• The Hunger Games: An Entertaining Read for the Classroom

Suzanne Collins. Hunger Games. New York: Scholastics, 2008.

external image Hg--jacket-210.jpg “Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!”

She tells the story of the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place once called North America. She lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treatry of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee the Capitol peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. Each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called Tributes. The twenty four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold any number of creative ways to kill. Then over a several week period, the tributes must fight to the death. Last tribute standing wins.
Effie Trinket reaches into the bowl. I’m so desperately hoping its not me. Its not me. Its not me. She reads the name outloud. And its not me.. Primrose Everdeen… My sister.
“I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as a tribute! Take me!”
Effie Trinket smiles slyly, “Okay, then. Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds ever be in your favor.”
And that’s how the 74th Hunger Games began. May the odds ever be in my favor…

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is an addictive engrossing tale of Katniss Evergreen and her many struggles in the Hunger Games. At no point could we put down this entertaining story. Yet, there is more to this story than sheer entertainment value. There are several discussion topics that have the potential to get readers thinking about the characters and events in the stories in new and exciting ways: to enhance the enjoyment of reading this fictional survival novel. First, there is the apparent lack of concern over the violent images that the audience in the story is forced to watch. This desensitization to violence as the crowd in some districts and especially in the capital are truly excited for the Hunger Games and the violence they are allowed to view. They enjoy watching heads being bashed in by rocks and children being run through with spears, and as Katniss notes, the Gamemakers add peril to the event to make it more enjoyable to the viewer. The reader is left to wonder what this says about the people in the society and possibly even our society. All this being said, this is clearly a book that contains some graphic descriptions of violence with children being the victims of the violence. A teacher should be cautious of reactions from parents and the community when using this book and should maybe consider only using it for more mature readers who can stomach the scenes of violence depicted in the book.

Another element of discussion is the pressure that is put on Katniss to be popular - that her survival depends on it. Katniss does things hazardous to her health in order to gain the crowds acceptance in order to gain sponsors. She is told how to act and how to be acceptable. Rarely is she told to act herself as she loses who she is to the Games. This could lead to an interesting discussion of the pressure teens feel about looks and identity.

Perhaps one of the most central questions in the book however is what the author says about human nature. Are we violent, alienated, people trying to please others in shape and personality, or are we like Katniss true to ourselves and only violent when we have to be and seek kindness in others? All questions that I feel have huge power in a classroom discussion and really get students thinking about life in High School and beyond.

Most of all what makes this book a great one for the classroom is the amount of relevance to a High School student it has and how engaging it is. Of course this is not in reference to slaughtering others for survival, but to the mental struggles characters go through. There is a character in it that all can relate to and the challenges they face: from the pressures of being told to grow up, to confronting issues of sexuality, to trying to figure out who to trust in life, and most of all the question of identity is expressed in The Hunger Games. Most teens struggle to find answers to and can relate with these themes: making The Hunger Games an excellent classroom tool for the discussion of the reader's personal experiences with the text.

Recommendations for Teachers
One excellent exercise to conduct with students while reading through this book would be to have the students write journal entries at different points in the book for characters, especially Prim and Gale. The fact that the Games are televised means that these characters would be informed as to what Katniss is going through at any given time, yet they would be powerless to assist her. Having students make journal entries as these observing characters would give them an opportunity to think about the experience of those who aren't actually in the Games, but are deeply affected by it nonetheless. This exercise will also help students expand their understanding of Katniss' place within the world since the entire novel is told from her perspective. This sort of exercise would encourage students to contemplate how others are/might view the actions of the heroine as opposed to her own opinions. What is Gale thinking and feeling as he watches the staged romance between Katniss and Peeta unfold in front of the entire country? How does Prim feel every time she sees Katniss in danger, especially considering the fact that she should have been the girl from District 12 in the Games? Thinking about the plot from angles other than what the author presents through Katniss' eyes could enrich the story for students and give them a chance to identify with certain characters they may not have initially thought very seriously about.

About Suzanne Collins
external image SuzanneCollinsAug09byCapPryor_color.jpg
external image SuzanneCollinsAug09byCapPryor_color.jpg

After working many years as a story writer for children’s television shows (including “Clarissa Explains it All” and “Little Bear”), Collins moved into the realm of young adult fantasy and sci-fi novel writing. She claims that her shift in media mediums from TV to books came when she was encouraged by another children’s novel writer, James Proimos, to attempt writing children’s books. While thinking about the story of Alice in Wonderland, Collins wondered how kids could connect to it, since its setting was so different than what they experienced everyday in mostly urban settings. In her writing she was determined to paint a familiar setting with extraordinary characters and plots. Her first 5 books were part of a series called The Underland Chronicles, and were written over the course of 4 years (the last book being released in 2007). After the series’ success, she started to pen The Hunger Games, her first book written for ages 12 and older. Appealing to teens and adults alike, The Hunger Games is a futuristic, thrilling story that has encountered much success since it’s debut in 2008. Collins completed The Hunger Games trilogy in 2010 with her next two books titled Catching Fire and Mockingjay. She is praised for her most recent works by acclaimed writers such as Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer and was named one Time magazine’s most influential people of 2010. (Information taken from Suzanne Collins' Website)

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Teachers can show the trailer either before reading the book to get students excited about reading the story, as it shows the premise of the book as well as some of the exciting adventure and love story. Or they could wait until they are further into the story and discuss the accuracy of things portrayed in the trailer. For example does the movie meet their vision of the world of Panem? Do you think the film will represent major themes and the mood presented in the novel based off the trailer? What do you think the film will emphasize from the novel? What would you emphasize if you had the job of director?

Have students discuss the similarities in this and in other popular literature today that draws upon ancient myth. What does this say about classical literature and contemporary literature? Roman games were thought to be barbaric yet we have real video clips of war, what does that say about our society? How does reality television relate to the novel? This comparison could be great for the students because they can draw from reality and current popular trends to discuss the novel and the theme of desensitizing of violence.
classical inspiration
contemporary inspiration
Then they could watch the video on desensitizing and comment on how our media does this as well. Then relate scenes from the story to those forms of media to construct meaning.
Violence and children: is this simply to arouse emotion? Why do you think she doesn’t enjoy writing these? Why write about them at all if that’s the case?

Additional Resources:

-Emily Hoffmann, Travis Klooster, Ben Kraker, Jacob McDougall, Sean Mapes