The Giver, first sentence.

It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.

Who is Jonas ? Where is Jonas ? How old is Jonas ? When is Jonas living ? Is Jonas real or imagined ? If he’s imagined, who is he imagined by ? Why is he frightened ? What is he frightened of ? What does the time of year matter ? Is there something about December (the Christmas/holiday season) that’s particularly scary for him ? Why wasn’t he frightened before just now ? Is he frightened from previous personal experience or from vicarious experience ? Why isn’t he fully frightened already ? Is he frightened of something normal or something unusual ? Who is the narrator ?

It’s hard to glean much more than this series of questions from a first sentence of a few-hundred-page book, but that’s the point (and the fun!) of the exercise. In honour of the most successful and influential classroom exercise I ever did, this brick-by-brick analysis of “The Giver” is a repetition of another memorable 6th grade exercise from Mrs. Graham’s class.

In that newly accessible 6th grade class at Vic,1 first we read just the first sentence of the book, then just the first paragraph, and then just the first page before going chapter-by-chapter through the whole thing, and at each interval we had to write a short essay – maybe a few hundred words at most – on what we could or couldn’t glean from the brief excerpt. I haven’t read Lois Lowry’s Newberry Medal-winning book since that time, and can only recall that it was, broadly speaking, a dystopian look at genetic engineering2 and top-down authoritarianism3 that also made a point to stress the importance of colour,4 but other than that it’s pretty foggy, so this should be a fairly fresh look on the whole thing, and in the same spirit as the original effort.

Let’s keep reading together…5

___ ___ ___

  1. Two years before I attended Victoria School for the Visual and Performing Arts, it only offered programs for grades 7-12. The year before I attended ? 6-12. The year I first attended, 4-12. A couple years later and it was a full K-12, but that transitional period provided no shortage of opportunities for our class to get creative! There was scarcely a rulebook so we pretty much just wrote it as we went. As if in a dream… []
  2. Ahem. []
  3. Double ahem. []
  4. Triple ahem. []
  5. The full text of The Giver is archived here for your reference. []

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