They grew up together. Now they have to escape together.
Raja has been raised in captivity. Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home. He was stolen when he was young to be someone’s pet. Now he’s grown up . . . and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.
John grew up with Raja. The orangutan was his friend, his brother — never his pet. But when John’s parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind. Now Raja is suffering.
There’s one last chance to save Raja — a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he’s imposed on himself all of these years.
Eliot Schrefer’s last two novels, Endangered and Threatened, were both finalists for the National Book Award. With Rescued, he brings his remarkable storytelling to the American landscape, giving us a boy who must redefine his own humanity and an orangutan who will need his help in order to return home.
Discussion Questions for Rescued
- Why does the book open with the scene in which Raja bites off John’s finger? Describe the five parts that structure the book and why the author chose to make those divisions. Why do you think most of them start with Raja’s memories?
- Each of the five parts opens with a quotation. Discuss the meaning of each quotation and how it relates to the section that follows. How do the quotes add to the impact of each section?
- Describe John, making sure to include information about his strengths and his weaknesses. In what ways does he change in the course of his journeys with Raja, both in the US and Sumatra? Give examples from the text.
- John went with his mother to Oregon when his parents divorced. What is his mother like? Talk about their relationship, using specific examples. What is her role in rescuing Raja and why does she help?
- Describe John’s father and John’s relationship with him, citing evidence from the story. How and why does his father bring Raja back from Sumatra? Why does he try to turn Raja over to FriendlyLand? Discuss whether this was a good decision and what his other options were.
- In Sumatra, the word orangutans means “people of the forest.” Using examples from the novel, describe Raja’s personality. Discuss ways in which Raja resembles a human and ways in which he doesn’t—physically, emotionally, etc.
- Describe John’s relationship with Raja in the first years that they were together. How is their relationship different when John returns from Oregon? What are some of the ways their interactions have changed? Talk about whether you would describe them as friends, and explain why or why not.
- In the Q&A, the author says he “realized that a captive ape’s situation was similar to the plight of a kid during a divorce, getting swept along by the needs of powerful parents, at risk for being seen for what he represents instead of as a child with his own needs” (p. 251). Discuss this statement and draw parallels between John’s and Raja’s situations.
- Thinking about Raja, John says, “It came to me that I had been raised with a kidnapping victim . . . [I] grew up with a victim of a crime” (p. 153). Do you agree with the idea that Raja was kidnapped? Why or why not? What, if anything, makes Raja different from a pet like a cat or dog?
- What is John’s first impression of Dr. Jackson? Why does his opinion change? Discuss how and why she helps John and Raja. Why is she initially reluctant to help?
The questions above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading: Key Ideas and Details 1, 2, 3; Craft and Structure 4, 5.
Activities for Rescued
John’s mother has a lawyer add Raja to a list of primates in a lawsuit about primates’ rights. Have students debate the question: Should primates have any legal rights similar to those of humans? Students should research the question, taking into account the 2014 Argentinian court that ruled in favor of giving an orangutan legal rights and a New York court case that dismissed a similar claim. Have students use the traditional debate format of two teams of two who alternate in presenting their arguments and rebuttals.
The activity above can help meet Common Cor Anchor Standards: W.7; SL.4
Orangutans are considered a “critically endangered” species. Have each student choose a different endangered or critically endangered species to research using print and online resources. They should prepare a multimedia presentation to share with the class that describes the animal, its habitat, threats to its existence, its current status, and efforts to save it. (Find a list of endangered species at worldwildlife.org.)
The activity above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards: W.7; SL.5
Writing and Speaking & Listening
What does John’s future hold? Have students imagine what John’s life will be like in twenty years, based on his character and actions in the novel. They should compose a monologue from John’s point of view about what he has been doing for twenty years in his personal and professional life. Have each student deliver the speech to a small group and then have group members compare their predictions about John’s future.
The activity above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards: R.3; SL.1
Art & Science
As a class, watch part or all of the 2015 PBS Nature episode, “The Last Orangutan Eden,” about orangutans in northern Sumatra. Then hold a discussion in which students compare the documentary and Rescued, analyzing the similar and different information provided by each medium. Have them also compare the emotional power of the film and the novel, and compare the strengths of each medium in general.
The activity above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards: R.7; SL.1
Discussion Questions for Threatened, Endangered, and Rescued
- In Rescued, Diah asks John for the word in English that means “when something tastes unpleasant and good at the same time,” and he replies, “Bittersweet” (p. 216). Discuss whether the endings of the three books are bittersweet for the protagonists and the animals they love, and why or why not.
- The three novels can be described as “coming of age” stories in which the protagonists each grow up in different ways. Describe the ways the three grow up during the stories and compare the similarities and differences in how they change.
- Each book has one of the great apes as its focus (bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans). Discuss the threats to their existence shown in the novels in terms of loss of habitat and other dangers. Talk about the economic, political, and other roots of those threats. Compare and contrast the situations of the three species.
- In Endangered, Sophie says, “I figured dying humans were more important than dying animals. But it had always been my mom’s philosophy that the way we treat animals goes hand in hand with the way we treat people” (p. 2). This issue arises in all three books. Discuss Sophie’s mother’s philosophy and whether or not you agree with it, explaining why.
- In the three books, which adults help the protagonists and their animal friends? What do they do to help, and why do they do it? Which adults hinder the protagonists and their animal friends, and even threaten or harm them? What actions do these adults take and what motivates them? Use specific examples from all three novels.
- Compare the physical dangers that the protagonists of the three books face on their journeys. Compare, too, the geography of their travels and the transportation they use.
- The settings are integral to all three stories. Compare and contrast the settings for Endangered and Threatened, and the Sumatra portion of Rescued, including the vegetation and animals the protagonists encounter. What are the biggest contrasts with John’s environment in the US?
- Talk about the role of trust in all three books, including the trust between humans and animals. Give specific examples of trust as a theme in the stories.
- Discuss courage in the three books, who shows it and how, using specific passages from the stories. Consider all types of courage—not just physical courage—in the discussion.
- What are the similarities in structure and narrative voice of the three novels? What aspects of the novels connect them? In what ways are they not related?
The questions above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading: Key Ideas and Details 1, 2, 3; Craft and Structure 4, 5, 6.
Activities for Threatened, Endangered, and Rescued
Have students choose the protagonists from two of the books and write letters that those characters might exchange, describing their animal friends and what happened because of their connections with the animals. The exchange, which should include at least six letters total, should draw on events in the books and characteristics of the protagonists. Have students share their letters in small groups.
The activity above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards: R.3; W.3; SL.1
Have students research the non-US setting of one of the novels: Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, or Indonesia. They should use print and online sources to assemble the basic facts of location, population, climate, religion, government, economics, recent news and political events, and so on, plus any areas of particular interest to the student. Have them create a slide show of their findings and narrate it to one or more students who researched a different country.
The activity above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards: W.7; SL.5
Students should work in pairs or small groups to research an organization or government entity that works to save threatened species or the environment, on a local, state, national, or international level. They should determine the organization’s mission, its governing structure, its funding, its accomplishments, and so on. Consider using sites that evaluate various aspects of charities and nonprofits, such as charitynavigator.org, guidestar.org, give.org, and givewell.org. Students will then present their information orally to the class. Follow the presentations with a discussion of how young people can work to help animals or the environment.
The activity above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards: W.7; SL.1
The novels convey a lot of information about bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans. Have students write down the facts they learned and supplement them with brief research. Then have each student create a graphic organizer to compare the animals. It should have the animals’ species listed at the top of columns with categories of comparison listed down the left-hand side of the chart. Students will fill in the chart about each animal. Categories can include physical characteristics, behavior, group life, diet, native habitat, life cycle, and the like. Have them discuss their findings in small groups.
The activity above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards: R.1; W.7
About Eliot Schrefer
Eliot Schrefer is the author of many books, including the Ape Quartet books Threatened, Endangered, Rescued, and the final book, to be published in 2017. Schrefer’s first book for young adults, The School for Dangerous Girls, about a boarding school for criminal young ladies was a New York Public Library “Stuff for the Teen Age” book, and his next novel, The Deadly Sister, earned a starred review from School Library Journal.
Schrefer journeyed to the Democratic Republic of Congo while researching Endangered, and has since traveled wider as he’s embarked on this quartet of novels about the great apes, one book for each primate, detailing a young person’s relationship with that animal.
You can find him on Twitter @EliotSchrefer, and online at EliotSchrefer.com.
African Wildlife Foundation—Works with the people of Africa to ensure the wildlife and wild lands of Africa will endure forever.
Animal Legal Defense Fund—Seeks to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the US legal system. Their resources page includes practical advice on how to advocate for animals.
Arcus Foundation—A leading global foundation dedicated to the idea that people can live in harmony with one another and the natural world.
Center for Great Apes—Provides a permanent sanctuary for orangutans and chimpanzees who have been rescued or retired from the entertainment industry, from research, or from the exotic pet trade; educates the public about captive great apes and the threats to conservation of great apes in the wild; and advocates for the end of the use of great apes as entertainers, research subjects, and pets.
Conservation International—Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership, and field demonstration, CI focuses on science, policy, and partnership with businesses and communities to empower societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of humanity.
Jane Goodall Institute—An organization dedicated to the great apes. The website offers videos and information, particularly on chimpanzees.
Lola ya Bonobo—Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this is the world’s only organization to provide lifetime care to bonobos orphaned by the illegal trade in endangered wildlife. Offers symbolic “adoptions” of bonobo orphans through donations. The author visited it for his research.
Nature Conservancy—The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.
Save the Orangutan—Save the Orangutan helps to protect wild orangutans and to preserve their rainforest environment. Offers symbolic “adoptions” of orangutans through donations.
Sumatran Conservation Orangutan Programme—The rehabilitation center for orangutans that the author visited in Sumatra.
World Wildlife Fund—Provides information including photos, videos, and maps about endangered wildlife around the world as well as other conservation work. Offers symbolic “adoptions” of bonobos, chimpanzees, or orangutans through donations.
“Ape Genius”—A 2011 PBS Nova episode about great apes. Has a classroom guide.
“The Last Orangutan Eden”—A 2015 PBS Nature episode about orangutans in northern Sumatra.
“Orangutan Island”—A series of videos on orangutans from Animal Planet.
Jane Goodall: “How Humans and Animals Can Live Together”
Jane Goodall: “What Separates Us from Chimpanzees?”
Susan Savage-Rumbaugh: “The Gentle Genius of Bonobos”
Willie Smits: “How to Restore a Rainforest” about the Borneo home of orangutans