YA Book Group – 2005-2006

Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

Introduction to The Bronze Bow and Godless

The Bronze Bow


These paragraphs came from an essay, Morality in America, published in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, July, 1993.  The author is Norman S. Ream, a former pastor of the First Congregational Church in Wisconsin.  How do you feel about Dr. Ream’s comments?  Are his sentiments from 1993 maintained today?  What do you agree with in the paragraphs, what causes you any concern? 


Early in the nineteenth century the brilliant French observer Alexis de Tocqueville gave this estimate of America and Americans in his book Democracy in America: “There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than America.”

A similar assessment could not be made at the end of the twentieth century. That is not to say that the Christian religion exercises any great influence over the souls of men in any nation today, but the loss of its original influence is certainly as great if not greater in the United States than anywhere else. Substitute the words “morality” or “ethics” for the words “Christian religion” and their influence would still be seriously questionable. One might perhaps even put it this way and not be far from the truth: There is no country in the world where the Christian religion has lost more of its moral influence over the souls of men than in America.

The high moral principles of the Christian religion have been corrupted by greed and envy, and greed and envy have caused and been exacerbated by the very programs America’s politicians have adopted in a misguided effort to eliminate poverty and inequalities of all kinds. It is impossible to have both liberty and equality, for the attempt to achieve the latter will always destroy the former. When government assures its citizens that they are entitled to be equal it does two things: It levels by pulling down those at the top, and it engenders greed and envy in those at the bottom.

There was once a commonly observed moral philosophy or moral culture in America, but that is no longer true. Today Americans have few generally held convictions concerning good and evil, right and wrong, morality and immorality. In part it is the consequence of our heterogeneous population resulting from the vast numbers of immigrants from countries of different cultures. Those who had been so anxious to come to America and enjoy its blessings have often brought with them philosophies and cultures inimical to those held by earlier settlers. As a consequence they have helped destroy the very blessings they sought. But the descendants of those earlier settlers have abandoned their forebears’ beliefs, and this has been a major factor in the waning of Christianity and ethics in America.

The generally held moral principles which once guided human action in America had their roots in the Christian religion as Tocqueville pointed out. One can argue that the Founding Fathers did not always agree in their interpretation of that religion some were deists—but the great majority of them drew their moral and ethical guidelines from the Ten Commandments and the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth. They were of one mind in their conviction that there should be freedom of religion for all.


Pat Robertson (and he had been in the news lately) interviewed Rabbi Daniel Lapin, the head of Toward Tradition, a group that seeks to advance America toward traditional, faith-based principles of constitutional and limited government, the rule of law, representative democracy, free markets, a strong military, and a moral public culture.  In the interview, Rabbi Lapin indicated that George W. Bush had invited Rabbi Lapin to the Oval Office to advise him on the role of faith in public policy.  Rabbi Lapin said that he believed that President Bush wanted to make his first priority “rolling back the epidemic of secularism that was unleashed on this country eight years ago.”  Rabbi Lapin said that the struggle today is between two competing faiths: the faith of the Judeo-Christian traditions, and the faith of aggressive, fundamentalist secular liberalism.  “The struggle in America today is between those who see a role for faith in America’s future just as our founders did, and those who want to vigorously eject faith from the public arena.”  How do you define secular humanism?  Where do you see this struggle between competing faiths being played out?  What is your position on this tension?


Pope Benedict XVI just returned from the 29th World Youth Day festival.  At that festival he told the one million young Catholics who were gathered there, “there is a strange forgetfulness of God” that has led to a “feeling of frustration, a sense of dissatisfaction” and an “explosion” on non-traditional religions.  The Pope urged the young people to make time for Mass and to help spread Christianity, which is declining in many Western countries.  Do you feel this same frustration and dissatisfaction in your own family or community?  Is Godless a book about one of those “non-traditional religions” that is a result of the abandonment of traditional Christianity?


Do you see evidence in your community that adolescents believe “God is cool” now?


Both of these books, The Bronze Bow and Godless are award-winning young adult novels.  The Bronze Bow won a Newbery medal in 1961 and Godless won a National Book Award in 2005.  Why are both books prize-winning books?  What makes them good enough to win major awards?  What separates the two books—in other words, how are the two books different, and is the difference in any way representative of the 30-year span in their publication?


You can find the criteria for judging the Newbery Award at http://www.ala.org/ala/alsc/awardsscholarships/literaryawds/newberymedal/newberyterms/newberyterms.htm



You can find the criteria for judging the National Book Award at http://www.nationalbook.org/nba.html





English 321 – Masterpieces of American Young Adult Literature

Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

Discussion Questions:  The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare


portrait  Elizabeth George Speare 1908 - 1994




            The Bronze Bow was published in 1961 and won the Newbery Prize for the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”  It is categorized as historical fiction, and the author, Elizabeth George Speare, is noted for her historical fiction; two of her other YA works, Calico Cative and The Witch of Blackbird Pond also won Newbery Medals.


Class Discussion Questions:


·        What types of courage do you see in this novel?  Give page references.

·        What types of laws do you see in this novel?  Give page references.

·        There are a number of father/son stories in this novel.  Discuss a few of them and explain how they are interconnected.

·        Suggest the significance of the names in the book.

·        What is terrorism? 


Discuss the following themes in the book:


·        Effect of hate, anger on the individual

·        Search for identity

·        Change


Discuss the following quotes:


·        “Rosh looked at a man and saw a thing to be used, like a tool or a weapon.  Jesus looked and saw a child of God.  Even the old miser with his moneybag?” (111).

·        “There is something you will have to learn, my friend.  An outlaw may think he is accountable to no one.  But in a village every man holds his neighbor’s safety in his hands” (122).

·        “In war a lie is a weapon.  We have to use what weapons we have.  Even Jesus must see that” (177).

·        Choose a passage in the book you would like to discuss.  How does it contribute to the plot, character development, or theme?


Do some simple internet searches on the following:


·        Zealots

·        Samaritans

·        Pharisees

·        Maccabees

·        Herod

·        History of Roman occupation of Palestine

·        Pontius Pilate

·        The life of a Roman soldier

·        Jewish culture in the first century

·        Roman military practices

·        1961  (What was happening in 1961 that may have impacted the success of the book?)


Reader Response


·        What connections can you make with The Bronze Bow and world issues today?

·        What is Rosh, a terrorist, a freedom fighter, a mercenary, or a thug?

·        How do you read this book if you are a Jew, a Muslim, an atheist…a non-Christian?


Individual or Group Activities


·        Draw a map of Palestine at the time of Jesus and the Roman occupation

·        Draw a map of the Roman Empire during the first century

·        Draw the layout of Rome during the first century

·        Create any of the following:


Ø      A piece of clothing patterned after the first century fashion

Ø      Make a traditional meal of a Jewish family in the first century

Ø      Create a piece of art that reflects a theme or character in the book

Ø      Build a model of any of the great Roman buildings of the first century


·        Review any of the films that deal with the subject of the life of Jesus.  Write a film review of the movie.

·        Do some research of civil conflicts in world history.  Who was considered a terrorist?  Who was considered a soldier fighting for freedom?  For example, how was Benjamin Franklin considered by the British during the American Revolution?  How is Osama Bin Laden perceived by many in the Islamic world?

·        Prepare a comparative study of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

·        Video tape and edit interviews with members of a synagogue to gain an understanding of present Jewish culture. 


Internet Resources


·        Lesson Plans:  http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/speare.htm; http://www.easyfunschool.com/article1801.html

·        http://faldo.atmos.uiuc.edu/CLA/LESSONS/465.html

·        Bio on Speare: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellizabeth_George_Speare

·        Information on the Elizabeth George Speare: http://www.edupaperback.org/showauth.cfm?authid=85