Theme: The Need for Family and Home
Grades: Grades 7-8
The four Tillerman children are abandoned by their mother in the parking
lot of a large mall in eastern Connecticut. That leaves 13-year-old
Dicey Tillerman, the eldest child, to care for her two brothers and
sister. For weeks they travel together, mostly on foot, across Connecticut
to Bridgeport, the home of a great aunt. When they arrrive, they learn
of their aunt's death from her middle-aged daughter, Eunice, who reluctantly
takes in the children. Upon learning of Eunice's plans to split up the
children, Dicey takes her siblings on a journey to their grandmother's
home. On their way they encounter danger and further hardships. Eventually,
they find their grandmother, a reclusive woman who at first rejects
them. In the end, they earn a home on their grandmother's rundown farm
and a place in her heart.
Note: This novel refers to situations and topics that some readers
may find objectionable. You may wish to preview the novel before assigning
it to your students.
- Concept Web.
Have students work independently or in small groups to create a word
web for one or more of the following concepts: home, family, survival.
Students who are likely to find discussions of home and family
stressful can be steered towards the survival web. Encourage
students to (1) define the concept, (2) give examples from their own
experience and their prior reading to illustrate the concept, and
(3) list their personal reactions to and associations with the concept.
When the webs are completed, have students discuss how the three concepts
can be related.
- Tapping Prior Knowledge: Quickwrite.
Ask students to write about an incident from their experience or their
imagination in which they found themselves separated from an adult
in a dangerous or frightening place. Encourage them to describe what
happened and to explain how they felt and what they did to resolve
the situation. Invite volunteers to share their responses. Suggest
that they keep their experience in mind and compare it with situations
in the novel.
Nose to Nose.
Students can write and stage a debate between Gram and Cousin Eunice
on the right ways to raise children. It might be helpful to have
a moderator ask questions and monitor responses. During the debate,
members of the audience might ask the two women questions. Afterwards,
the audience can review key points and decide whose case is most
- Model Home.
Gram's farm becomes the Tillerman children's home. Have students make
a three-dimensional model of her property, including the mailbox,
driveway, house, barn, garden, fields, boats, and dock. As an alternative,
students might create a simple blueprint for the house. Before students
begin, help them locate descriptive passages in the novel on which
to base their work.
- The Needs of Children.
In Homecoming, the Tillerman children are abandoned by both
parents and left to care for themselves. Instruct students to use
books on psychology, parenting, or child care to research the physical
and emotional needs of children. Have them make a chart listing what
children need to develop into healthy adults.
- Foster Care.
Dicey fears that she and her siblings might be separated and placed
in foster care if she seeks help from the authorities. Have students
research some aspect of foster care, such as how foster care developed,
the goals of foster care, the effects of long-term foster care on
children, or the qualifications needed to be a foster parent. Have
students write a report about what they learned.