in the early nineteenth century, but have been told in oral tradition for hundreds of years.
Hughes, Ted. The Mermaid's Purse . Knopf, 1999. ISBN: 0-375-80569-9
Poems of the sea and its creatures by the late poet laureate of Britain.
Hunter, Mollie. A Stranger Came Ashore: A Story of Suspense . HarperTrophy, 1994
Young Robbie tries to protect his sister from a mysterious stranger in this atmospheric tale set in the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland.
King-Smith, Dick. The Merman . Crown, 1999 ISBN: 0-517-80030-6
Zeta, a lonely girl whose whole family is afraid of the water, finds her life changed by a chance encounter with a merman while on vacation in Scotland.
Osborne, Mary Pope. Mermaid Tales from Around the World . Scholastic, 1999
Twelve tales of mermaids from many cultural traditions show them to be generally strong-willed and fiercely independent creatures.
Rylant, Cynthia The Islander. DK Publishing, 1998 ISBN: 0-789-42490-8
Sent to live on an island with his grandfather after the tragic death of his parents, Daniel is aware of magical happenings after finding a mermaid's comb on the beach.
Author's Web Site:
Dive and Discover: Expeditions to the Sea Floor — Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Public Broadcasting System — Secrets of the Ocean Realm:
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Photo Library
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).