I cam into our Huckleberry Finn book club with baggage. I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a junior in high school as part of our American literature class. I hated that year of English Lit. Most of the books I might like now, but reading them as a junior in high school, I hated them. I hated Huckleberry Finn when I read it in high school. Our teacher used the book to “teach” the Hero’s Journey from William Campbell, but she didn’t truly explain it. We were left to figure it out and then write a paper explaining how Huckleberry Finn fit the classic Hero’s Journey. Rereading the book as an adult with my kids for our Huckleberry Finn book club, I’m not really sure it fits that journey all that well. Or at least, my experience in high school left me quite convinced it doesn’t fit. Either way, it made for a great book and a movie night.
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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is theoretically the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The thing is, Tom Sawyer was an adventure novel that was written for fun.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written as social commentary by Mark Twain.
Reading Huck Finn as an adult, I enjoyed all the subtle details included in the book, and how Huck’s subtle racism can be as harmful as the outright racism of other people.
We had a plethora of great conversations
The Controversy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
There’s a lot of controversy about this book.
- People object to the language. It frequently uses words that we don’t say any more (this led to a conversation all by itself)
- People object to the overt and subtle racism
- People object to the characterization of Jim as superstitious and foolish (I’d argue some of that though).
As you can see most of the objections center around the character of Jim, and his portrayal in the book.
I’m still going to argue we need to read books like this because it gives us an insight into who we used to be, and we can’t learn if we don’t know.
I’d also point out, Twain is using humor and exaggeration in characters to reveal flaws in the United States. We read Huck Finn and see the problems with Huck’s viewpoint and his belief in his superiority. We see the hypocrisy when Huck mocks Jim for being superstitious when we’ve just read of Huck’s own superstitions.
Enough of the controversies and the craziness going on around Huckleberry Finn. Let’s get to our big discussions from our Huckleberry Finn book club.
Our jumping-off point for the Huckleberry Finn book club
Again, we used the Seven Sisters Literature Guide for the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (you can also buy a full year of American Literature Curriculum, we are reading 4/9 of the books over the course of their school career).
Some useful things to discuss the book as a whole:
- Huckleberry Finn is written from the first-person point of view. Huck is what we would call an “unreliable narrator.” What are examples of Huck being unreliable, where might he not be telling the whole truth, or only the truth as he sees it.
- Huckleberry Finn is something of an antihero. He is our protagonist, but he does not have the traditional traits of a hero. How does Huck fit the traditional idea of a hero, and how does he go against it? (if you like Dungeons and Dragons, this could be where you figure out what Huck’s alignment is).
The Seven Sisters guide was composed of writing a paragraph for different sections of the book. This is the book where we learned we needed to sit down and regularly discuss what we learned because left to themselves, they were going to answer all of the questions at the end, and then struggle to do it.
I would say I don’t know where they got this habit from, but it’s 100% from me. This is what I did in school.
Now, I don’t want to give away all of the great questions in their guide, because I really love it, but I do want to point to one specific question I enjoyed:
Huck believes that according to the rules of civilized society, he will destine himself to eternity in hell
if he rescues Jim.
Please write a paragraph (4-6 sentences) examining the irony of this situation.
• How accurate do you think Huck’s perception of the situation is?
• What barbaric qualities can you note in the various “civilized” towns at which the raft stops on its
way down the Mississippi?
• What do you think your response to Huck’s dilemma would have been if you had been in his shoes?
Now, I’ll admit some of my enjoyment of this particular question comes from my fondness for the Big River musical. This moment is at the climax of the musical when Huck finally realizes he can’t let Jim be sold, and he doesn’t care what happens to him, because it isn’t right to let Jim be sold.
Okay, that production is amazing, it’s signed! That just sent me down a rabbit hole trying to find more of that production. Apparently the 2003 Broadway revival of Big River was completely signed and interpreted.
Following up Huck Finn with To Kill a Mockingbird
This was a planned discussion on my part. We followed up our Huckleberry Finn book club with a To Kill a Mockingbird book club. This greatly enriched our discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird as the kids saw the roots of the racism that was so evident in To Kill a Mockingbird.
After we read both of these books, I was thinking it could be amazing to go even further and add in The Hate U Give to get a modern perspective. I think if I was planning it that way, I might wait until sophomore year, there were some things my kids still struggled with how to discuss it.
Huckleberry Finn Book Club Snacks
Sooo… kinda funny story. After reading Huckleberry Finn I asked the kids for snack suggestions just like I always do. Then one of the kids suggested N___ food. I was completely shocked and asked the kids why it was suggested, and the child responded, “They use the word in the book all the time, so I thought it was important.”
This led to a long discussion about how that word is inappropriate and is considered a terrible insult. It hadn’t come up before because no one we know uses it, and they don’t listen to any music that uses the word. The child had never heard the word before.
This led to a long discussion how words can be used to hurt people and how word meanings change over time. That might have been considered acceptable in Huck’s time (though slang for sure), but now it is not appropriate to say.
Now that the mildly embarrassing story is over with, let’s get to some Huckleberry Finn snacks.
Just for the record, we watched the Elijah Wood Adventures of Huck Finn movie. It’s a good adaptation of the movie and does a good job of showing the dangers and harm of slavery without it being overwhelming for any younger kids who are watching (so if you have younger kids watching with your older kids, they can watch this too) in an added scene that led to a good discussion.
- Campfire- my absolute favorite in terms of how it turned out, our campfire made from a chocolate cookie and lots of frosting in different colors.
- The Dauphin- more chocolate cookies with frosting in a crown shape, I used a knife to cut it into the shape I wanted.
- The Duke- we used more chocolate cookies to make the Duke’s “seal” he claimed to have
- Borrow a Chicken- Huck kept saying he was going to borrow a chicken and pay it back later, so we made a chicken for us to borrow
- Raft- We used nutty buddies as rafts, which made me super happy
- Wanted Poster- graham crackers with marshmallow fluff and melted chocolate chips
- Southern Hospitality- we got some zebra cakes to show extra special kindness because the kids super love them
- Borrowed fruit- we got lots of blueberries and strawberries for Huck to borrow, it was super delicious
- Fishing bait- Swedish fish because Huck went fishing all the time
- Walking Stick- beef sticks (which obviously won’t be sold on Amazon since they need to be refrigerated
- Whiskey and Beer- We picked up some root beer and cream soda for whiskey and beer which Huck quite enjoys sneaking out to drink. My kids quite enjoy pretending they are being daring and drinking root BEER. The joke is not funny when it’s told 500 times.
And that’s our Huck Finn book club!
More 8th-grade learning fun!
Since our book club was during our 8th grade, here are a few other things we did that year.