Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Paper Things Book Discussion

Last night, my oldest daughter's book group of 7th grade girls discussed Paper Things by Jennifer Jacobsen.  I wrote a set of discussion questions and a Bible Devotion to go along with them.  I thought I would share them here.  As I was preparing the devotion questions, I reread the chapter on teaching kids compassion in Growing Grateful Kids by Susie Larson.  I agreed wholeheartedly with her articulation that one of things we need to give our kids is perspective.  By gaining perspective, the hope is that they will grow in compassion towards others.

It is difficult to find appropriate books that I'm comfortable with aiming towards this end for my oldest daughter.  I am finding that many books aimed at middle schoolers try to pack too much emotional weight on the mind of these young girls.  A good example of this is Almost Home by Joan Bauer.  The main character in the book constantly says that she has to be the responsible one and take care of herself.  She makes sense of her world on her own without asking any adults.  She is also portrayed as the responsible one (instead of the adults) in the story.

Paper things, on the other hand, does still pack a lot in, but reading the ending of the story and discussion of the book can be very fruitful.  This book tackles the issue of homelessness and kids and other important topics of family, friendship, traditions, and expectations.  (As a side note, I think Small as an Elephant, Ms. Jacobsen's other book, packed too much emotional weight for 6th and 7th graders.)

Here are my questions and devotion...

Paper Things Discussion Questions

Expectations of people

1. Ari is a kid and Gage is a teenager. What do you think Ari's “job” is? What is Gage's “job”?
    2. Ari is in fifth grade. Does she have realistic expectations of herself? What does she expect?

  1. Before reading this book, had you ever thought about homeless kids before? What were Ari's greatest struggles when she was homeless? Have you ever had a friend who was homeless for a time or had to live with family members because they didn't have their own home?
  2. What do you think would be the hardest part about being homeless? Why do you think people are homeless?

  1. Did Ari tell Sasha what her life was like? Why don't you think she told her?
  2. Was Sasha a good friend to Ari? Was she able to be?
  3. Why do Ari's paper things matter to her? What are they to her?
  4. A faithful friend is a strong defense; and he that hath found him hath found a treasure. What do you think makes a good friend? Who is a good friend to Ari in the story?

  1. Would you have gone with Gage if you were in Ari's shoes? Would you have stayed with him when they didn't have a place to stay? Why do you think Ari's mom wanted them to stay together?
  1. Who helps Ari? In what ways do they help her? Who helps Gage? How does Gage change over the course of the story?
  2. Do adults make mistakes? How does Janna change by the end of the story? What are some of the mistakes that you think Janna made? When an adult makes a mistake, should you still respect them? What does it mean to respect someone? Sometimes, like Bryce's dad in Flipped, adults do things that aren't respectable. How should/can you act when you don't respect an adult?
  3. Why didn't Janna adopt Ari and Gage?
  4. What do people do when they are afraid? How do they act towards others?

Being Responsible
  1. Pg. 245, Gage realizes how hard it is to take care of Ari. Does Ari have what they need when they are homeless?
  2. Why do you think Gage wouldn't accept Janna's help? Are you more likely to try and do something on your own or to ask for help?

  1. Why does Carter mean so much to Ari? Traditions give people a sense of belonging. What traditions does your school have that matter to you—that you think you'll still remember years from now?

Last thoughts...
  1. Ari says, “Try as you might there are some things you can't mend.” Pg. 81
    What is something that can't get fixed in the story? What does get fixed? Do you agree with Ari about what she says—are there some things that you can't fix?


Comfort and Compassion
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. --Theodore Roosevelt

From Growing Grateful Kids...
“God, in His kindness, put people in my path from time to time, people whose convictions opened my eyes to God's enormous heart for the world, and this changed everything for me.

One of my favorite passages from the Bible is I John 4:12
English Standard Version
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

And then there's...

Praise to the God of All Comfort
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5New International Version (NIV)


1. God loves us, so He comforts us. How does God comfort us? What does that look like?

2. What are some things your friends are going through or have gone through? How could you (or have you) comforted them?

3. When someone makes a bad choice, are you responsible for their decision? If you had said something different or been there for them, do you believe they wouldn't have made that decision?

* It's important to understand that God's in control. Yes, we are supposed to love other people, but we aren't responsible for the decisions other people make.

4. What can you do when you see someone in trouble?
What about when they're making a bad decision?
When should you talk to an adult? Is that breaking someone's trust? Why or why not?

We also discussed what they could do to help or encourage a friend who was homeless.  One idea was to invite them over for a meal or to hang out.  They could also be invited to sleepover sometimes if it was okay with parents.  I thought of offering to keep something for a friend in your house until they had a permanent home because homeless people can't keep things with them during the day if they are staying in a temporary shelter.  Where we live there is also a nonprofit that helps homeless families get back on their feet.

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