Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
Hippies, tie-dyed shirts, folk music, and anti-war protests were all part of the 1960s. But so was patriotism, bravery, body counts, and family prayers for sons and daughters and sisters and brothers stationed "in-country" during the Vietnam War. Author Ellen Emerson White builds on her previous books and enduring interest in this extraordinary period of American history and lets us see the events of 1968 through the diary entries of sixteen-year-old Molly MacKenzie Flaherty whose brother, Patrick, is stationed with the Marines in Vietnam.
Like many Americans at the time, Molly has questions about the war; stays glued to Walter Cronkite's evening news; tries to find some normalcy in a time marked by the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King; and attempts to understand why "...Americans were at war with one another during the 1960s." References to American leaders from Lyndon Johnson to Eugene McCarthy from Richard Nixon to John F. Kennedy fill Molly's diary and give readers a sense of the political turmoil in the United States. Words like Khe Sanh, Tet, Viet Cong, and Communism bring the faraway war into the daily lives of American families like the Flaherty's.
In a new twist for the Dear America and My Name Is America series, Ellen Emerson White has written a companion book to Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: The Diary of Molly MacKenzie Flaherty. Once readers have seen 1968 from Molly's standpoint, they are offered brother Patrick's look at the Vietnam War period through the experiences of a soldier. Taken together, the two books allow readers to examine point of view and see how similar events change focus as we filter them through a different set of eyes.
"My New Year's resolution is to do something. It's so frustrating to know that you're only fifteen, and you don't have the power to change anything, and no one is going to listen to you, anyway, because you're not old enough," writes Molly MacKenzie Flaherty in her diary. It's 1968, the United States is at war in Vietnam, and Molly's older brother, Patrick, has joined the Marines and is already "in-country."
Molly lives in Boston, and she and her friends often go to Harvard Square which is "fantastic, crowded, noisy, and full of fun stuff to do." It's also full of hippies, "the Beautiful People," who actively protest the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Although Molly questions Patrick's reasons for joining the military, she supports him and defends him against classmates and others who call him a "storm trooper" and a "baby killer." Molly eagerly awaits letters from Patrick, which, on the surface, are upbeat and humorous, describing daily activities and friends he has made. But other letters arrive which are grim, in which Patrick admits he is scared and heartsick because he has seen one of his buddies blown up right in front of him. Molly learns that Patrick is stationed at Khe Sanh, which is under the heaviest attack by the Viet Cong. When letters don't come regularly, she fears the worst.
Molly, who has dreams of becoming a veterinarian, thinks she will volunteer at the local animal shelter. But she changes her mind and goes to the Veterans' Administration Hospital instead and volunteers there. At the hospital Molly meets many young men, not much older than her brother, who have been severely wounded in Vietnam. As time passes, she begins to look forward to her weekly visits to the hospital. The patients accept Molly, joking with her and teaching her to play poker. Then, one day she learns that one of the patients, Vincent, who seemed to be doing so well, has died suddenly of an embolism. Molly writes, "Vincent had survived fighting in a war, he had survived becoming paralyzed — and he had died because of a tiny, freak accident inside one of his veins. But if you ask me, Vietnam is what killed him. I hate Vietnam."
Although Molly and her family try to live life as normally as possible, they continually worry about Patrick. A Western Union messenger delivers a telegram stating that Patrick has been wounded and is in a hospital in Vietnam where his condition is "extremely grave." Molly worries that the telegram means her brother won't survive. Fortunately, Patrick's condition improves, and he is sent to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital to recuperate. Molly and her parents make the eight-hour drive and are tearfully reunited with Patrick. Despite his injuries, Patrick is expected to make a full recovery . In Molly's diary are these thoughts, "We stayed until visiting hours were over. Half of the time we all talked at once, and the rest of the time, no one had much to say. But we really didn't need to say anything. All that mattered was that Patrick was here, and we were all together. My brother was home. He was alive. He was safe. Thank God."
Thinking About the Book
- Why will Molly never forget New Year's Eve 1967?
- Mr. Hiller sent Molly to the vice principal's office for "espousing Communist ideology." What happened in history class that caused Molly to receive two days of detention?
- In her February 5th diary entry, Molly writes that her father said, "You're a jake's daughter, Molly. It's in your blood, whether you like it or not." What does he mean? Is it a compliment to Molly?
- How does Molly change as a result of her volunteer work at the Veterans' Administration Hospital?
- Having Patrick in Vietnam affects each member of the Flaherty family. What are some of the ways each character handles this? What about the family as a whole?
- What does Molly mean when she writes about the men in the Veterans' Hospital, "That definitely explains why so many of the guys look so depressed. To be injured and abandoned? That stinks."?
- For her birthday Molly's mother gives her a copy of Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique. From what Molly tells you about this book, why do you think her mother gave it to her? Why do you think Molly's sister, Brenda, did not like it?
- In the Historical Note you will find the following sentence: "Without a doubt, Americans were at war with one another during the 1960s." Explain this statement.
- "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" was a very popular song during the 1960s. Read the lyrics and find out how Pete Seeger came to write the song. What do the song lyrics have to do with the Vietnam War?
- In the Historical Note, author Ellen Emerson White discusses the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. She states that, "Every American who was alive and old enough to know what was going on, will always remember exactly where he or she was and what they were doing when they heard the news." Interview someone who remembers that day. Ask them to share their memories of that time. Share your findings with your group.
- Choose one of the following to research and be able to explain what it means:
- Molly and her friends try making tie-dyed shirts (March 3rd). See what tie-dyed shirts look like and try making your own.
- In the Epilogue at the end on Molly's diary, we find out that Molly did not become a veterinarian but rather a lawyer. From what you have learned about Molly, does this career choice seem to fit her or not? Why?
- Read the companion book to Molly's story — The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty in the My Name Is America series. Compare Patrick's feelings about the war with those of his sister Molly. How are the two stories alike? How are they different?
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.