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Listening for Lions Reading Guide : Student - Book Guides

Listening for LionsPrintable PDF

About the Book
It is 1919, and the only life Rachel Sheridan knows is in British East Africa, where she lives with her missionary parents, helping them in the hospital they built. Rachel loves the African people and their customs, the beauty of the land,  and the roar of the lions. But when her parents are both killed by influenza, Rachel is no longer safe in Africa. As an orphan, she is prayed upon by her self-serving neighbors the Pritchards, a sinister couple who pressure Rachel into pretending to be their daughter, Valerie, a girl Rachel’s age who, like Rachel’s parents, fell victim to the influenza epidemic.

Rachel is forced to travel to London and assume Valerie’s identity, in hopes that Mr. Pritchard’s father will find time spent with “his granddaughter” pleasant enough to warrant leaving his home and money to his conniving son. Rachel attempts to comply, but the old man and his solicitor soon figure out the truth and rescue her from the mean-spirited Pritchards.

Inspired to adopt Rachel, Valerie’s grandfather gives her his name and provides for her future, beginning by sending her to a wellrespected boarding school. After Grandfather’s death, Rachel attends medical school so that she can return to Africa as a doctor and open the hospital to which her parents devoted their lives. The
challenge of becoming a doctor in an era slow to support women’s rights is a difficult one for Rachel, but her success enables her to return to Africa, where the roar of the lions confirms that she has finally found her way home.

Discussion Questions
1. On page 1 Rachel personifies influenza by using the word “crept.” What effect does this have on the reader? How does the personification make influenza seem more of a threat?

2. “The Masai would not be trained and seldom came to our church” (p. 7). Based on what you learn about the Masai throughout the book, why do their culture and beliefs not allow them to work in the hospital or attend church?

3. “Kanora always said just what he thought” (p. 10). Why is this a relief to Rachel? Is it a part of the Kikuya culture to be outspoken? What other Kikuya tribe members exhibit this trait?

4. Rachel observes that the telling of tales is a more interesting and easier way of learning history than remembering the information in the books she has to read (p. 12). Why is this? How does story-telling eventually help her out of a difficult situation with Grandfather?

5. On page 21, Rachel’s mother tells her “not to worry.” What does Rachel do to try to obey her mother? Why is it impossible for Rachel to quit worrying?

6. How is Rachel able to “turn herself to stone” (p. 25) for the task of burying her mother and later her father? What sustains her through her grief?

7. Why does Rachel’s father say, “It would be almost better if you were to join your mother and me” (p. 32)? Does he really believe that Rachel would be better off dead? Does Rachel agree with her father? Why? Why not?

8. Rachel instinctively does not trust the Pritchards. What have they done to create mistrust in Rachel? What do they do to continue to foster uneasiness in Rachel? Why does Rachel ignore her misgivings and obey what they tell her to do?

9. Rachel quickly begins to love Grandfather, and her guilt from deceiving him continues to grow. What does this say about her character? Why does she wait so long to tell him the truth?

10. Rachel’s stories about Africa and her reports on the birds she sees greatly enrich Grandfather’s life. How do these stories and reports also benefit Rachel?

11. How does Rachel show that her love for Grandfather is genuine? What sacrifices does she make for him? How does her attitude help change Mr. Grumbloch’s opinion of her?

12. Rachel and Valerie have completely different values and standards based largely on their upbringing. Why is Rachel continually haunted by thoughts of Valerie? How does she finally overcome her uneasiness about living Valerie’s life?

13. Rachel’s dream of returning to Africa never dies, but it does fade. Who helps restore her dream? What people enable Rachel to see her dream become a reality?

14. When Rachel attends medical school, she is faced with prejudice because she is a woman. What other experience has she had with prejudice? How does her experience as a child help her cope with discrimination as an adult?

15. When Rachel finally returns to Africa as a doctor with plans to rebuild the hospital, who helps her? Why are the people in Africa accepting of Rachel even though she is a woman?

16. How does the title, Listening for Lions, relate to the book? What do the lions symbolize to Rachel? How does the memory of their roars help her through the years she lives in London?

About the Author
Gloria Whelan is the bestselling author of many novels for young readers, including Homeless Bird, winner of the National Book Award; Fruitlands: Louisa May Alcott Made Perfect; Angel on the Square and its companion novels, The Impossible Journey, Burying the Sun, and The Turning; Once on this Island, winner of the Great Lakes Book Award; Farewell to the Island; and Return to the Island. She lives in the woods of northern Michigan.

Praise for Listening for Lions
“Gentle, nostalgic, and fueled with old-fashioned girl power, this involving orphan story will please fans of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden (1912) and Eva Ibbotson’s The Star of Kazan (2004).”—Booklist (starred review)

“With a nod to Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and Spyri’s Heidi, Whelan spins a tale full of mystery and intrigue that takes our heroine from Africa to England and into a whole new identity.”—Horn Book Magazine

“[Listening for Lions] leaves a lasting impression of strength of character and wisdom of following one’s dreams. It will have lasting appeal and a ready audience.”—VOYA

Reading Guide prepared by Susan Geye, Library Media Specialist, Crowley Ninth
Grade Campus, Ft. Worth, Texas.