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Touch of the Clown – Discussion Questions

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1. Would it be possible for a situation such as the one Barbara finds herself in at the beginning of the book to happen in the neighborhood where you live? Why do you think Barbara isn’t trying to get herself and Livvy clear of this neglectful home when we first meet her? Even after her father beats her, she’s still apprehensive about contacting authorities. How do you account for this?

2. Compare and contrast the characters of Barbara and Livvy. Do you find the personalities of children in your own family can be very different? In other families you know? What do you think Livvy will be like when she’s Barbara’s age?

3. Complex characters are not “all good” or “all bad.” What are the positive aspects of Barbara’s dad’s character? Is there anything good about Grandma Kobleimer’s personality?

4. As the story progresses, what do we find out about Cosmo’s life? Why do you think Cosmo changed his name from ‘Garson” to ‘Cosmo’? In your own experience, who would come closest to being a person with the personal qualities we see in Cosmo?

5. It’s possible to see both positive and negative aspects to the foster care situation in which Barbara and Livvy find themselves at the end of the book. Describe the pluses and minuses. Do you think they are better off at the end? What challenges do you think the Hetheringtons will face in the coming years if they continue to provide foster care for the children?

6. There are references in the story to various books and films. Why do you think the author chose, in particular, to have Barbara reading Jane Eyre – and watching the films Sarah, Plain and Tall, Titanic and The Wizard of Oz? Which of the titles of books that Cosmo gives Barbara are you familiar with? Why do you think Cosmo has kept these? Which books that you currently own do you think you might keep as an adult?

7. At Cosmo’s funeral, a friend sings the Billie Holliday song God Bless the Child. How do you think the ending lines – God bless the child that’s got his own. That’s got his own. – might have something special to say to Barbara? Why would this particular song have appealed enough to Cosmo that he asked to have it sung at his funeral?

8. How is humor used throughout the narrative?

Touch of the Clown — Activities

1. Create a design for the clown face you would like to have if you were a clown actor.

2. Use information in the book to create a picture showing Cosmo’s apartment.

3. Imagine you are in one of Cosmo’s workshops and – either by yourself, or with a friend – prepare a presentation for others to watch.

4. Check the Internet to see what you can find out about the movie stars Barbara and Livvy are named after.

5. View one of the films referred to in the novel and introduce it to your class or group, suggesting how it has themes that connect to Touch of the Clown.