Midnight Rider Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
It's 1775 and the American colonies are on the brink of revolution. Fourteen-year-old Hannah Andrews is thrown into the middle of the action when she is driven out of her home by her aunt. She is forced to work as an indentured servant in the Boston household of Thomas Gage, governor of the colonies and general of the British armies. Soon after Hannah's arrival, the Gage's stable boy, Caleb, befriends her and educates her about the issues faced by Americans under British rule. Hannah dreams of freedom and begins to sympathize with the American colonists, who also want freedom. When Hannah overhears a British plot to march on her hometown, she and her beloved horse, Promise, risk their lives to carry the warning to the town of Salem. Packed with fascinating historical details, real events, and memorable characters, Midnight Rider is guaranteed to thrill.
Joan Hiatt Harlow is an internationally known writer for children. She has written numerous acclaimed books, and her magazines stories and articles have appeared in major children's publications throughout North America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. Joan is an instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature in West Redding, Connecticut. She spends the spring and summer in New Hampshire, and the fall and winter in Venice, Florida.
Suggested Answers to Literature Circle Questions
1. How does Hannah first meet Will and Caleb?
Hannah's love of horses serves as the catalyst for meeting both Will
and Caleb. Her encounters with both boys begin antagonistically, but soon
the horse lovers become close friends.
Hannah meets Will in chapter 1 when she calls out to her old horse,
Promise. Will is riding Promise and has renamed him Midnight.
Hannah meets Caleb at the end of chapter 4 when she sneaks into the
2. Make three columns with the following headings: "Whig," "Tory," and "Undecided." Under each heading, list the characters who are aligned with each cause at the start of the novel.
The Whigs, also known as Patriots, seek freedom from British rule.
Their supporters include: Will Samson and his father, Sarah Tarrant, Catherine
Squires, Caleb Gibbs, Sarah and Paul Revere, Dr. Joseph Warren, Mr.
Hubbard, and Joseph Greenleaf.
The Tories, or Loyalists, want America to stay loyal to King George and
England. (page 15)
Their supporters include: Phoebe Andrews, General Thomas Gage, Lydia
Perkins, Lieutenant Chester Pratt, and Dr. Benjamin Church.
Note: We first learn Dr. Church's name in chapter 10, and at that point we
believe he is a Whig. Much later in the novel, on page 279, Hannah identifies Dr. Church as the stranger from the tunnel, and recognizes him as someone who had met with General Gage in his private office. At this point we realize that he is in fact a Tory.
At the start of the novel, undecided characters include: Hannah Andrews and Margaret Kemble Gage. By the end of the novel, Hannah is a Patriot. It is not clear where the loyalties of poet Phillis Wheatley lie. Students could argue that, she since she exchanges secret messages with Mrs. Gage, Wheatley supports the Whigs. They could also argue that, since Wheatley dines regularly with the Gages, she is a Tory. Meg Montcrieffe seems largely uninterested in political matters.
3. Which characters use the secret tunnel? Why do they use it? What do they do there?
Hannah uses the secret tunnel to visit her beloved horse, Promise, and take him for forbidden nighttime rides. Caleb uses to the tunnel to attend secret Whig meetings and deliver messages. Meg uses the tunnel once to meet with her sweetheart. The only person who uses the tunnel to sneak in rather than out is Dr. Benjamin Church, a Tory spy who reports to General Gage about Whig plans.
4. In your own words, explain the meaning behind Sarah Tarrant's words on page 341: "Do you think we were born in the woods to be frightened of owls?"
Answers can vary. The phrase Sarah Tarrant shouts to the British soldiers was a common expression of the time. It is meant to indicate that the speaker is accustomed to danger and cannot be frightened easily. From descriptions of her in the text, students should recognize that Tarrant is a brave and spirited woman. Her words are used to taunt the soldiers and give courage to the townspeople. Since owls are common creatures of the forest, Tarrant could be saying that the residents of Salem are familiar with the surrounding territory and will not be scared away on their own soil. She could also be saying that an owl is not an animal that most people are afraid of, and that the soldiers are like owls to them.
5. Catherine says that Hannah is the best friend Meg ever had. Why is Hannah such a good friend to Meg? Give four or five examples.
Answers can vary. Being far from home and somewhat isolated because of her station, Meg does not have many friends. Meg's eagerness to acquire Hannah as her personal maid comes from Meg's desire to be around a girl her own age. Some signs of Hannah's friendship to Meg include: Hannah makes Meg laugh with her imitations of Miss Lydia (page 89) and Lieutenant Pratt. (pages 114 and 174) Hannah is honest with Meg, revealing her true feelings about Miss Lydia. (page 89) Hannah gives Meg little treats by bringing her breakfast in her room (page 107) and hot water for washing. (page 164) Despite their obvious differences, Hannah and Meg have several things in common. They have both lost their mothers and feel trapped in Providence House. (page 149) Hannah keeps her promise to Meg and does not reveal Meg's secret meeting with Lieutenant Pratt. (page 252) Hannah listens to Meg's complaints and, unlike some of the other servants, does not bend to her wishes. Hannah stands up for what she believes in. Showing her true feelings to Meg could be seen as a sign of closeness.
6. Why does Hannah feel like a traitor to the Gage family? To whom else might she feel like a traitor? Answers can vary. Because she sides with the Whigs but works for a Loyalist, Hannah feels like a traitor. (page 355) The Gages have given her employment and a place to live. General Gage has shown her kindness by giving her easier work as Meg's chambermaid and by letting her keep the small orange kitten, Gypsy. (page 355) Caleb notes that General Gage seems fond of Hannah because he allows her to speak impertinently and smiles at her antics. (page 171) Mrs. Gage trusts Hannah with the secret letters, and Meg regards Hannah as her friend. For all of these reasons, Hannah feels loyal to the Gages, yet she must betray them because she does not agree with them politically. Hannah might also feel like a traitor to Promise, in that she could have tried harder to keep him after Aunt Phoebe sold him. Hannah also feels that she treated Promise poorly during their long ride to Salem. (page 347) Hannah might feel like she betrayed Will by unintentionally leading people to think he was the Midnight Rider. (page 361)
7. What would you say to Mrs. Gage to convince her to completely support the Whigs' cause? Answers can vary. American-born Margaret Gage struggles with her loyalties, feeling "caught between two fires." (page 148) At the end of chapter 28, we witness a scene between Hannah and Mrs. Gage where the mistress reflects: "Perhaps you are unsure of where your loyalties lie. I can understand that only too well." (page 251) Margaret often quotes literature to help express her feelings, as when she quotes Shakespeare: "I beg, go not to arms." (page 247) One might be able to convince Mrs. Gage to support the Whigs' cause by: a) finding references to peace and freedom in literature. b) urging Mrs. Gage to see the similarities between her friend Phillis Wheatley's past as a slave and the Americans' servitude to the British. c) reminding Margaret of the young children who have died at the hands of the British soldiers. She even refers to the children herself on page 376.
8. This story is told from the perspective of a young servant girl. In what ways do Hannah's gender, age, and position help her? In what ways do these factors limit what she can do? Answers can vary. Hannah's age, gender, and position help her in the following ways: During this time in history, much of the wealthier class did not
think of servants as real people. They did not expect them to be intelligent, nor did they inquire into their free-time activities. Similarly, no one expected a girl to be a master horse rider, as Will accidentally says when he compliments Hannah's riding. All of these factors allow Hannah a certain amount of anonymity, and thus freedom. On the other hand, Hannah has trouble convincing people to believe her because of these same factors. Also, since she is young and cannot support herself, Hannah must allow Aunt Phoebe to sell her as an indentured servant.
9. Explain the significance of the name "Promise" to Hannah and to the story. Answers can vary. The name Promise first and foremost ties Hannah to her beloved father, whom she lost to smallpox. Promise gets a new name, Midnight, after he is sold, but Will assures Hannah that in the horse's heart, he will always belong to her. When Aunt Phoebe sends Hannah to Boston, Hannah parts with her horse, promising that they will be together again. (page 25) After the grueling ride to Salem, Hannah must again leave her horse. Their time apart hurts Promise as much as it does Hannah, and he seems like he will never recover. However, Hannah believes that her voice gives Promise the will to stand again when she says, "You just needed to be sure that I'd come back-that I'd kept my promise." (page 387) When Hannah returns to her horse, she is also returning to the life she had before Aunt Phoebe sent her to Boston.
10. Hannah and Catherine each have one prized possession from their homes. Explain why these items are significant to each character. Hannah and Catherine have both lost loved ones to smallpox. In chapter 5 we learn that Catherine's son and husband have both died from the disease. We also learn of Catherine's small, leather-bound book, which once belonged to her grandmother in England. The book, which describes the ancient language of flowers, is rare and lovely. It probably reminds Catherine of all her family members who are no longer with her: her grandmother, husband, and son. In chapter 2, we learn how difficult it was for Hannah to chose just one item to take with her when she left home. She ultimately chose her mother's wedding ring. The ring probably reminds Hannah of both her mother and her father, since it serves as a symbol of their marriage. She might also have chosen the ring to spite her Aunt Phoebe, who gave her strict instructions to leave the ring.
11. When she is angry or frustrated, Hannah sometimes mimics people's voices. How else might Hannah have used her talent for mimicry in this story? Answers can vary. Hannah might have mimicked the voices of people in General Gage's office to help the Whigs identify a possible spy. She might have imitated her own parents' voices to try to soften Aunt Phoebe's attitude, or she could have mimicked Mrs. Gage's voice to fool Miss Lydia into being nicer to the rest of the servants.
12. Imagine Hannah is a student in your school. What classes, clubs, and activities might she be interested in? Pick one other character from the book. What school activities would he or she be interested in?
Hannah would be interested in anything relating to animals. This might be the 4-H club, science class, or health class. Her skill at riding might make her interested in gymnastics or physical education. Hannah might be interested in any groups that fight for people's rights. Meg might be interested in Home Economics or any classes about clothes and style.
13. Decide whether or not it was wise for Hannah to disrupt the British soldiers during her midnight rides with Promise. How might Hannah's actions have helped the Whigs' cause? How might her actions have hurt their cause? Hannah unties Lieutenant Pratt's horse when she sees that he is tied too close to the post and is lacking a blanket for warmth. (page 179) Hannah strikes again on page 187 when her galloping disrupts the Redcoats' maneuvers practice. And on page 188 Hannah frees the soldiers' horses from their paddock. Hannah's actions might have helped the Whigs by giving them a hero and improving their motivation. However, Hannah's actions could be described as foolish pranks that do not help relations between the two groups.
14. On page 249, Mrs. Gage questions Hannah about Meg's activities. Argue why you think Hannah made the right decision in her response or why you think she did not. What would you have done in her position? Mrs. Gage's question put Hannah in a very difficult situation. Students arguing in favor of Hannah's response might include the following points: Hannah did not necessarily lie, she merely did not reveal the entire truth; Hannah was right in not betraying Meg, to whom she had made a promise. Those who think Hannah should have been clearer with Mrs. Gage might argue that both Hannah and Meg are too young to be able to make dating decisions on their own; during dangerous times it is important for Meg's guardian to know all of her actions, including who she is seeing; Hannah is employed by Mrs. Gage, not Meg.
15. Hannah and Lydia respond differently to authority and instructions. Justify the behavior of each character. Which way of behaving is most similar to yours? Answers will vary. Hannah follows her instincts and stays true to her heart. Lydia, on the other hand, follows established rules and does what she has been told is the right thing to do.
Note: These Literature Circle questions are keyed to Bloom's Taxonomy as follows: Knowledge: 1-3, Comprehension: 4-6, Application: 7-8, Analysis: 9-10, Synthesis: 11- 12, Evaluation: 13-15.
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