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Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Shopping for Porcupine  >  Discussion Questions
Chapter-by-chapter discussion questions for teachers teaching award-winning author Seth Kantner's book of essays Shopping for Porcupine.
The Candy Store
In this essay Susan McManus deceptively leads a four-year-old Seth Kantner across the snow-blown ice toward an imaginary candy store. Kantner compares the modern material goods of the McManuses with the simple existence of his own family. The essay is framed with an older Kantner observing the ruins of the old McManus home being reclaimed by nature, and at the same time reflecting on his youth and how material possessions and modern living have kept us from treasuring a simpler existence.

Non-Dairy Creamer
Howie Kantner moves to Alaska, lives with an Inupiaq couple, and falls in love with the land. He meets Erna Strausbourger and they move to northwest Alaska and build a sod-igloo. They marry and have two sons, Kole and Seth. The family begins an existence of living off the land. Kantner provides a brief history of the area, including Edward Teller's Project Chariot, a plan to detonate a nuclear bomb and create a port near Cape Thompson.

Counting Fish
Seth and Kole convince their parents to allow them to raise a team of four dogs to help them run their trapline. This essay captures the incredible amount of work it took for them to catch enough fish to feed their team during the long cold winter months. Howie Kantner's insistence on conservation and respect for the land and animals becomes ingrained in the young Kantner.

Brothers on the Trapline
Seth and Kole set out to check their traps. The abundance of furbearing animals in the area and the high prices of furs make their daily trapping lucrative for two young boys. They work closely together and learn the art of reading tracks and trapping, never anticipating what the future will hold for their way of life.

Inupiaq Mailman
Harry Ticket, the Inupiaq mailman, delivers mail and traditional knowledge to the young Kantner. Harry brings mail and news to the Kantner house during wolf hunting trips. Howie helps Harry after his snowmachine gets stuck, but isn't happy about Harry's wolf kill. Seth reveals his connection and concern for the old hunter.

Walking from Barrow
The Greist family makes an incredible voyage from Barrow to the Kobuk Valley. Nelson Greist develops his disdain for "looking back," and his grandson Alvin and Seth become best friends and hunting partners. The two hunters explore the northern mountains in search of the mythical Dall sheep.

Shopping for Porcupine
Alvin takes Kantner porcupine "shopping" in his fancy new boat. They harvest a porcupine, burn the hide to protect scavengers, and Kantner reveals some of the changes modern technology has brought to the area.

Kantner begins hunting with his camera lens. Through trial and error he learns that it will take time to become an expert photographer. We also get the first introduction to his friends Nick Jans and Michio Hoshino.

Good-Bye Our Season
A eulogy to his dear friend Michio. Kantner captures Michio in his element. He tells the story of how a Russian bear killed Michio, and illustrates his deep respect and sadness for the loss of the famous photographer.

Flower of the Fringe
Kantner spends a night with old timers Bob and Carrie Uhl. Bob shares his love for the fringed gentian, a fragile tundra flower. Kantner learns about caribou and the land from Bob and wishes he had Bob's patience to deal with the rapid deterioration of their lifestyle.

Cramped in a snow cave, Kantner reveals how the darkness of the arctic winter is both a friend and an enemy.

Hanging with the Hang-Out Kings
Kantner puts in a trail on thin ice for a Kotzebue elder. He takes a side trip to shoot photos of the musk oxen. He ties the impressive history of the musk oxen and their ability to survive with our current climate crisis and how we as humans could learn a thing or two from both the musk oxen and the caribou.

Once Upon a Frontier
Kantner boldly tackles the complicated and controversial Alaskan issue of subsistence. He witnesses a wolf being killed in front of his house and this leads him to a discussion of ANCSA and ANILCA and redefining what it really means to live off the land.

Bob and Carrie Come Out of the Hills
Bob and Carrie move from their camp to Kotzebue. Bob's health flounders and he has to visit Anchorage. He hasn't been there since 1948 and Kantner is concerned how the trip will go. Bob returns safely, but isn't sure about ever traveling back to Anchorage.

Conversations with China
Kantner and his daughter walk across the tundra. The young girl reveals her astute observations of animals and plants, and Kantner shares how he feels about her burgeoning love for the outdoors.

City Boy
Kantner writes notes to himself about the struggle of living in the city and trying to deal with technology failing in the sub-thirty-below temperatures.

Salting a Moose
Bob's fringed flower hasn't returned and he suspects the rising ocean water. Kantner and his wife go moose hunting in cold weather and hit the saline overflow. They are successful in their hunt, but Seth has to call for a rescue and must bear the embarrassment of needing help and learning a lesson about changing climate and the new danger of saline overflow.

These Happy Spruce
A warm summer brings eerie changes to the area. The village of Kivalina sinks into the ocean and elders there warn of the strange movements of animals and lush berry harvest. Kantner realizes the once barren land around his old home has become overgrown with trees.

Silver Strangers
An essay about Kantner's love for fishing, the changing weather and fish returns, and his struggle with the collapse of the local fishing industry.

The Whiteboy Award
Kantner wins the prestigious Whiting Award. He travels to New York City to receive the award, revealing his discomfort with travel and city life. He returns to Alaska to have news of the prize money announced on the radio.

Watching for Mammoth
Kantner, his wife, and a friend take a walk on the tundra in search of mammoth bones. They encounter a bear while picking berries. Kantner imagines watching a herd of mammoth and ponders what the changing times will bring. He delivers a powerful conclusion that suggests the readers protect their own sacred places with the same love and intensity of their own.

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