I Am Eric Bell

Making the (middle) grade.

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Sample discussion questions for ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD:

1. In chapter 1, we meet Alan, Zack, and Madison as they sit at the Unstable Table at lunch. What were your first impressions of these boys? How did they change as the story went on? Did they change?
2. In chapter 2, Alan thinks about what his life would be like had he grown up in “a different city, a different state, even a different country.” He asks himself, “How different would it be, thinking I might have a shot at being somebody else?” Can you think of something in your own life that, if it had happened differently, would have greatly altered who you became?
3. At the end of chapter 5, Alan cracks a joke with Madison, and Madison says “I didn’t know you joked.” What do you think changed for Alan that he felt able to make a joke?
4. Alan says, “Almost is better than not at all.” This seems to echo Zack’s idea about never giving up if the odds are “better than zero.” Do you agree with this statement?
5. Alan sometimes looks at the world with through an artist’s lens, with terms like “pattern” and “emphasis” and “upward movement.” If you could look at the world through the vocabulary of something you’re interested in or that you like to do, what would that sound like?
6. When Alan meets June at the company dinner, she at first appears friendly and warm, but eventually “her voice is paved over with a hardness, a coldness” that Alan realizes was always there. What do you think triggered this change on June’s part and this realization from Alan?
7. Zack tells Alan, “I’d rather have a hard time being myself than an easy time being somebody else.” Can you think of some examples throughout the book where Zack’s advice could apply? What about examples from your own life?
8. According to Miss Richter, introverts are people who get “drained by being around people and energized by being by themselves,” and extroverts are the opposite. Do you think Zack is an introvert or an extrovert? What about Madison? Yourself?
9. Zack decides to own the label of “loser,” and it seems as if Alan and (reluctantly) Madison join him. Can you think of another example of when a person or group of people took a negative label and turned it into something positive?
10. Alan looks down a lot when he’s speaking with other people, though there are moments when he looks up instead. Why do you think this is significant?
11. At a few points in the story, Nathan looks between Alan and their father repeatedly: “Me, Dad. Me, Dad.” What do you think is going through his mind while he does this?
12. ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD plays with language a lot, from Alan’s colorful comparisons to the significance of being called “Al.” Is there any language in the story that stuck with you? If so, why?

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