Discussion Guide for "If I Ever Get Out of Here"

Discussion Guide for If I Ever Get Out of Here

Though it is common for students to begin reading books like If I Ever Get Out of Here on their own, teachers often read aloud a chapter at a time, or, students take turns reading aloud in small reading groups. Parents can do that, too, in the car or in the home. Reading a chapter aloud creates an opportunity for what reading specialists call “grand conversations,” which are active discussions of something they’ve just read. 

  • A key concept of Gansworth’s book is tribal sovereignty and its significance, past and present, on Native and non-Native lives. This is introduced on page 24 when Lewis, an enrolled member of the Tuscarora Nation, thinks about social studies and that Native kids he knows — whether they like history classes or not — know that Benjamin Franklin was inspired by the Haudenausenee Confederacy’s model of government when he drafted the U.S. Constitution. Later, Lewis goes to Toronto with George and his dad, who are white. When they get to the U.S./Canada border, George’s dad is worried when he learns that Lewis doesn’t have a passport. Instead, Lewis has a tribal ID that he can use to cross the border. When the border guard asks for ID and place of birth, Lewis says “Tuscarora Nation” and hands the guard his ID, neither of which gives the guard a moment of hesitation because of the treaty between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the U.S. and Canadian governments. With your child, discuss identification cards, and the differences in who issues them. If possible compare tribal ID cards to ones issued by state or federal offices. These can be driver’s licenses or passports. 
  • Literature specialists talk about the importance of providing many different avenues of access to a story. Although If I Ever Get Out of Here is clearly a story about a Native teen, it is also very much about music. Each chapter is a song title. Rock music figures prominently in the friendship between Lewis and George. Together, listen to some of the songs, either before or after reading the chapter for which that song is the title, and talk about why Gansworth chose that title for that chapter. 
  • When we get to know a bit more about George, we learn that he uses “Mutti” when he’s talking about his mom because he’s German, and Mutti is a German word for mother. His use of Mutti is an example of code switching, which refers to people who use words from a second or third language in their conversations. 
  • When Lewis visits George at his house and George shows him his collection of Smurfs, Lewis sees one in a headdress, holding a tomahawk like a TV Indian. That Smurf reflects stereotypical ways of depicting Native people. Lewis doesn’t say anything about it to George, but it provides you with an opportunity to have a grand conversation with your child about pervasive stereotypes of Native people. To prepare for that conversation, read Stephanie Fryberg’s research (http://www.indianmascots.com/fryberg--web-psychological_.pdf), which documents the harm stereotypes do to Native and non-Native people. 

Eric Gansworth
Photo by Christopher Felver