The Fastest Boy in the World discussion guide


Title: The Fastest Boy in the World

 

Author: Elizabeth Laird

Solomon runs everywhere – and always especially fast to school. He knows he is good and is convinced that he could join the roster of the great Ethiopian runners but he also knows that growing up in a small village, he’ll never have the chance to train as an elite athlete. When Solomon’s grandfather insists that he accompanies him on a trip to Addis Ababa, everything in his life changes. 

Reasons for selection

 Elizabeth Laird has travelled extensively in Ethiopia and this brings an authenticity to her writing.  Reading should open up new worlds for the pupils in our classes and Solomon’s story does just that. Not many children in our classrooms will be familiar with Ethiopian history, and perhaps it will also give teachers new insights.  At the same time Solomon has much in common with children of his age all over the world. They will relate to his family story and the passion for his sport (running) and wanting to achieve his very best. The story is both inspirational and aspirational and provides an opportunity for children to discuss the range of emotions experienced by the characters and relate these to their own experiences. Chapters are short, which makes this a good choice for a whole class novel and for group reading.

Before Reading

  • In pairs, ask the children to look at the cover and discuss where they think the story is set. Who do they think is running and why do they think he is running.
  • Harvest ideas and write them on the IWB to be referred to later. Some additional prompts may encourage the children to think more deeply. For instance, ‘what do the colours chosen for the book jacket make you feel? Are there any clues in the trees? Why do you think there is a bus in the picture? Allow all answers as you encourage the children to pay attention to details in order to make inferences about the story.
  • Tell the children that the story is set in Ethiopia. Find out what they know about Ethiopia already. If there are any confusions, these can be checked through research later. Using a globe or world map, have the children locate Ethiopia and find out where it is in relation to the UK.

During Reading:

Chapter 1

First responses: Ask: What are your first thoughts about this story? After reading the first chapter, what questions do you have? Record the children’s questions and ask them to decide whether they think their questions will be answered in the book or whether they would need to find the answer somewhere else e.g. through research or discussion

Questions we think might be answered in the book

Questions we think won’t be answered in the book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review the list periodically. Make a note of questions that have been answered and add new questions as appropriate as you read chapters. Keep a balance so that this doesn’t disrupt the flow of the story and the questions remain authentic rather than becoming a question generating exercise.

Characters: What are your thoughts about Solomon so far? Do you think he is a likeable character?

In what ways is Solomon’s life different from yours? In what ways is it similar?

How do the family treat grandfather? Why? Encourage the children to refer back to the text to support their ideas

Language:  Solomon calls his father ‘Abba’.  Use the class collective knowledge to find out words for father in other languages. Do any of these words sound similar? Why might that be?

Chapter 2

Making connections: invite the children to share knowledge about Olympic runners. Which athletes do they know? Do any of the children attend athletics clubs. What sort of training do they have to do?

Research: Use the internet or other sources to find out about the achievements of  Deratu Tulu and Haile Gebrselassie

Make a fact file about modern day Addis Ababa and compare to London. E.g. invite the children to add some areas to investigate and add to your table.

 

Addis Ababa

London

Population

 

 

Languages

 

 

Climate

 

 

Currency

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Character: How does Solomon feel when he arrives in Addis Ababa? What makes you think that?

What are your first impressions of Cousin Wondu? What do you think he is thinking when he says:

‘And I saw relief in Cousin Wondu’s eyes as he said unconvincingly, ‘Stay as long as you like, Uncle. You know my house is your house.’

Chapter 4

Looking for patterns: compare Cousin Wondu’s home with Solomon’s home. What are the similarities and differences? What do you think Solomon thinks  and feels when he visits Cousin Wondu?

Character: why do you think Solomon observes ‘Something was up with Cousin Wondu. He was trying too hard, I could tell.’  and later ‘Cousin Wondu must know this place, I said to myself. I wonder what he’s up to?’  What thoughts do you have about Cousin Wondu’s motives?

Chapter 5 and chapter 6

Read up to the section;

‘So you’re the Arrow,’ he said.

Grandfather sat back in his chair and his face broke into the brightest smile I’d ever seen on it.

‘That’s what the boys used to call me. And they called your father the Bullet.’

What do these nicknames suggest to you? Do you have any thoughts about what the connection might be between the Arrow and the Bullet?

Research:  use the internet and other sources to find out about Emperor Haile  Selassie.

Discussion: Grandfather is relieved that he didn’t kill the brutal guard. Why is that? Do you think you would feel the same if you were in his position?

Chapter 7

Solomon has discovered something remarkable about his Grandfather, which sets him thinking

‘I was trying to imagine what grandfather might have been like when he was young.’ Invite the children to learn more about members of their family in older generations. They could conduct and record interviews and then write down their stories for a class book.

At the end of chapter Ato Alemu is about to give Grandfather the treasure that Bullet kept for him. What do you predict it will be?

Chapter 8

At the beginning of the chapter we find out what the real treasure is. Were you surprised? Why/why not? In what way is the treasure valuable?

Chapter 9 and chapter 10

Discussion: What does Solomon learn about Kebede in this chapter? Why do you think he jumps to the conclusion that Kebede has stolen his money? Have you ever made a judgement about someone and then realised that you were wrong?

In pairs, identify the range of emotions that Solomon experiences in these two chapters. Find a quotation to support each of your suggestions.

Emotion

Quotation

Excitement/elation

But she had looked at me. She had smiled at me!

My skin was prickling all over and my hair was standing on end.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discuss with children the range of emotions that you can feel in a day. Sometimes we experience duel emotions at the same time. We might be excited but scared, relieved but also disappointed etc.

Chapter 11- chapter 13

What characteristics does Solomon display in these chapters? What do you think you would have done if faced with a similar situation?

Chapter 14 and chapter 15

‘You left your grandfather on his own, ill in Addis Ababa?’ Abba said at last. He was smacking his right hand down into his left, the way he always does when he’s upset.

                I didn’t want to! He told me to!’

                ‘You ran? All the way home? On your own? said Mother. She made me sit up on a stool, then she brought over a pan full of water and began to wash my feet. She’s never done that before. It felt soothing and wonderful.’

Why do you think Solomon’s Mother and Father react differently in this passage?

 

My first thought was I can’t go all the way back to Addis today! I’m too tired.

My second thought was, But I’ll be riding Lucky. Abba’s never let me go so far on her before. And we’ll be going on the bus.

My third thought was, Maybe I’ll see Kebede again.

And way down at number four, I thought, Grandfather! He might be dead by now!

What do you think about Solomon’s thoughts at this point in the story? Does anything surprise you/

Chapter 17

Friendship: why do Solomon and Kebede become good friends? What are the qualities that you admire in your friends?

Values; ‘The disc of brown metal might look small and dowdy to a stranger. It’s worth the world to me.’ Explain why Solomon thinks this about the medal. Do you own anything that is very special to you?

Invite the children to draw their special objects and then annotate with a few words explaining why the object is special. Organise the class in a circle. One by one ask them to walk into the middle of the circle with their drawing and place the drawing in the centre of the circle, explaining the object the selected and reasons for selecting it.

After performing this ritual, reflect with the class on the things human beings value. Do we sometimes forget about the things of real importance and value?

Character: how do you think Solomon has changed since the beginning of the story? What lessons has he learned?

After Reading

Now that we have finished reading the Fastest Boy in the World, what do you think were the most important things that we said about this book?

Review the questions that children have asked about the book. Are there any questions that remain unanswered? 

Des this story remind you of any other books that you have read?

Author feature: make a class or library display of Elizabeth Laird’s books to encourage children to read more widely. Have further copies of the Fastest boy in the world to encourage rereading.

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