From Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner Katherine Rundell comes an exciting new novel about a group of kids who must survive in the Amazon after their plane crashes.
Fred, Con, Lila, and Max are on their way back to England from Manaus when the plane they’re on crashes and the pilot dies upon landing. For days they survive alone, until Fred finds a map that leads them to a ruined city, and to a secret.
The Explorer Flight LIKE A MAN-MADE MAGIC wish, the Airplane began to rise.
The boy sitting in the cockpit gripped his seat and held his breath as the plane roared and climbed into the arms of the sky. Fred’s jaw was set with concentration, and his fingers followed the movements of the pilot beside him: fuel gauge, throttle, joystick.
The airplane vibrated as it flew faster, following the swerve of the Amazon River below them. Fred could see the reflection of the six-seater plane, a spot of black on the vast sweep of blue as it sped toward Manaus, the city on the water. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and pressed his forehead against the window.
Behind Fred sat a girl and her little brother. They had the same slanted eyebrows and the same brown skin, the same long eyelashes. The girl had been shy, hugging her parents until the last possible moment at the airfield; now she was staring down at the water, singing under her breath. Her brother was trying to eat his seat belt.
In the next row, on her own, sat a pale girl with blond hair down to her waist. Her blouse had a neck ruffle that came up to her chin, and she kept tugging it down and grimacing. She was determinedly not looking out the window.
The airfield they had just left had been dusty and almost deserted, just a strip of tarmac under the ferocious Brazilian sun. Fred’s cousin had insisted that he wear his school uniform, and now, inside the hot airless cabin, Fred felt like he was being gently cooked inside his own skin.
The engine gave a whine, and the pilot frowned and tapped the joystick. He was old and soldierly, with brisk nostril hair and a gray waxed mustache that seemed to reject the usual laws of gravity. He touched the throttle, and the plane soared upward, higher into the clouds.
It was almost dark when Fred first began to worry. The pilot began to belch, first quietly, then violently and repeatedly. His hand gave a sudden jerk, and the plane dipped drunkenly to the left. Someone screamed behind Fred. The plane lurched away from the river and over the canopy.
Fred stared at the man; he was turning the same shade of gray as his mustache. “Are you all right, sir?” he asked.
The pilot grunted, gasped, and wound back the throttle, slowing the engine. He gave a cough that sounded like a choke.
“Is there something I can do?” asked Fred.
Fighting for breath, the pilot shook his head. He reached over to the control panel and cut the engine. The roar ceased. The nose of the plane dipped downward. The trees rose up.
“What’s happening?” asked the blond girl sharply. “What’s he doing? Make him stop!”
The little boy in the back began to shriek. The pilot grasped Fred’s wrist, hard, for a single moment; then his head slumped against the dashboard.
And the sky, which had seconds before seemed so reliable, gave way.
Four children crash-land into the Amazon rain forest. Utterly alone, they quickly learn that in order to survive, they must work together and trust each other. As they begin their journey by raft to find help, they encounter a strange, mysterious, and learned man who will teach them not only how to survive in the jungle, but how to face their fears and eventually risk everything to get home. This exciting adventure story of trust, courage, and friendship will appeal to the explorer in every young reader.
1. After reading the first two chapters, what do you know about Fred, Con, Lila, and Max? Cite examples from the text that help to inform your understanding of them. Discuss what the author means by the following description of Fred: “Inside, Fred was hunger, hope, and wire.”
2. Fred observes Con as such: “She moved stiffly; she wore her body like a uniform she hadn’t chosen. And there are outfits that suggest of their own accord that their owner should sit still and smile nicely.” Discuss the meaning of this description. How can certain clothes project an image? Give examples from your life that support your ideas.
3. The children attempt to talk Fred into turning over the watch his father gave him as a tool to make a fire. Lila is sympathetic toward Fred’s unwillingness to comply, yet she gently persuades him. The author notes that “her voice had sympathy in it, but grit, too.” What is grit, and how does Lila demonstrate this quality throughout the text?
4. The children are successful in making fire. From Fred’s perspective, “The fire made a noise like an idea being born, a roar that sounded like hope, and sent up a column of flames.” How can fire, an element that is also associated with destruction, sound like hope?
5. As the children worked together to make the raft, Con “covered her face with her hair as she worked and refused to meet anybody’s gaze.” Why is Con so protective of her emotions? How does she grow over the course of the text?
6. Discuss Fred’s thoughts about his father and their strained relationship. How does the distance from his father (both geographically and emotionally) motivate him to succeed in the Amazon and ultimately grow as a person?
7. What risks does Fred take throughout the text to help the group? Do you think that his actions are always motivated by the interests of the group? For example, despite the risk of piranhas and the protests of the other children, Fred jumps into the water to investigate a silvery object. He says, simply, “‘I need to see.’” Do you think this was a wise move? Do you think he was a positive role model to the others?
8. Fred shares the following thoughts with the others: “‘I just like the idea that there’s still things that we don’t know. At school it’s the same thing, every day. I liked that it might be all right to believe in large and wild things.’” What does Fred mean by “large and wild things”? Are there elements of the world that interest you? Name some things that scientists and researchers continue to study for more information, such as life on other planets.
9. The author uses color imagery to paint vivid descriptions of the Amazon rain forest. “The greenness, which has seemed such a forbidding wall of color, was not, up close, green at all, Fred thought. It was a thousand different colors: lime and emerald and moss and jade, and a deep, deep, almost black green that made him think of sunken ships.” How does the use of color help you imagine the scene?
10. Lila and the sloth become fast companions. Fred notices her intense connection to the animal and decides to give Lila space with the creature. He thinks, “People suddenly bludgeoned by passions are unpredictable.” What does bludgeon mean? How can one be bludgeoned by passions or intense attachment? Why do you think the author chose Lila to take care of the sloth? What character traits does she have that make her a good caretaker?
11. Fred is fascinated by the stories of Amazon explorers; he says he needs to know what it was like to be an explorer. There’s also another kind of hunger in his gut that has nothing to do with food: it’s terror and possibility, fused together with hope. Discuss how terror, possibility, and hope can all exist at once. Why does the author describe it as a “hunger”?
12. Con shared feelings about her aunt and the expectations placed upon her as a girl. After she finished she “breathed in a deep shuddering breath, as if she had expelled something weighty.” What does the author mean by “weighty”? How is this a turning point for Con?
13. The man the children refer to as the explorer enters midway through the story. Discuss your first impressions of him after reading the chapter, The Ruined City. Discuss the following description of the explorer: “His face was emotionless but his eyes were not.” Although he is gruff with the children, how does he reveal his kindness? What does he mean when he tells the children: “‘The real world is where you feel most real’”?
14. Discuss how the children cope with their constant fears. Discuss specific scenes that reveal how they fight through their fears, such as choosing to travel by raft or climbing the great cliff. The explorer implores the children to “’Take risks! That’s the thing to do. Get to know what fear feels like. Get to know how to maneuver around it . . . but make sure the risks you take aren’t taken to impress someone else.’” Discuss this statement. Do you agree with the explorer? Who do you think he was addressing in the last sentence? Why?
15. At the start of the text, Fred and Con are adversaries. Discuss how their relationship moves from suspicion and competition to friendship. Cite specific examples from the text, such as the following passage: “Con’s lip began to quiver. Fred looked at her, surprised—but he moved his shoe half an inch, so that their feet touched.”
16. Why is Fred so intent on convincing the explorer to share this ruined city with the world? Do you agree with the explorer’s feeling that “’Heroes don’t exist . . . they’re inventions made up of newsprint and quotable lines and photogenic mustaches’”? Do you think Fred is being selfish when he refuses to ask the explorer for help, even though the other children beg him to? Why does Fred eventually promise not to tell anyone in the outside world about the ruined city? Discuss what Fred means by his admission to the explorer: “’I didn’t understand before! I hadn’t thought—I mean, I thought it was simple.’”
17. The explorer teaches the children how to live in the jungle without harming it, and says, “’Cut only what you need. Don’t hoard. Leave enough that the tree can replenish itself. The greatest threat to living things is man, which is not a thought to make one proud.’” Have a discussion about your own place on the planet, and how you can make small changes to help conserve the earth’s natural resources.
18. The Latin motto on the explorer’s ring reads: Nec Aspera Terrent, which translates to “Difficulties be damned” or “Frightened by no difficulties.” How does this motto suit not only the explorer but also the plot of the story? Spend some time discussing other appropriate mottos that would align with the text.
19. The explorer teaches the children extraordinary things and shares his wisdom with them as they spend more time together. He tells them “’A man can love and fear the responsibility that comes with love. A secret can be at once selfish and necessary. Truth is as thorny and various as the jungle itself.’” What do you think these adages or proverbs mean, and how do they relate to the main themes of the text?
20. After reading the chapters “The Green Sky” and “Waiting for Dawn,” discuss the passages in which the explorer shares his thoughts about life, specifically on understanding, love, happiness, honesty, fear, and paying attention.
21. Discuss what the explorer means when he advises the children to “’pay attention to the world the same way you did out here. It will change the way you feel. Attention and love are so closely allied as to be almost indistinguishable.’”
22. Consider everything the explorer has taught the children and their experiences in the Amazon throughout the book. Can the four children also be considered explorers? What kind of qualities are found in an explorer?
1. The first line of The Explorer contains the literary device known as a simile: “The moment in which a plane takes flight is an astonishing thing; the lift of the metal wings as unlikely as a pumpkin coach, a golden egg, an outlandish fairy tale promise made good.” Introduce simile as a figure of speech that compares unlike things using the words like or as. Throughout the text, the author employs vivid similes, metaphors, personification, and other literary devices. As students read, have them keep track of these devices in a journal. At the conclusion of the text, have students choose one example to illustrate each.
2. Fred, Con, Lila, and Max all play an important part in their journey to get home. Have students choose a favorite scene from the book and, using what they’ve learned about each of these four characters, rewrite the scene from a different character’s point of view.
3. Lila and Max’s mother is a botanist, a scientist who studies plants. Throughout the text, the children interact with a variety of Amazon rain forest plants, some beneficial and some harmful. Have students work in groups to conduct a research project on the types of plants found in the Amazon. After research is concluded, give students time to present their findings. (Research can also focus on insects, animals, or fish).
4. Early in the story, the children need to find water and are faced with choosing a direction in which to walk. Conduct a lesson on directionality, map-reading, compass use, and orienteering. Place students in pairs and have them create a map of a section of the school or neighborhood.
5. Secrets, risk-taking, hope, fear, ingenuity, curiosity, trust, and friendship are the major themes in The Explorer. Assign sections of the book to small groups to reread. As they read, have them record examples of the themes in a list. Next, using magazine clippings, meaningful words, phrases and descriptions from the text, and original artwork, have groups work together to create a theme collage. Choose a strong central image for the piece, and add layers of images and text around the center. Each group should present their finished work to the class.
Guide written by Colleen Carroll, literacy specialist, education consultant, and author of the twelve-volume series, How Artists See (Abbeville Press).
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Katherine Rundell is the author of Rooftoppers, Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner), The Wolf Wilder, and The Explorer. She grew up in Zimbabwe, Brussels, and London, and is currently a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. She begins each day with a cartwheel and believes that reading is almost exactly the same as cartwheeling: it turns the world upside down and leaves you breathless. In her spare time, she enjoys walking on tightropes and trespassing on the rooftops of Oxford colleges.