Wild, free and fair: it can be difficult to engage every middle school reader in the substance of a novel, but almost every student will have an opinion about what it means to be wild, free or fair. Using these familiar words as the bait, teachers can draw students into deeper consideration of the underlying themes in the novel Where the Lilies Bloom (WTLB), by Vera and Bill Cleaver. Just as one character in the book asks the narrator, “So now we’re free but what does it mean?” students can ask, explore and answer their own questions about pivotal words and ideas in this classic novel.
I chose to teach WTLB because my first reading of the novel told me it is filled with allusion, wordplay and subtle motifs accessible to middle school readers. The book was a National Book Award Finalist and - in spite of the websites that describe it as straightforward realistic fiction - it provides a good story as well as complex textual material for deeper analysis.
The three written exercises in this twelve-page download include passages from the novel that include one of the three key words (wild, free and fair), showing how the meaning of a familiar word can vary subtly based on context. Students match each passage with the appropriate dictionary definition and select a synonym that could be substituted for the key word, further underscoring the variety of connotations contained within a single word. Two of the exercises include additional vocabulary work (looking up dictionary definitions) for more challenging words in the selected passages. All three exercises conclude with a writing prompt that elicits deeper analysis of themes in the book relating back to the key words.
Contents in this download include two pages of background (which Common Core standards are addressed, discussion questions for use in the classroom); five pages for students; and five pages for the teacher to use as an answer key (with some additional questions for use in class discussion). I recommend that the three written exercises be used after reading chapters 2, 10 and 11. One exercise could be used as a page in a final exam. Two of the exercises require access to a dictionary.