ABOUT THIS BOOK
The Tobin family never dreamed that they would have to deal with censorship, vandalism, or religious-right groups. They had moved to the small, upper middle-class community of Walden Woods because it seemed a safe place to rear a family. Now Todd and Diana, sophomores in high school, are occupied with after-school activities, and seven-year-old Marnie is left with a teenage baby-sitter, Laurel Kellerman. Then Marnie begins having nightmares, and a group called the Children's Rights Forum wants to "protect children" by censoring books in the school library. Is there really a safe place on Earth? The Tobins eventually find the answer to this question, and the irony of their life on Tranquillity Lane changes their lives forever.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Born in Decatur, IIlinois, Richard Peck has written over 18 novels for young readers. He is the winner of the 1990 Margaret A. Edwards Award, a prestigious award sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association in cooperation with School Library Journal; the 1990 National Council of Teachers of English/ALAN Award for outstanding contributions to young adult literature; and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award.
Peck says, "I want to write novels that ask honest questions about serious issues. A novel is never an answer; it's always a question." In The Last Safe Place on Earth, Peck deals with the serious issue of censorship, and young readers will have many questions long after the close the book.
The Last Safe Place on Earth is an engaging story that enables young readers to examine the hypocrisy in our society. In addition, it sends a powerful message to teenagers about their responsibility to themselves, their families, and their communities. This novel draws a strong connection between the social studies and language arts curriculum; therefore, it is a perfect choice for developing an interdisciplinary unit that will help students grasp the true meaning of their constitutional rights.
Suggested Classroom Activities
Display copies of the First and Fourteenth Amendments so that the class can read them. Ask students to write a paragraph about what the First Amendment means to them. After they have shared their writing in class, ask them to discuss how the First and Fourteenth Amendments are related.
Throughout the novel there is evidence that peer pressure is a problem among the students at Walden Woods High School. Challenge students to locate specific incidents in the book that are a result of peer pressure. How are the problems among the teenagers at Walden Woods High School similar to the problems that plague most American teenagers? Diana feels comfortable taking personal risks, speaking out on issues about which she feels passionate. What gives Diana the strength to ignore peer pressure and stand up for what she believes?
After Tara Lawrence is killed in an automobile accident, an announcement about it is broadcast over the high school's AP system. Todd's history teacher says, "First one of the year. What does that mean to you?" (page 26) Encourage students to think about this message. Todd reacts flippantly to the announcement. "I didn't want any hysterical talk about how teenagers aren't responsible enough to drive. Besides, these people were seniors, apart from Tara. They weren't us." (page 26) How do Todd's feelings regarding the accident indicate that he feels invincible? How is the auto accident really about everybody and not just about Tara Lawrence?
Family and Relationships
C.E. Van Meter and Laurel Kellerman manage to conceal their family problems. Ask students to consider how hiding problems can make things worse. How does the Tobin family help C.E. and Laurel? Ask students to predict which of these teenagers has the best chance of overcoming his or her family problems.
Challenges (Dealing With Controversy)
Most students want to read the books that are challenged in schools and public libraries. What is it about human nature that makes us want to do the things we are forbidden to do? Encourage students to suggest ways that a family can deal with controversial books without forbidding children and teenagers to read them.
Rights (Individual Rights)
When Walden Woods High School students appear at a meeting where the Children's Rights Forum is attempting to censor books, Robert K. Enright, pastor of Woodfield Community Church, says, "And we certainly aren't here to listen to a group of enthusiastic teenagers trying to turn a serious meeting into a pep rally...." (page 126) Ask the class to discuss why it is important for them to become involved in fighting for their constitutional rights. Why are people like the Reverend Enright frightened by the First Amendment? How is any meeting where people have opposing viewpoints like a pep rally? Allow the class to plan a pep rally to acknowledge their support of the First Amendment. They may wish to write cheers, speeches, poems, etc.
Every school or school district should have a Materials Selection Policy which includes a procedure for dealing with challenged books and materials. Give students the opportunity to review their school district's policy. Ask them to think about the following:
What is the proper way to indicate an objection to books and materials?
What is the difference between a challenge and censorship?
Why is it important for a school or school district to have a Materials Review Committee?
How does a Materials Selection Policy ultimately protect students' First Amendment rights?
Ballads and legends are often written about heroic people. Ask students to research John Peter Zenger's historic fight for First Amendment rights. Then place students in groups and ask them to write a ballad or legend about Zenger.
The Pico v. Island Trees censorship case (1982) was the most significant censorship case in our nation involving public schools. Students may be interested in finding out the contribution that Justice William Joseph Brennan, Jr. made to the Pico case. Justice Brennan retired from the Supreme Court, July 20, 1990. Ask the students to write a tribute to him from the schoolchildren of America.
Have students use a periodical index to locate as many articles as possible regarding book challenges in schools in the United States in the last five years. Ask the students to compile a list of the challenged books and indicate why they were challenged. Then have the class draw a map of the United States and color in the states where they found challenges. You may wish to have the class discuss the reasons for some of the challenges and how they were resolved.
In The Last Safe Place On Earth, Laurel scares Marnie by telling her that Halloween is evil. Laurel's beliefs represent an element of our society that wishes to keep children from reading any type of scary stories. That includes ghost and witch stories, the books by R. L. Stein and Christopher Pike, and even fairy tales that involve witches and magic potions. Ask students to prepare a questionnaire that addresses this issue (e.g. What effects do you think scary stories have on readers? What scary stories have you read? Why do you think people like to read scary stories?). Suggest to the class that they use their questionnaire to poll 25 adults and 25 teenagers. Then ask them to share the results of their poll with the class.
Banned Books Week is observed every September. The purpose of this observance is to make the public aware of the harms of censorship. Students may be interested in finding out the exact date of this special week and creating a Banned Books exhibit for the school.
Teaching Ideas prepared by Pat Scales, Library Media Specialist, Greenville Middle School, Greenville, South Carolina.
At first the students at Walden Woods High School are apathetic about the problems in their community. Ask the class to locate scenes that indicate apathetic behavior on the part of the students. Then ask the class to use a thesaurus to locate words that might best describe the behavior of the students at the end of the novel. The class may also enjoy brainstorming words that describe the Tobins' feelings toward C.E. and Laurel.
"A highly topical tale."--Publishers Weekly
"Peck raises many issues--censorship, fundamental religion's effect on a community, teenage drinking, alcoholism, AIDS awareness--through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old boy, a perspective young adult readers will relate to."--VOYA
The Day They Came to Arrest the Book by Nat Hentoff[0-440-91814-6]
PRINTER'S APPRENTICE, THE by Stephen Krensky[0-440-41280-3]