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Cynthia Voigt

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 convincing.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  2. 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.