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Teaching and Learning

Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Shopping for Porcupine  >  Discussion Questions
Counting Fish

Essay Summary:  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.

Discussion Questions:

What does Kantner mean when he says his dad "gratefully walked, skied, or snowshoed in the silence of the land"? (p. 46)

Points to consider:

  • He appreciated moving silently across the tundra under his own power.
  • Later in the chapter Kantner reveals how his father detests burning gasoline when he doesn't need to.

In "Non-Dairy Creamer" Kantner shows how his father worked hard to avoid getting a job, but he's constantly working and building things. How is building boats and sleds to sell different from a normal job? (p. 47)

Points to consider:

  • Perhaps being his own boss and working at something he loved was different from the work he would have had to do back in Toledo.
  • He is free to work as he pleases and try new crafts.

Where do you think Kole and Seth's work ethic comes from? (p. 49)

Points to consider:

  • Both the mother and father work hard to prepare for the coming winter, they set the example and Kantner reveals to complain would have "shamed" them.
  • Consider the difference in today's youth when it comes to a family working to survive.

Why did the first day of winter feel "exciting" and "tragic?" (p. 52)

Points to consider:

  • Soon the boys would be able to harness up their dogs.
  • Winter meant darkness and the end of the long days of warmth and sunlight.

Why do you think that people taught their children to fear open water in winter "more than any bear"? (p. 53)

Points to consider:

  • The icy open water claims far more children in Alaska than bears.
  • Children have little chance in the frigid and swift waters.

Why do the parents seem willing to help the boys work so hard fishing to feed their dog team?

Points to consider:

  • Perhaps they knew the boys would learn the value of hard work and responsibility.
  • The more their sons knew about fishing and preparing the fish, the more helpful they could be in the coming years.

Why does Kantner spend so much time focusing on the seasons and the fish caught each season?

Points to consider:

  • This illustrates the importance fish play in their diet, as well as the diet of their dogs throughout the year.
  • The seasons that lead up to winter are vital in terms of preparing and caching enough meat to survive the long winter months.

Final Questions:

What work do families today require of the children, if any? What value would asking the children to share in the duties of the household have?

What did the two boys learn by having their own dogteam?

How did Howie's refusal to drive the boat "for pleasure" alter the boys' ability to get around in the summer and how might this attitude have shaped Seth and Kole?

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