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The Clay Marble

Minfong Ho

Theme: Home, Family, and Friendship
Grades: Grades 7-8

The setting for this historical novel is war-torn Cambodia during the early 1980s. Twelve-year old Dara and her family have just arrived at a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border where they make friends with Nea, her cousin Jantu, and their family. Jantu helps Dara cope with the conditions in her makeshift home by telling stories and making toys, including a "magical" clay marble. Soon the fighting and shelling reach the camp, and there is a mass exodus. On the road, the girls leave the group to search a relief truck for food. A bomb explodes, injuring Jantu's baby brother. When the baby is transported to a hospital, Jantu gives Dara a marble with even stronger "magic" and sends her to find their families. On her journey, Dara encounters several adventures that require courage, quick thinking, and perseverance. When the families are finally reunited, an accident causes a confrontation between Dara and Sarun, forcing each one to decide whether to fulfill their dream of returning home or to choose a different path.

  1. Family Tree.
    Suggest that students create a version of a family tree that includes not only family members but also close friends and others who are important in family life. Students should indicate each person's name and his or her relationship to the family. Encourage students to include the people with whom they live, deceased family members, parents or siblings who don't live at home, stepbrothers or sisters, and stepparents. Some students might use a traditional family tree form; others might find different graphic organizers more useful to diagram their family relationships. Suggest that students also include pictures of key people in their family tree—or that they write a special memory about them.
  1. Linking to Today: Role-Playing.
    Many times in this novel, Jantu must encourage her friend Dara to find the courage and strength she needs to face new challenges. Discuss with the class the various ways that friends support each other. Then invite students to role-play situations that demonstrate techniques a person can use to encourage a friend. One scenario might involve helping a friend who is worried about performing well on a test in school, in an athletic competition, or in a play. Have students form pairs. Tell one person in each pair to be the "worrier"—someone who needs a boost of confidence. Instruct the other person to play the "encourager"—a friend or classmate who will try to convince the worrier that he or she can succeed. Suggest that students begin by choosing a premise for their role-play and brainstorming a list of techniques a person might use to boost someone's confidence. Allow time for each pair to develop and practice their role-play before performing it for the class. If time allows, help students evaluate the relative effectiveness of the support techniques presented in the role-play.
  1. A Clay Village.
    Have students construct a model family and home out of clay. Encourage students to use twigs, stones, scraps of cloth, and other materials in addition to the clay. Students could choose to replicate the family and farm that Dara and Jantu make, or they could create a family and surroundings that reflect their own lives. Alternatively, students might like to make toys from clay and other materials.

  1. Two Views.
    Suggest that students create a two-part collage that reflects the way conditions were for Dara's family before the war and the way life was during the Khmer Rouge regime.
  1. This Is Your Life!
    For this project, students will present a celebration of the life of Dara many years after the close of the novel, as they stage a videotaped surprise party in her honor. The format of their presentation will loosely follow the old This Is Your Life television show in which the person being honored is visited on stage by a number of people from his or her past, who recount anecdotes from the person's life.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Ask students to figure out how old Dara would be today and research present conditions in Cambodia to speculate about her life after returning home. Have students brainstorm ideas for a "televised" surprise party that would honor a grown-up Dara for her lifetime achievements. Suggest that one part of the show might involve bringing in friends from Dara's past to explain how she affected their lives. Point out that the reminiscences could be funny, touching, inspiring, or even sad.
  • Have the class research the process involved in producing a television show such as this. Have them make a list of all the duties that will be required. Their list might include writing scripts, acting, directing, designing sets and props, operating lighting and sound equipment, and videotaping the show. Students should divide into groups based on their interests in various parts of the production.
  • Each group can research what they will need to know and do and then begin preparing for the production. One student should play the host of the show, who will briefly interview Dara and introduce the guests. Another student should act as Dara, and others can play the parts of family and friends who come to tell about their relationship with her. Class members might also choose to portray characters from the Related Readings who seem to have a connection with Dara through shared experiences or similar points of view. You might want to suggest that students even invent characters from Dara's later life that would offer information about her.
  • Writers can make up anecdotes for the actors to share on stage. Designers can create the setting and also develop props that guests might use, for example, a scrapbook of Dara's mementos, the first clay marble Dara's daughter made, and so on. The director and producer should coordinate all aspects of the show to make sure they go smoothly. The technology group should prepare to capture the show on videotape. Groups should then work together and rehearse to prepare the show for taping. When students are ready, have the show videotaped while they perform Dara, This Is Your Life! in front of another class.
  1. Speak Out!
    Have students find out more about the work of relief organizations that helped refugees in Cambodia during the 1970s and 1980s. Instruct them to turn in a written report and write a persuasive speech to convince people in this country to support those organizations.