Time and Place

Readers are often asked to focus on the plot, character development and themes of a novel, but the setting of a story may be a significant element to discuss as well.  For the youngest readers, (ages 8-12) by Caroline Rosesetting may be simply a room in the house, the backyard or a classroom.  As they grow older, their world broadens and they are ready to tackle books that take them all over the country and world.  They may wish to travel back in time by reading an historical novel or fast-forward to the future by reading a work of science fiction.

The setting of a story must be accurate so that readers come away from the reading experience with a strong sense of place.  A novel like The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (ages 10-up) is perfect for helping readers understand the relationship between time and place.  Ask readers to discuss how the novel would have been a different story had it been set in Birmingham, AL in the 1990s.  How do time and place define The Book Thief (ages 12-up) by Markus Zusak?  What about The Loud Silence of Francine Green (ages 12-up) by Karen Cushman and The Witch of Blackbird Pond (ages 10-up) by Elizabeth George Speare?

Here are a few suggestions for helping readers grasp the important element of setting:

Ask students to read a book set in an area of the country they have never visited. Have them jot down what they learned about the setting.  Suggest that they find nonfiction works about the state in which the book is set. How accurate is the setting?   Such books may include:

  •             Faith, Hope and Ivy June (ages 9-12) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – Kentucky
  •             Child of the Mountains (ages 9-12) by Marilyn Sue Shank
  •             Wild River (ages 9-12) by P.J. Petersen – California
  •             Chomp (ages 9-12) by Carl Hiaasen – Florida
  •             Holes (ages 9-12) by Louis Sachar
  •             Child of the Wolves (ages 10-up) by Elizabeth Hall – Alaska
  •             The Middle of Somewhere (ages 10-up) by J.B. Cheaney – Kansas
  •             Lord of the Deep (ages 12-up) by Graham Salisbury – Hawaii
  •             The Lost Songs (ages 12-up) by Caroline B. Cooney – South Carolina
  •             The Beet Fields (ages 14-up) by Gary Paulsen

Display a map of the United States.  Divide readers into small groups and ask them to identify the states in the following regions:  Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West.  Then assign each group a specific region.  Ask them to find out about the geography of the states in the region.  Have them locate books in the library that are set in their assigned region of the country.  Make the book lists available on the school or library’s website.

Have readers explore novels set during various time periods.  How do they gain insight into the specific time period by reading fiction? Selections may include the following from Random House:

Introduces books that are set in other parts of the world.  What is unique about the setting?  How is the land and the culture of the people tied to the plot? Suggestions from Random House include:

  •             One Year in Coal Harbor (ages 9-12) by Polly Horvath – Canada
  •             Milkweed  (ages 12-up) by Jerry Spinelli – Poland
  •             Shabanu (ages 12-up) by Suzanne Fisher Staples – Pakistan
  •             I Am the Messenger (ages 14-up) by Markus Zusak – Australia

Divide readers into 7 groups.  Assign each group a continent to research.  Ask them to identify books that are set on the assigned continent.  Make the book list available on the school or library’s website.

Random House Teachers and Librarians