At the Hot Gates


Teacher's Study Guide for The Dragon Boy

The Characters:

Galifalia: an old woman with a mysterious past asked to adopt an orphan babe.
Aga: he brings the child to Galifalia and appears from time to time to look after him.
The Boy, also called Straw: he is a twice-orphaned street urchin when accepted into the dragon compound to serve Star.
Star: a Luck Dragon living in the Dragon Compound, cared for by the children of the nobility.
Garth: Dragon Master of the Dragon Compound.
Mali: in charge of the stall boys.
Keg: the Barn Master making sure that everything in the barn stays in top order.
Flek: cousin to the king, one of the stall boys who loathes Straw and makes his life miserable.
Colin: the first stall boy to extend friendship to the boy and remains close to him throughout his stay.
Alis: Colin’s twin sister who works in the kitchens, also one of Straw’s friends.
Lord Malvise: an ambitious warrior-king who wants to battle Star to increase his fame.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why does Aga bring the orphaned boy to Galifalia? As she says, she’s old and won’t see him to manhood. Why isn’t Aga worried about this?

  2. Do you think Aga is a wizard or just a meddling old man? How can you tell which he is?

  3. What keeps the boy coming back every day to stand before the great gates? Imagine and describe the life he is living on the streets and the people he has to deal with.

  4. Describe life in the dragon compound. Add your own details.

  5. Would you like to live there? Why or why not?

  6. Have you ever lived in or visited a place that was self-contained and well organized (such as a vacation village, a farming village, a small town, a cruise ship)? Tell about your experience. What did you like about it? What did you not like about it? Would you like to go back, and for how long? What would make it the perfect place for you?

  7. Why doesn’t Flek like this newcomer? Have you ever seen a newcomer in your class or neighborhood treated with the same scorn or indifference? What was this person like and why do you think he or she was treated this way? Has it happened to you? What’s your story?

  8. Have you ever been bullied by a group of other children? Have you ever seen it happen to someone else? Describe your experience.

  9. Why do you think Colin extends friendship to the boy? What was the risk he was taking? Have you ever known anyone like Colin? What was he or she like?

  10. We don’t get to see much of what girls do in the dragon compound, other than Alis who works in the kitchen. Why do you think girls are not working in the barn like the stall boys? Do you think they should have been allowed to clean the barn as well as the boys? What other work do you think the girls are doing there? If you were living at the dragon compound, what work would you like to do there? What work would you absolutely want to avoid?

  11. Do you think it’s fair that the boys have to work in the afternoons? Why? What extra work would you volunteer for? Why?

  12. Do you think it’s fair that Alis gives Colin and Straw treats? How do you think the other children felt? Do you think others had their own ways of getting a special treat? How? Have you ever gotten a special treat and felt you had to hide it so others wouldn’t see it? Tell your story.

  13. What do you think Star is doing in the evenings when he soars above the compound singing?

  14. What do you think of the meals they eat at the compound? What seems to be missing from them? What would you add? What would you take away? Why do you think so much of their food is served in bowls? Why so many soups and stews? Why not pizza on Tuesday and mac and cheese on Thursdays?

  15. Flek’s attempt to make fun of the boy results in his nickname. What do you think of his nickname? Does it fit him? How would you feel if you were only called “girl” or “boy”? What nickname would you have given the boy? Do you have any nicknames? What are they and how did you get them? If you’ve had more than one, which are your favorites? Which don’t you like? Why?

  16. Straw wonders if it was only a coincidence that Star moved over at his request. Have you ever sensed that an animal understood what you were asking it to do? Describe your experience. Have you ever experienced this with a wild animal? What happened?

  17. Did the autumn procession festival remind you of any town or school festival you’ve been to? Describe your own experience.

  18. Straw feels that the other boys in the compound, even his friends, give him a hard time over what happened during the procession. How do you think they could have reacted that would have made it easier for Straw? What could his friends have said that would have helped him figure out how to react to this event?

  19. Flek baits Straw into reacting. Have you ever been taunted by someone to the point of reacting with your words or getting physical? Have you ever been the one to do the taunting? Tell your story.

  20. Garth puts Straw on the spot to prove himself, and the results change his life. What do you think Garth would have done if Straw had failed? Have you ever been put on the spot like this? Were you able to prove you could do what you were asked? Tell your story.

  21. Straw spends long hours alone with the dragon scrubbing Star all over. What would it be like doing this every day? How would you feel? Have you ever had to do a job that was monotonous? What was it and how did you keep your spirits up?

  22. To Straw’s great surprise, Star can talk and he can understand the dragon’s speech. If you were in Straw’s position, what conversation would you have with the dragon? What questions would you ask? Imagine that conversation and give Star’s answers.

  23. Straw sneaks out in the night to go visit Star in the barn. Have you ever snuck out of bed when your parents or sitters thought you were asleep? Tell your story.

  24. Star tries to get the boy to realize that he is descended from a race of people known as the Dragon Tamers. What is your lineage? Who are the people you descend from on your mother’s side? On your father’s side? How is each side alike? How is each side different? How do you see yourself as a combination of both sides? Do you have an affinity (an attraction) more to one side than the other? Explain why. Activity: collect pictures of your parents when they were young. Then pictures of your grandparents. Go back as many generations as you have pictures. Then get photos of your brothers and sisters. Now make a collage, like a big funnel, leading down to you.

  25. Star begins to teach Straw how to fight. The boy is delighted to do this because he is attracted to the knights and fantasizes that one day he could become one. Are there any skills that you would like to learn and wish you had a skilled teacher to take you on as an apprentice? Tell what that is and why you want to learn that skill.

  26. You are learning a lot of new things at this time in your life both in school and outside of school. What do you enjoy learning the most? What do you enjoy the least? Why do you think you don’t enjoy learning them? What makes them boring or hard? Is there something you enjoy learning, but it is hard to learn and you struggle? Why do you like learning it anyway?

  27. Throughout his stay in the dragon compound, Straw expresses how much he likes the food. What are your favorite foods? Who prepares food just the way you like it (parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, restaurant)? What makes it perfect for you? What foods give you the strength to work even harder? What foods do you like just because they comfort you and taste good?

  28. Flek accuses Straw of lazing around with the dragon on their outings to the river. Have you ever been accused of goofing off when you were actually working hard? How did it feel? Did you defend yourself? What was the reaction? Tell your story.

  29. Straw and the dragon fail in their attempt to dissuade Lord Malvise from wanting to fight with Star. In fact, Malvise becomes even more interested in battling with the dragon. How would you have done it differently so that Malvise would go away and leave them alone?

  30. Straw can’t get Corin to listen to what he observed about how Malvise fights. Have you ever seen something others didn’t notice? Did you try to get someone else to see it, because it would be important, but you were ignored? Tell your story.

  31. Straw finally gets caught fighting with the dragon. Star knew it couldn’t go on forever. What if they had never been caught? How would the story have gone?

  32. Why did Garth never tell him until the end that he knew what was happening? Why did Aga never reveal himself until it was too late? What was their motivation? How would it change the story if they had told Straw they knew?

  33. It is a big moment when Aga and Garth dress Straw as a knight, give him a horse and a new name. How do you think he is feeling? Have you ever felt that way before? Tell your story.

Topics for Research and Discussion

Topic #1:  Dragons in Literature

Dragons have been written about since earliest times.

  1. What are the earliest references to dragons you can find?

  2. How are dragons usually depicted in western literature?

  3. How are they viewed in the orient?

  4. Compare and contrast the view of dragons in the west and in the orient.

  5. What other books about dragons have you read? Compare them to this book.

  6. Here are several art projects:

    1. Do you like to draw? The Dragon Boy offers one artist's conception of what Star looks like. What is yours? Draw Star flying over the compound. Draw Straw scrubbing Star in the river. Draw them sparring together. Create your own scenes.

    2. Do you like to make models? Take some clay, beeswax or plasticene (a type of modeling clay that does not dry out) and make a 3-dimensional model of Star.

    3. Go big! Make a large papier-mâché model of Star and paint it.

    4. Make a 3-dimensional model of the Dragon Compound with open or partially open roofs to see the interiors of the spaces. You can show Star lying in his barn.

Topic #2:  Fantasy Literature

  1. What characteristics identify this book as fantasy literature? Is it just the dragon, or are there other details? What are they? What qualities make a fantasy book different from science fiction? From general fiction?

  2. What other fantasy novels or stories have you read? How do they compare to this book? How are they alike? How are they different?

  3. A fantasy book creates a world similar, yet different from our own. How is the world in this book similar to our own? How is it different?

  4. What is your perfect fantasy world? What does the land look like? How do the people live? What do they do? Who do they have contact with? What creatures live there that we don’t have in our world? How is your perfect fantasy world different from our world? How is it alike?

Topic # 3:  The Hero’s Quest

From the time people first began telling and recording stories, one dominant theme that appears over and over again is the Hero’s Quest. This archetype has elements that emerge in a recognizable form in each story. Some elements may be emphasized, others barely mentioned, and the order a bit jumbled, but they are generally all present in one shape or another.

Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, explains these steps as the hero’s journey. Here is the outline of those parts. Find correlations to events in The Dragon Boy.

  1. Departure

    1. The Call to Adventure—the hero is called (by outer or inner forces) or forced to leave familiar surroundings.

    2. Supernatural Aid—the hero is aided by a being (or beings) with powers beyond the normal.

    3. The Crossing of the First Threshold—the hero leaves behind everything familiar and enters "unknown territory." Whereas this territory may be barren of life or a crowded urban setting, it is a new experience for the hero.

    4. The Belly of the Whale—the hero is separated from his or her companions and returns transformed in some way with special powers.

  2. Initiation

    1. The Road of Trials—the hero is faced with a succession of tests.

    2. The Ultimate Boon—the hero is given a gift, although its greatest advantage may only be understood later.

  3. Return

    1. Crossing of the Return Threshold—like the first threshold, the hero now re-enters the world left behind at the beginning. The special powers gained in the belly of the whale section may have been used in the initiation phase, or they become only evident now.

    2. Master of Two Worlds—how has the hero's journey prepared him to live a different life upon his return? What gifts does he bring with him? How is he transformed?

In The Dragon Boy, investigate each of these moments in the hero’s journey. How do they relate to the boy and his adventure? Are there places where the outline and the story do not match up? Where is the order different? Are there elements more strongly emphasized and other elements left vague? How is the end of the book like beginning the cycle all over again?

Topic #4  Women in The Dragon Boy

  1. Women do not have a large presence in The Dragon Boy. What role do women play in the book? Although their role is not emphasized, is their presence important or simply taken for granted? How would the book be different if they were left out altogether?

  2. Do you find that the women and the girls play an equal role to the men and the boys? What does equal mean? Equal jobs or equal respect and opportunity? Do you detect prejudice against them? Examine these questions in relation to the Dragon Compound in Nogardia. Examine them as well in relation to your school or your community.

  3. How would you like the women to be depicted differently in the book? What expanded role, if any, would they take? What different characters or situations would you add? Go into detail.

Topic # 5  Social Systems

  1. The Dragon Compound is run like an independent town, providing for its own needs. Describe what you understand about its daily functioning. What does it all revolve around? Who is in charge? Is one person in charge of everything? Are the workers and masters answerable to anyone else? Does it run smoothly? What aspects are run efficiently? What aspects are not efficiently run? What is the motivation of the people who live there to keep it running well? Where could the system possible break down? What would happen to the compound when the dragon leaves? Would you like to live there? Why? What role would you like to take on if you lived there? Imagine yourself in that role and describe a day in your life living at the Dragon Compound. Describe a week or a whole season. Now take a vacation day and enjoy a festival procession.

  2. The stall boys are cautioned never to fight in the presence of the dragon. Otherwise, they are left pretty much to work things out among themselves. Straw has to endure hazing and pranks. Why do you think that was so? Why could the Masters not prevent Flek and his companions from playing pranks on Straw? Have you ever experienced any social context similar to this? That is, someplace where you knew you could not get away with treating one another poorly, but in other contexts it was easier to do. How does this relate to your experiences in school? Be specific.

Meet the Dragon Boy...

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