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A young wolf seeks the bravery to be himself in this “rich take on the wild that quickens the pulse and fills the heart” (Kirkus Reviews), from the author of National Book Award Finalist Mean Margaret and The Wainscott Weasel.

Wolves. Predators of the wild. Stalkers of the forests. Born into rankings and expected to live up to their roles. Blue Boy, the alpha male of his pack, is the largest wolf many have ever seen, and his dream is to have a firstborn son who will take after him in every way. But Lamar is not turning out the way his father hoped. Lamar likes to watch butterflies. He worries if his younger siblings fall behind in the hunt. He has little interest in peacocking in front of other clans. Blue Boy grows increasingly dismayed at Lamar’s lack of wolf instincts, and then Lamar does the intolerable: he becomes attracted to a coyote. While the other infractions can be begrudgingly tolerated, this one cannot, and the unity of the pack is in jeopardy. Lamar wants to make his family happy, but is doing what is expected of him worth losing the only true friend he’s ever had?

Full of bite and beauty that will make you think of White Fang, then Ferdinand, this story cuts to the heart of what’s most important: being true to yourself, and being true to others.

A Reading Group Guide to

Firstborn

By Tor Seidler

 

About the Book

A young wolf seeks the bravery to be himself in this lyrical homage to challenging societal stereotypes, from the author of National Book Award Finalist Mean Margaret and The Wainscott Weasel.

Wolves. Predators of the wild. Stalkers of the forests. Born into rankings and expected to live up to their roles. Blue Boy, the alpha male of his pack, is the largest wolf many have ever seen, and his dream is to have a firstborn son who will take after him in every way. But Lamar is not turning out the way his father hoped. Lamar likes to watch butterflies. He worries if his younger siblings fall behind in the hunt. He has little interest in peacocking in front of other clans. Blue Boy grows increasingly dismayed at Lamar’s lack of wolf instincts, and then Lamar does the intolerable: he becomes attracted to a coyote. While the other infractions can be begrudgingly tolerated, this one cannot, and the unity of the pack is in jeopardy. Lamar wants to make his family happy, but is doing what is expected of him worth losing the only true friend he’s ever had?

Full of bite and beauty that will make you think of White Fang, then Ferdinand, this story cuts to the heart of what’s most important: being true to yourself, and being true to others.

Discussion Questions

1. Maggie’s personality comes through immediately in the narrative. Find examples in the first chapter of what she’s like. How does she change throughout the novel? Compare the differences in her character at the beginning and at the end.

2. Jackson tells Maggie that “you can’t be loyal to others if you’re not loyal to your own nature first.” What does it mean to be “loyal to your own nature”? Do you think Maggie succeeds in doing so?

3. According to Jackson, “Only winged creatures have souls.” What do you think Jackson means by having a soul? Why does Maggie conclude that “some wingless creatures did have souls”?

4. What else does Maggie learn from Jackson? How does he know so much?Describe Jackson and discuss what their friendship shows about each of them.

5. Names are important throughout the story. How does Maggie feel about her name, and why? What does it mean to her when Blue Boy names one of his children after Maggie? Discuss some of the other names and their origins, and if you think they suit the characters.

6. Maggie and Blue Boy are firstborns, which is “a big deal to wolves.” Which other characters are firstborn? Why is being a firstborn important to wolves? Why do you think the author chose Firstborn as the title?

7. How do Maggie and Blue Boy become friends? How is their relationship useful to each of them? Blue Boy admits that Maggie has saved his life more than once. How did Maggie save his life? When have the wolves saved Maggie’s life?

8. Describe the appearances and personalities of Alberta, Frick, Lupa, and Raze. How do they interact with each other? How does the dynamic of the pack change at different points, and why?

9. After Maggie hurts her wing, she thinks she may never fly again. However, she eventually regains her ability to fly and realizes that, “You have to lose something to appreciate its true value.” What does she mean? Do you agree? Is this true for any experiences in your life, or anyone you know?

10. Lamar is different from the other wolves in several ways. Describe those differences and how they affect what happens to him. Why does Maggie feel a “real connection” with Lamar?

11. Discuss the relationship between Blue Boy and Lamar. How are they alike and how are they different? What do they agree about? What causes tension between them?

12. Blue Boy tells Lamar to “assert your dominance.” What does Blue Boy mean? How does Lamar assert his dominance? What are the consequences?

13. How does Lamar meet Artemis? What is she like? Describe their relationship and what makes it so unusual.

14. Artemis asks Lamar if he’s in a hierarchy. What is a hierarchy? Can you name the hierarchies among different wolves in the novel? Where does Blue Boy fit in the hierarchy of his wolf pack?

15. Life in the wild is dangerous. Identify some of the injuries that the wolves suffer, and explain how they deal with them. When Sully is hurt, Maggie observes, “hope is the best medicine in the world.” What does she mean by that?

16. Describe the relationship between Blue Boy and Sully, and why Blue Boy is angry with Sully. Compare their relationship to the one between Lamar and Ben, noting similarities and differences.

17. When Sully dies, Maggie says she knows “how littered life is with death.” Talk about the deaths of some of the characters, including Jackson and Sully, and how they affect Maggie and others.

18. How important is the element of setting in this novel? Could it have taken place somewhere else? Why or why not? Consulting the maps, describe different places that Maggie lives and travels, and identify the ones you think are most important to her fate.

Extension Activities

Figures of Speech

The figures of speech in Firstborn are drawn from different sources, including nature. Analyze these examples from the text, discussing their source, what they compare, and the effect on the reader:

—a hive of humans

—a tide of sorrow

—a cold claw around my heart

—standing like sentinels

—the last card he’d played

—an eyebrow of snow

—like the whitecaps the wind whipped up

—like a court jester

Vocabulary

Firstborn is filled with carefully chosen vocabulary. Note unfamiliar words as you read and try to define them in context, looking up the definition if needed. Here are some possibilities:

—gingerly

—lee side

—gimcracks

—sinewy

—zenith

—damper

—snide

—agog

—spar

—scabrous

—skulked

—cavorted

For the Birds

Maggie mentions many different birds that she meets. Have pairs of students choose a bird to research. They should use print and digital resources to prepare a multimedia presentation for the class that includes text, images, sounds if possible, and source citations. Two useful websites are the Cornell Lab of Ornithology(www.allaboutbirds.org/) and the Audubon Society (www.audubon.org/).

Build a Board Game

Have students work in pairs or small groups to prepare a board game based on Firstborn. Start with a group discussion about the features of different board games such as cards with questions or directions, dice, spinners, moving pieces, notepads, and so on. Once the games are created, have students exchange games and play them. (NCTE has a board game assignment and rubric at www.readwritethink.org/resources/resource-print.html?id=123.)

A Different Point of View

is a first-person narrative from Maggie’s point of view. As a class, discuss the topic of POV, including third person omniscient and limited omniscient. Have students each take a section of the book and rewrite it with a third person point of view. Have students share their narratives and talk about the differences in the versions.

The Wolves of Yellowstone

The National Park Service website provides a lot of information about the wolves that were reintroduced into Yellowstone. Have students visit the website and each find an interesting fact to share with the class. The FAQs section has a series of short videos that answer questions about the wolves. Small groups of students could watch different videos and report back to the class on their contents. For a longer video, the class could watch PBS’s “In the Valley of the Wolves.” (www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/in-the-valley-of-the-wolves-video-full-episode/4678/)

 

Have students review the contents of chapters using a star-shaped graphic organizer for the five W’s. Label each point of the star with Who, What, When, Where, and Why, putting the book title in the middle. Assign each chapter to one or two students and have them analyze the five W’s for that chapter, filling out the star with brief entries. Post the stars in chapter order on a bulletin board.

 

 

Guide written by Kathleen Odean, a former school librarian and Chair of the 2002 Newbery Award Committee. She gives professional development workshops on books for young people and is the author of Great Books for Girls and Great Books about Things Kids Love.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

 

 
Lily Collier

Tor Seidler is the critically acclaimed and bestselling author of more than a dozen children’s books, including FirstbornThe Wainscott WeaselA Rat’s Tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Gully’s Travels, and most notably Mean Margaret, which was a National Book Award Finalist. He lives in New York, New York.

"Do you ever have those vivid dreams that you wake up from with a start? That’s what this book reminds me of. Tor Seidler has created a brutal but beautiful anthropomorphic world that practically comes to life like those dreams. I loved this book."

– Cynthia Kadohata, author of THE THING ABOUT LUCK and KIRA-KIRA, winner of the NBA and Newbery Award

“A pack of articulate wolves resettles in the grandeur of Yellowstone where multiculturalism involves interaction with coyotes. They are enabled by a magpie named Maggie. I believed every word of this magical book.”

– Richard Peck, author of A YEAR DOWN YONDER, winner of the Newbery Award.

"Tor Seidler's Firstborn let's you live the way you always wanted to live: as a wolf in a wolf pack. Of course there's lots of danger, excitement, beauty but there are also things we know from human families, like love and loyalty, bravery and honor. You won't ever want to leave Blue Boy's wolf pack in the heart of the Rockies."

– Chris Raschka, two-time Caldecott Medalist for HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW and A BALL FOR DAISY

A magpie who befriends a wolf tells their story.Maggie the magpie, hatched in a pine tree on a ranch in Montana, is unimpressed with her parents' lack of imagination in naming her Maggie and discontented overall with magpie life. After the death of her mentor, Jackson the crow, and a near-brush with a fox who, at the last moment, is scarfed up by a wolf, Maggie flies away from the ranch. She encounters the large wolf who saved her and discovers his name is Blue Boy and that he is making his way back to Canada after being forcibly relocated to Yellowstone National Park. The two form a mutually useful relationship—Maggie locates game from her airy vantage point, and Blue Boy hunts it down—and Maggie sees no reason why she "shouldn't accompany this amazing meal ticket on his journey." As months slide into years, Maggie's relationship with Blue Boy grows beyond food. She shares his joys and struggles as he is wounded by ranchers, finds a mate and a pack, settles back in Yellowstone, and sires and raises pups. Seidler's tale, narrated by the precocious Maggie and filled with her droll observations, brims with rivalries and treachery as well as selfless acts and unrequited love. A rich tale of the wild that quickens the pulse and fills the heart.

– Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2014

"A rich tale of the wild that quickens the pulse and fills the heart."

– Kirkus Reviews

Maggie the Magpie has a great deal to learn about the world. During her first few weeks of life, Maggie experiences prejudice and stereotypes as she meets other varieties of birds and mammals. But in the midst of finding her way, she also meets a Crow named Jackson. Although less than tolerant in the beginning, Jackson warms up to Maggie’s presence and begins to teach her the ways of humans, other animals, and most importantly, how to stay alive. When Jackson is shot by a human, Maggie feels she has lost her best friend and mentor. In the next few weeks she happens upon a solitary alpha male wolf named Blue Boy. Blue Boy has also lost his own family and is trying to find his way. This unlikely pair set out together looking for solid ground and they find it in small pack, of which Blue Boy becomes a member and eventually leads. The wolf settles down and starts a new family of his own while still maintaining a relationship with the lonely magpie. Blue Boys firstborn pup, Lamar, challenges social expectations by not being the alpha male that his father wants him to be. Lamar is torn between what his pack expects of him and where his heart wants to lead him. Will their relationship become so strained that it will be destroyed forever? Seidler has done superb research on animal behavior, which is clearly evident throughout the entirety of the novel. A great addition to any upper elementary or middle school collection, this is ideal for opening conversation with young students regarding racial prejudice and societal stereotypes.

– School Library Journal, January 2015

Told in the voice of Maggie, a flippant-yet-wise magpie, the story takes off when she discovers parenting her own flock is not for her. Instead, she is attracted to the freedom of Blue Boy, the alpha male of a small pack of wolves living near Yellowstone. The novel chronicles the pack’s adventures: bringing down buffalo, raising a litter, avoiding capture (or killing) by humans. The anthropomorphized characters are fully developed, with part of the story centered around Lamar, Blue Boy’s firstborn, who is not an alphain-training, but instead prefers cavorting among flowers and pursuing a female coyote. Themes such as survival of the fittest, protection of the environment, and appreciation of those who are different abound. Seidler, writing in a style reminiscent of that of Jean Craighead George yet uniquely his own, paints word pictures of the majestic scenery. (A map helps the reader trace the travels of Blue Boy and others in the pack.) The title is slightly misleading, making the book seem more narrow than it is; there is much to appreciate here.

– Booklist, February 15, 2015

This book is a fast-paced adventure story set in majestic Yellowstone Park. Alpha wolf Blue Boy is captured in Canada and relocated to the park. He loses his mate and pups, eventually joins a small pack, and is befriended by Maggie, a magpie, the book’s narrator. Blue Boy is overjoyed when Lamar, his first born, arrives. As the pack struggles to survive, Lamar grows into a wolf who marches to the beat of a different drummer and is not cut out to be a leader. Lamar strikes out on his own, but later returns to challenge Raze when he attempts to take the alpha male position. The story, told in first person, brings the animal characters to life with personalities and human characteristics. The setting’s descriptions are vivid and realistic. This is a wonderful adventure story with imagery and personification woven into a tale of survival.

– School Library Connection, September 2015

  • Kansas State Reading Circle List Starred Junior Title
  • Green Earth Book Award Shortlist

More books from this author: Tor Seidler