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The Great Gilly Hopkins Discussion Questions

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Gilly Hopkins is Katherine Paterson's tough heroine driven by a desire to find her mother and become someone's 'real' child. Guide your students through this book using these discussion starters.

The Great Gilly Hopkins

Katherine Paterson's Newbury Honor Book The Great Gilly Hopkins is the story of a tough girl looking for a place to belong. Bouncing from foster home to foster home, Gilly ends up with Mrs. Trotter, William Ernest, and their neighbor Mr. Randolph, three people she despises on sight. But something changes for Gilly and she slowly learns to love this unlikely family, just before being forced to leave them. The Great Gilly Hopkins contains plenty of material that can prompt valuable discussion with your middle school students.

Questions About the Story

  • In the beginning Gilly says she can stand anything as long as she's in charge. How does this set the tone for the book? Do you agree with her? What does Gilly do to try and stay in charge?
  • How would you describe Gilly's behavior when she moves in at Trotter's? What is her reason for acting with this way? How does her attitude help her and how does it hinder her?
  • What does Gilly want from her mother? What are your clues that Gilly's mother won't live up to her expectations? Why do you think Gilly held on to her imaginings for so long?
  • How do her relationships with William Ernest, Trotter, and Mr. Randolph change Gilly? What does she learn from each of them?
  • Why is Agnes drawn to Gilly? How does Gilly respond to Agnes?
  • What is the significance of the lessons Gilly gives to William Ernest?
  • Why does Gilly decide she wants to make Trotter proud at the end? What will she need to do, going forward, to continue to make Trotter proud? Now that she has lost the dream of her mother, what might be Gilly's new driving force?

Questions About Literary Elements

  • This novel was written in 1978. How does the text reflect the time period? What would change if the novel were set now?
  • What is the message of this novel? What important themes run through it? Would you characterize the book as hopeful cynical?
  • How does the author use the first person narration to intensify your understanding of Gilly's thoughts and circumstances? What would you gain if the narrator had a more omniscient view point? What would you lose?

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