Book Talk: Reasons to Teach “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

In case you didn’t already know…

The Hunger Games is the first book in a critically-acclaimed trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It’s a dystopian, science fiction novel that takes place in Panem, a country that consists of 12 impoverished Districts and a wealthy, ruling Capitol city that draws on the resources of the surrounding districts. Every year, each district is forced send two “tributes” – one boy and one girl –who are selected at random by a lottery to the Capitol to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised event in which contestants must fight each other to the death in a large arena.

The protagonist of the story is Katniss Everdeen, a resourceful 16-year old girl from District 12 (the coal mining district located in former Appalachia)  who volunteers for the games after her 12 year old sister is selected during the lottery. Katniss travels to the Capitol with the other selected contestant from District 12, Peeta Mallark, where they are prepped for the games by stylists and PR coaches. Then they’re sent off to the area where they’ll have to both fight to stay alive and cultivate audience support.  During the games, wealthy Capitol residents place bets on the tributes, and send “gifts” like food and medicine to their favorite contestants. Audience support is crucial.

Why you should teach this book:

  1. The Hunger Games is an incredibly versatile text that can be used as a jumping off point to explore a number of themes, or important ideas that repeat throughout the story. These themes include, but are not limited to:
  • Big Brother
  • Power
  • Reality/Celebrity
  • Class
  • “The Other”
  • Identity
  • Sacrifice
  • Self-Reliance
  • Rebellion

Take your pick! Engage your students on multiple platforms!

2. I’m guessing that your students have either: 1) Heard of this book 2) Read this book or 3) Consider this to be one of their favorite books. This might be a good pick for reluctant readers who aren’t interested in canonical texts.

3.  Here’s what some of the critics say:

  • 2011 California Young Reader Medal
  • ALA 2009 “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers”
  • ALA “Best Books 2008”
  • Kirkus Best Book of 2008
  • And so on…

4. A few lesson ideas to get you started:

  • Compare with Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”
  • Media Literacy: Examine reality TV shows/News coverage of Iraq (what inspired Collins to write the book)
  • Read colonial text(s) to facilitate discussion of “The Other” (The Hunger Games turn children from the Districts like Katniss into the barbarians that Capitol residents already believe them to be. The Games suppress rebellion from Districts and justify the Capitol’s power regime over Panem…)

FYI Potential Drawbacks

  1. This book contains violence. No sexuality or foul language, but graphic violence.
  2. This book is popular, and thus might be a hard sell.
  3. The lexile measure for this book is quote low (middle school level); when taught at the high school level, it should be coupled with more complicated texts. The lexile measure is appropriate for middle school, but the themes in the book may be inappropriate for a very young audience.
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