|Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer - study guide|
If you wish to work traditionally these activities can be done in an exercise book, or as a booklet using your own skills in illustration and writing. If you wish to use computer software for your work, this is quite appropriate. A separate contents list and page numbering would help. Some tasks may work well as speaking and listening activities; you are encouraged to present these live or make use of tape-recording or multi-media software recording to show your work. In such cases, where the guide refers to writing, you may respond by speaking.
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What is Tom Sawyer about?
Briefly say what the book is about, and what is good about it. Do not retell the story in great detail at this point - give an outline or summary only.
Who are the principal characters? What are they like (personality, appearance, lifestyle, habits, speech and so on)? How often are they present in the narrative? You should choose a range of major characters (Tom, Huck, Becky and Injun Joe), and some of the secondary or minor characters (Aunt Polly, Sid, Jim, Mary, Joe Harper, Amy Lawrence, The Widow Douglas, Mr. Jones and so on) and write about the part each plays in the novel.
The setting of Tom Sawyer is very important in creating a sense of atmosphere. Tom lives in a village on the Illinois bank of the Mississippi, facing the state of Missouri. Particular locations in the novel are
Describe the different places in the book, and what they have to do with the story. You may illustrate this work, or draw maps.
This book is very much about the excitement and dangers of an active childhood (twice Tom is believed to be dead).
What are your favourite scenes in the book? You may like to retell these in your own way. You could write a passage as if you were one of the characters (Twain himself does this in Huckleberry Finn, where the novel is narrated by Huck - in his usual slang!). Alternatively, you could adapt an episode as a screenplay or radio drama, or a play for the stage: if you do this, set out the script correctly (ask your teacher for guidance). Finally, you could retell an episode as a comic strip or as a storyboard for a feature film.
The characters in this novel are very superstitious. See how many examples of their superstitions you can find. Explain what the boys believe, and identify the chapter where you found the superstition.
Teachers can ask pupils to compete (on their own or in groups) to see who can find the most superstitions - there are lots and lots of them.
The language in the novel is unusual in several ways - it reflects 19th century US English usage, and frequently appears in non-standard (slang) forms. You could study the language by making a glossary of terms which will be unfamiliar to modern English readers. You could look for the following, and compile collections of them:
Further reading and research
You may like to use this book as a source of information about Illinois in the mid 19th century - look at information about entertainment, travel, people's homes, food and drink, and anything else which interests you.
Alternatively, you might like to read further novels by Mark Twain. There are many of these, but some of the more popular, for younger readers, include Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur. You could also watch film/ television dramatizations of these works. Finally, you could write about the very interesting and eventful life of Mark Twain (whose real name was Samuel Longhorn Clemens).
Publicity and marketing
Book covers must carry certain information (such as author, title, publisher, ISBN with bar-code, price) but books usually also have a short descriptive or suggestive blurb superimposed on a cover design or illustration, to attract potential buyers and/or library readers. These are changed with new printings to reflect fashions and taste in graphic design at the time of production. You may wish to re-design the cover for a contemporary reader, using appropriate graphic skills (ask an art teacher for help, if need be). If you do this, show the whole cover, as if the book were lying open, face-down: this will mean that the back-cover will be on the left, and the front-cover on the right. You may also design advertising posters for bookshop or bookfair display.
You could extend this activity by producing a range of materials to promote the book, or Mark Twain's work generally - suitable for display in bookshops and bookfairs.
Make a judgement
What is your final opinion of this book? Would you recommend it, and, if so, to whom? Try to give reasons for your judgement.
Use of evidence
This is critical. Always give examples or refer to details in the story to support your comments. You may use quotation, too: lots of short quotation (where the point of quoting is obvious) is better than very lengthy quotations of less obvious relevance. When you quote, introduce with a comma or colon (, or :), and enclose what you quote in inverted commas.
© Andrew Moore, 2002; Contact me