Reading Group Guide – The Mapmaker’s Children
The discussion questions and list of book club activities are intended to enrich your reading group’s conversation about The Mapmaker’s Children, the exquisite new novel from New York Times and international bestselling author Sarah McCoy. In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of this novel―plot spoilers. If you have not finished reading The Mapmaker’s Children, we respectfully suggest that you wait before reviewing this guide.
Author SARAH McCOY at grave of Sarah Brown. Madronia Cemetery, California.
• Have any you ever moved into a house that had a mysterious past or an unexplained component—a trapped door, a secret closet, attic or basement that gave you the heebie-jeebies for reasons you couldn’t explain? Perhaps you found an artifact like Eden. Did you try to determine the historical significance of it? If so, what did you discover? If not, did you have a reason for leaving the past a secret?
• Women’s roles have come a long way over the last 150 years, and yet, we still battle stereotypes of how to live and define our families. What similarities do you see in Sarah and Eden’s worlds and what major differences? How do you see yourself as compared to them and to the women of past generations in your family?
• Were you previously familiar with the Underground Railroad, John Brown’s Secret Six Committee, the Raid on Harpers Ferry, slave quilt codes and songs, and the greater Abolitionist Movement? As a book group, discuss what elements you’d heard before and what elements you discovered after reading the novel.
• Sarah Brown was a courageous artist of her time. Her paintings, the process of creating them, the people she aided, and the mode in which she distributed her artwork were all dangerous and unconventional for anyone, but particularly for a woman during the Civil War. In what ways do you see the arts influencing politics and challenging societal parameters today? Who are some artists that have broadened your worldview and how?
• On page 267, Eden discusses bereavement: “Friends, neighbors, acquaintances feared it was catching like a virus, so they’d put on sterile gloves to hand out the ‘Our thoughts are with you’ when really their thoughts were sprinting away as fast as possible. It was too painful to recognize: mortality.” Do you agree or disagree with Eden? Share your personal experiences of losing a loved one, flesh and fur.
• Do you have a pet? If so, do you consider those animals family members? What’s your pets’ name(s), your favorite memory with them, and how have they impacted your life and/or the lives of your family members?
• Producing, corporeally and creatively, is a major theme in this novel. Does one supersede the other? Is leaving a legacy of children nobler than a legacy of art, courage, social change, or other historical fingerprints?
• Baking and passing on recipes is another branch of the Creating Tree. How does Eden develop her maternal side through cooking? What are some of your favorite family recipes, and how have they played a role in your traditions and history?
• Eden is furious when she finds Jack’s incoming texts from Pauline. Is omission of information lying? How would you respond to discovering texts such as these from an unknown person to your significant other?
• Eden and Sarah discover great nurturing power in their communities. How do you see it made manifest in the 1860s New Charlestown? How do you see it in present-day New Charlestown? How do both of those compare to the broader social spheres outside their city limits?
• Ms. Silverdash’s bookstore serves as the heartbeat of New Charlestown. The stories, fictional and real, are gathered and shared there. Do you have a favorite local bookstore or library in your community? If so, what’s your most cherished memory involving it?
• At the conclusion of the book, how do you see Eden and Sarah creating and defining their own unique families? Do you believe there exists a social stereotype of the “perfect family”? If so, discuss the positive and negative qualities, and why you believe people have adhered to these social constructs now and 150 years ago.
BOOK CLUB ACTIVITIES
• Organize a pet-&-book party. Bring your furry friends to the book discussion and bake Cricket BisKets from the recipe in the back of the novel.
• Get artsy in the spirit of Sarah Brown! As a group, make your own Civil War code dolls. The supplies can easily be found at your local craft story: muslin bags (the doll bodies), 2’’ wooden coins (the heads), pin attachments, paints, paint brushes, glue and paper for whatever ‘secrets’ you’d like inside. Keep or deliver to friend in need of your message. Photo instructions here.
• Ask each book club member to bring a family recipe for a book club recipe swap or a prepared dish for a potluck of family foods. Go around the group sharing the history of each dish/recipe.
• Pull out special stationery or a lovely card and write an old friend. Say anything that comes to mind as if he or she were sitting beside you and see what comes to the page. Mail it as a surprise to that individual.
Author Sarah McCoy has a significant online presence. Visit her website at www.sarahmccoy.com to read her bio, find out about upcoming events, her other novels, plus more The Mapmaker’s Children news and goodies. You can also connect by following her on Twitter (@SarahMMcCoy) and liking her Facebook Fan Page.