Giant Teaching Guide: Grades 8 - 12

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Before Reading

1. Discuss book dedications. Why do authors dedicate their work to others? What does it mean to dedicate something to someone? (Devote [time, effort, or oneself] to a particular task or purpose: ‘Joan has dedicated her life to animals.’ Devote [something] to a particular subject or purpose.) Look at other books you’ve read in class this year and read their dedications. Do dedications have a correlation to the Acknowledgments at the back of the book? Why or why not? Ask students to share whether they have ever dedicated something to someone, or would they, in the future.

2. As a follow-up to activity number one, have a brief discussion about the work of a fiction writer. The impression is that it is solitary work, fruits of one’s own labour, the writer’s own imagination and experience. But is writing really individual work or a group effort? Who are the people involved in releasing a book into the world? What are their roles? Discuss the work of mentors, thesis advisors (teachers), writing groups/peers, editors, publishers, proofreaders, copyeditors, designers, marketers, booksellers, reviewers, and bloggers. You could assign a creative activity here where students take on one of these roles and write/design a phantom novel as a class.

3. Have students research The Odyssey by Homer for 10-15 minutes. What is the epigraph about? Think about it while you read the novel. What common themes run through this quotation and through Giant? (Themes: journey/quest for ‘home,’ immigration, persistence in face of odds, isolation, sense of belonging, etc.) Discuss the universal appeal of these themes.

4. Read Charles Bukowski’s poem The Laughing Heart. Show students the following clip. Discuss the message of the poem. What is the poet telling us? Identify poetic devices, if you have time. (Can the same devices be found in the novel? What is the poem’s connection to the novel, whether overt or implicit?) Why is the poem called The Laughing Heart if those two words, laughing and heart, never appear in it?

5. Have students find Poland on a map and research briefly its history, especially the fifty-year period from WWII in 1939 to the fall of Communism in 1989. Key political figures: Lech Wałęsa, Pope John Paul II, Chairman Jaruzelski, General Secretary Gorbachev, Comrade Gomułka.

6. The Polish language uses the Latin alphabet, just like English (as opposed to the Cyrillic alphabet used for Russian, for example), but instead of 26 letters, it has 32: 9 vowels and 23 consonants. The Polish alphabet includes certain letters with diacritics: the line, which is graphically similar to an acute accent (ć, ń, ó, ś, ź); the overdot (ż); the tail (ą, ę); and the stroke (ł). The letters q, v and x, which are used only in foreign words, are frequently not considered part of the Polish alphabet. Students will find Polish words in the novel that will include these unfamiliar characters. Discuss why the author included Polish words in an English language novel. What do they add to the story? Why has the author chosen not to translate those words for the reader?


While Reading

1. Ask students to research the Solidarity Movement in Poland and the Arab Spring uprisings. Compare the two. What are the similarities? How does one movement inform the next despite obvious cultural differences?

2. Have students research the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). When they’ve familiarized themselves with the five stages, ask them to find concrete examples of actions and behaviours for each stage from the novel. This activity could also be done using Expert and Home groups, in which students investigate and share their findings.

Discussion questions:

* What is it that Gosia is grieving? Is there a different object of her grief in Part I and in Part II?

* How does she cope with her grief?

* Does she have any coping mechanisms? Does anyone help her cope, whether intentionally or incidentally?

3. Divide students into ten pairs or groups. Number them off one to ten. Ask each group to research the event of the decathlon corresponding to their assigned number. What is the decathlon? Where did it originate? What is its literal and symbolic relevance in the novel? Can you find other connections to the book beyond plot and language ones? (Hint: Look at the structure of the novel. How many parts are there? Chapters?)

4. Ask students about their identity. What does the word mean to them? What composes their identity? Now talk about Gosia’s identity. How does she see herself? Is it different from how others see her? Does Gosia’s identity change from Part I to Part II? (You might want to probe students to discuss Canadian multiculturalism and Canadian identity. What is Canadian identity? Is there such a thing?)

5. Other themes to discuss with the class if a safe space has been established in the classroom, otherwise you may choose to approach these themes as personal writing/journaling exercises: Puberty and Sexuality; Abandonment and Isolation; Bullying and Violence; Family and Parenting, particularly the paradigms of Nuclear Family vs. Dysfunctional Family; Rebellion vs. Acceptance; Freedom vs. Oppression.