General themes: Growing Up, Freedom of Speech, Friendship, Fear, Family
Quiet, obedient, unassuming — that’s Francine Green. An eighth-grader in 1949 Los Angeles, Francine is disregarded by her parents, intimidated by the nuns at All Saints School for Girls, and frightened by the government’s pursuit of the H-bomb and its campaign against communism. A growing friendship with opinionated, outspoken Sophie Bowman opens Francine to confusing new thoughts. Is it unfair of Sister Basil to punish Sophie for asking questions? How do you stand up for a friend? Is the government always right? Francine begins to find out what she herself is willing to speak up for in the world around her — a challenging journey for all teens, whatever their moment in history.
Award-winning author Karen Cushman presents a powerful story full of questions about how you grow up, learn to speak out, and become yourself.
Ms. Cushman is the author of six books for young people. She won a Newbery Honor for Catherine, Called Birdy and the Newbery Medal for The Midwife’s Apprentice. The Loud Silence of Francine Green is her sixth book. The author lives with her family in Washington State.
1. What do you learn about Francine Green and Sophie Bowman in the first chapter? What does the title of the book mean? Find some evidence in the book that shows what Francine thinks of herself. On page 58, Mr. Bowman says that Francine “has unplumbed depths.” Does she?
2. Francine’s sister, Dolores, tells Francine how to become popular and attract boys. What do you think about Dolores’s guidance? Francine says that Sophie tells her to just be herself. What does “being yourself” mean? What do you think about the two different kinds of advice given to Francine?
3. Do you think Francine grows up during this story? Explain. Do “growing up” and “getting older” mean the same thing? Francine lives in another time. How is growing up in her world similar to — and different from — growing up in your world?
Freedom of Speech
1. What is freedom of speech? What does Francine think about how Sophie supports freedom of speech? Does Sophie truly stand for freedom of speech or is she just being rebellious?
2. What does this story say about free speech? Think about Sophie at school, Francine at home, Jacob Mandelbaum, and Mr. Bowman. Is freedom of speech important? Why or why not?
3. What causes Francine to finally speak up? Why does it take her so long to find her own voice?
1. At the end of Chapter One, Francine says that she and Sophie are “on the way to being best friends.” Brainstorm the qualities of a true friend. In what ways are Francine and Sophie friends? Is Francine as good a friend to Sophie as Sophie is to Francine? What happens to their friendship? Why? What does Francine learn about friendship from other characters in the book?
2. Which do you think is more important: being approved of or being original? (page 115) Why?
3. What choices does Francine make when other girls tease and exclude Sophie at recess? Why? How did she feel about what was happening? What other choices could Francine have made? Think about a time when you weren’t as loyal a friend as you wished you had been. What could you have done differently?
1. There are many types of fear in this novel. Who is afraid, and what are they afraid of? What scares you about your world? What makes you feel hopeful about the world you live in?
2. Francine says she is “trouble-phobic.” What does she mean by that? In what ways does her fear of trouble affect her choices?
3. How does Francine think about Sister Basil at the beginning of the book? At the end? What do you think of Sister Basil? Why? Explain why Sophie tells Francine to stop comparing Sister Basil to Hitler.
4. Discuss the ways prejudice appears in this book. Consider Francine’s thoughts about nuns, the experiences of the Petrovs, the girls in Francine’s class, and Jacob Mandelbaum. In what ways do Francine and Sophie deal with prejudice?
1. Describe the relationships that Sophie and Francine have with their own and each other’s parents. Does freedom of speech exist in their families? Does free speech have a place in parent-child relationships?
2. Sophie and Francine’s families are very different. Compare the personalities of the two families and what affect it has, if any, on their lives.
1. This novel takes place between August 1949 and June 1950. Have students research United States and international history during this period to make a timeline of important events.
2. Assign small groups of students a political topic to study: the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Hollywood Ten, Mao Zedong, communism, the atomic bomb, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Harry Truman. Ask each group to create a presentation to teach the rest of the class about the topic as it is related to the time of the novel.
3. Research freedom of speech in the United States. What does it mean? In what ways is it a part of our country and history? Does everyone have freedom of speech, and has everyone always had it? Write a letter to someone who lives in another country explaining what freedom of speech means in the United States.
4. On page 173 Sister Pete says, “Much of Sophie’s treatment is the result of her own behavior.” Engage students in a discussion about this statement. Charge each with writing a persuasive essay supporting or opposing Sister Pete’s view. The essays should include examples from the book.
5. On the dedication page, Karen Cushman includes a quotation from Graham Greene’s The Quiet American: “Sooner or later one has to take sides if one is to remain human.” In the novel, Mr. Bowman asks Francine what she thinks about “the bomb issue” (page 97). He says, “It’s important to know what you think . . . or else you will be so hemmed in by other people’s ideas and opinions, you won’t have room for your own.” Brainstorm a list of national or local current events with students (nuclear weapons can be included). Invite each student to choose one issue, find out more about it, and write a speech explaining his or her opinion, citing evidence from their research.
6. Assign pairs or small groups of students to find out more about the cultural life of Francine’s teenage years. Make each responsible for creating a display to present one of the period’s celebrities or aspects of entertainment noted in the book: Montgomery Clift, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, Betty Grable, Look magazine, radio shows (including Dragnet), Doris Day, Mona Freeman, the Sears catalog, television in 1949–50, soda fountains, Nat King Cole, the Mills Brothers, baseball in 1949–50, Abbott and Costello.
7. Francine journeys from silence to questions to speaking up for what she thinks and values. Ask students to list their own questions and their own values. What do they think they would speak up for? What do they question? Is there anything worth getting in trouble for? After students have had multiple writing sessions, charge them with writing a personal credo — a statement of their values and opinions. Encourage students to use this opportunity to get to know themselves better, just as Francine gets to find her true self.