Matthias, an illegal third child, is caught in the cross fire between rebels and the Population Police. When he unwittingly saves a Population Police officer, Matthias is brought to Population Police headquarters to train as an officer himself. There he meets Nina, another third-born who enlists his help in a plot to undermine the Population Police. But Matthias is under constant scrutiny, and he has no idea whom he can trust. What can one boy do against a wicked bureaucracy?
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Sometimes in this world it's hard to know who is telling the truth, who isn't, and what can be done about all the things that are wrong. The government claims that there isn't enough food for everyone in the world, and so they have made it illegal for any family to have more than two children. Yet hundreds of these illegal shadow children exist, and they want desperately to find a place for themselves in society. But these are children who have been forced to hide their entire lives, and who are only allowed to venture out with fake IDs in their hands and fear in their hearts. How can they sort through the conflicting information about shadow children and find out where they belong? And will they be able to find the courage to defy the government and stop hiding?
What are some of the ways in which having more than two children would be a burden in this society? Why do some families decide to have illegal shadow children in spite of this added strain? Do you think that the benefits of having another child outweigh the sacrifices that must be made?
Luke often feels hurt by the way his father treats him, especially when he is making his decision to leave the family farm. Do you think Mr. Garner means to be cruel? Jen's father, Mr. Talbot, can also seem cruel to the casual observer. Is this image justified? How are their reactions to the children different from the reactions of their wives?
How does the government enforce its rules and regulations? Do you think their plan for dealing with the waning food supply is a good one? Do you think it is justified?
Nina is reluctant to take on her false identity because she fears she will lose her past and cease to be the same person. Are her fears warranted? How do other shadow children feel about their identities, both old and new?
When shadow children stop hiding, they often have difficulty adjusting to their newly expanded world. In what ways would this be a hard adjustment to make? How do the different children react to their new freedoms? What has been done to help make it easier for the children?
Luke is a devoted friend to Jen even after her death. Why does he feel such loyalty toward her? Do you think his concept of friendshipæas well as his devotion to Jenæwould have been different if he hadn't been in hiding all his life? How are Nina's concepts of friendship and love affected by the fact that she is a shadow child?
Discuss how each character chooses to fight for the freedom of shadow children. How effective was Jen's rally? Is Mr. Talbot in a better position than the children to fight for change? How do Luke's actions fit into the movement?
Many of the characters find they have the potential to lead others. What are the different ways they assume leadership roles? Whose leadership is the most effective? Why?
The world's population grows larger every day. Write a report on population: how it has changed over the years, how it affects our society, and ways of dealing with it.
How do we deal with hunger and famine in our modern world? Research the policies that different countries have for dealing with hunger both at home and abroad. Stage a debate, with each person advocating a different approach, and see if you can reach a consensus about which methods are the most effective.
Luke's family lives on a farm, and he is very interested in gardening and hydroponics, the growing of plants in a nutrient-rich water rather than soil. Learn more about these disciplines by trying to grow some vegetables of your own. Perhaps you can plant a small garden, or try your hand at hydroponics.
Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed YA and middle grade novels, including the Children of Exile series, The Missing series, the Under Their Skin series, and the Shadow Children series. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for The Indianapolis News. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio. Visit her at HaddixBooks.com.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (May 11, 2010)