The White Bicycle - Teachers’ Guide

The White Bicycle

A Discussion Guide prepared by the author:
Saskatoon-based educator Beverley A. Brenna

Introduction

This discussion guide is geared for grades nine and up.

Book Summary

The White Bicycle is the third novel in the Wild Orchid series and continues the story of Taylor Jane Simon, a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, in a search for freedom that is both personal and universal. In this stand-alone conclusion to the trilogy, Taylor negotiates her way to the South of France … and back.

Wild Orchid, the first book in the series, was shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association’s prestigious Young Adult Book Award, a number of provincial readers’ choice awards, and is a starred selection from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre as well as included on the New York Public Library’s list of Recommended Books for the Teenage. Waiting for No One was shortlisted for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s 2011 Young Adult Book of the Year and won a 2012 Dolly Gray Award for Children’s Literature.

Dr. Brenna is an assistant professor in Education at the University of Saskatchewan where her teaching and research interests include literacy, children’s literature, and special education. She has previously worked as a classroom and special education teacher as well as a special education consultant. In addition to The White Bicycle, Brenna has eight previously published books for young people.

Pre-reading Small-Group Discussion or Writing Topics
  1. What do you know about France? If you were planning to take a trip there, how would you prepare? What would you hope to see and do while in that country?
  2. What do you know about Asperger’s Syndrome? Check out Tony Attwood’s website and as you read, check out some of Taylor’s characteristics and evaluate whether or not they are accurate within a definition of Asperger’s.
  3. As you read the novel, keep track of the differences Taylor demonstrates in language and communication. In particular, note any unique characteristics of her speech patterns or interpretations of language.
  4. Brainstorm common sources of conflict between parents and older teens. This book deals with some sources that the author anticipated were universal as well as other sources particular to the relationship between Taylor and her mother.
Assignments

Much of the study is designed as class discussion, either in partners, small groups, or as a larger group. Students should also complete the following for their portfolios:

  1. A character web of Taylor Jane, extending it throughout the reading.
  2. A webbing of secondary characters in the novel (Luke Phoenix, Alan Phoenix, Martin Phoenix, Penny Simon, Julian). This could be designed as a web of concentric circles, with Taylor’s name in the middle, and the characters and their connections to her included on the outside rings).
  3. A reader response journal, with entries following each reading, or a collection of sticky notes added to the students’ copies of the text creating “commonplace” books (Sumara, 1995).* The journal or sticky notes should contain the students’ thoughts, feelings, connections, and questions as they read.

    *Sumara, Dennis J. (1995). Response to Reading as a Focal Practice. English Quarterly, 28 (1).

  4. Bring something to class that symbolizes Taylor, and add it to the class bulletin board. Be able to identify your addition, and its purpose, and add this to the key at the side of the board, along with your name.
  5. Examine the novel for the bullying issues of Taylor’s past. How might they have affected her present?
  6. What kinds of common conflicts might parents and teens have? Has the author included common fare in this family story, or arguments based on unique situations? Discuss. How authentic does the inclusion of conflicts seem to you?
  7. Make choices from the following menu:
    • Compile images related to the story into visual art which depicts the character of Taylor Jane; be prepared to share and discuss in class.
    • Is Taylor’s character consistent with research on autism? Develop a formal essay to examine this question.
    • How does the author use humour to move the story along? Develop jot notes to explore this question in a class discussion.
    • Taylor has a number of strategies she uses consciously or unconsciously when she is angry or upset. List these, and compare to your own habits, in a chart of your own devising.
    • Explore your personal connections to this story through a series of poems.
    • Create the resume Taylor might develop for her next job application.
    • Taylor strongly connects to literature, comparing herself with characters from Waiting for Godot and The Birthday Party as well as ideas from Jean Paul Sartre’s little gray philosophy book. Describe in a reflective essay your own connections to things you have read.
    • Dramatize the scene in the woods between Taylor and the couple she meets; use the textual information as a starting point, but explore the creative ways you might take this scene.
    • Write a narrative that explains the backstory of the couple in the woods.
    • Compare this book to others you have read on thematically similar subjects. You may use either chart or essay format.
    • Develop a series of improvisations around details or situations from the novel. Work with a partner or a small group, and be prepared to share these on video tape or in person for the class.
    • Hotseat a character or object from the book to demonstrate knowledge of story details and your ability to synthesize information.
    • Write a song from any of the perspectives of characters from the novel. Be prepared to share with the class.
    • Make a map of the Lourmarin area including the route to Cassis. Plot Taylor’s activities on this map.
    • In this book the image of the white bicycle is used as a metaphor for the gifts and challenges that come with Asperger’s Syndrome. What other metaphors might you apply to Asperger’s Syndrome?
    • Develop questions for the author based on your reading of this book.
Related Literature

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

The existentialist play referred to by Taylor; for mature readers, often performed at the university level

Something to Hang On To by Beverley Brenna

a collection of young adult short stories; includes a One Act existential play called “Travelling Light” that outlines tensions between a son and his mother

Wild Orchid and Waiting for No One by Beverley Brenna

the two previous titles in the series

Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine

the story of an 11-year-old girl with Asperger’s who grieves for her brother who was killed in a school shooting

Pieces of Me by Charlotte Gingras

a teen struggles with her mentally ill mother

the curious incident of the dog in the night time by Mark Haddon

a novel for teens and adults about a high school kid with autism who deals with family problems; the first-person narrative is written in the unique style of a detective-story mystery

The Lit Report by Sarah N. Harvey

a protagonist who finds meaning and identity in literature as she supports a pregnant friend

Blaine’s Way by Monica Hughes

flashbacks that relate the story of a boy from age 6 to manhood

Rules by Cynthia Lord

this novel deals with respect for people with special needs through the growth and development of a sensitive protagonist whose younger brother has autism; for more information about this Newbery honor book, see the author’s website at: www.cynthialord.com

Egghead by Caroline Pignat

a story told through the voices of three teens, one using free verse, who share perspectives on bullying and peer pressure; Will’s character will make a nice comparison to Taylor Jane in The White Bicycle

The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter

the Theatre of the Absurd play referred to by Taylor; for mature readers, often performed at the university level

The Wisdom of Jean-Paul Sartre (including selections from his main work Being and Nothingness)
by Jean-Paul Sartre

Borderline by Alan Stratton

the focus is on a Canadian Muslim family, in the aftermath of 9/11, and includes the school bullying of 15-year-old Sami

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