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Teaching and Learning

Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Shopping for Porcupine  >  Discussion Questions
The Candy Store

Essay Summary:  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.

Discussion Questions:

How does Kantner's description of the MacManuses' old sod igloo represent the relationship of Man verses Nature? (p. 2)

Points to consider:

  • In this case, the MacManuses have left, while nature and the earth and the animals have reclaimed the house.
  • From grasses and trees to bears and mice, the old sod house is slowly being reclaimed by the life forms that live near Pauggaqtaugruk bluff.

Kantner says his dad respected, "more than all else, this land and the way the Eskimos used to live on it." What does this statement imply? (p. 3). 

Points to consider:

  • He's revealing a glimpse into his family life and how important respect for the land and the old ways of the Inupiaq were to his father.
  • The statement also implies that life for the Inupiaq has changed in that the "way they used to live on it" is not what it once was.

What do the material possessions of the two families reveal about the differences in the way they lived? (p. 3)

Points to consider:

  • The Kantners owned simple goods to use for living off the land, and the MacManuses had shiny modern goods.

Susan and Seth search for the Candy Store, but Susan can only remember the trail to the imaginary store when prompted by sweets that Seth has to give her. Why might the younger boy be tricked so easily? (p. 3).

Points to consider:

  • The combination of "stories of exotic realms such as Seattle" and their belongings might have prompted him to believe she might know of such a store close by.
  • The boy's longing for candy and sweets (since his mother didn't regularly allow them, and since they were in short supply) might have let his imagination get the best of him.

Kantner reveals how he and his brother asked simple questions when it came to life: "Did something work, was it good to eat, and did it hold a knot?" On the surface these are "simple questions," but why are they important to surviving on the tundra? (p. 4)

Points to consider:

  • These three questions have to do with acquiring food, surviving the elements, and not losing game, your dogs, or the tools you need to subsist.

How is this search for the Candy Store different from the games that kids today might play?

Points to consider:

  • The kids are outside in the snow and cold, and not inside watching television or playing videogames.
  • They are using their own imagination and not relying on toys or store-bought games for fun.

When Kantner says, "Frostbite was a way of life back then," what is he saying? (p. 6)

Points to consider:

  • Store-bought facemasks weren't readily available.
  • He may also be hinting at local climate change where temperatures aren't as cold as they once were when he was a kid.

What does the paragraph about frostbite and "your face is white" reveal about growing up white amongst the Inupiaq? (p. 6)

Points to consider:

In order to avoid being talked about and not considered a "sissy," one had to learn how to deal with frostbite.

  • Covering a white face with a black "Darth Vader" mask would only draw attention to the person wearing the mask.
  • This section also implies that people today do wear protective facemasks without the same worries.

Why does the sound of a motor create such excitement for the kids? (p. 7)

Points to consider:

  • Back then motorized vehicles on the tundra were rare, but more importantly the sound of an engine meant visitors, which was a special occasion.

Does "scarcity was how we measured value" ring true today? (p. 7)

Points to consider:

  • Here Kantner is talking about learning to appreciate things that were not constant in his life. Today kids might not care about finding an imaginary candy store because they know there is candy at the local store. He relishes a guest because visitors on the tundra were rare.
  • Our modern world places monetary value on scarcity, but in our everyday lives we rarely have to deal with scarcity. On the other hand, we might place a higher dollar value on materials or goods we consider scarce.

What do the local changes that Kantner has witnessed since Susan and the search for the candy store show about our changing world? (p. 7-8)

Points to consider:

  • The rural villages have moved from one telephone in a community building to phones in every house, electricity, and flush toilets, and motorized sounds on the tundra are not so rare. These changes have happened elsewhere, but in Kantner's life the changes to rural Alaska have been drastic.
  • Modern life has brought change, but that change has "uprooted" us and left us longing, perhaps for a simpler time when we had closer relationships with people and the land.

How does the conclusion of this essay show it is not just about a young girl tricking her friend about an imaginary candy store?

Points to consider:

  • Kantner illustrates how technology and goods from the outside have transformed both how people live to day and how we have lost respect for the land and the past.
  • While reflecting on his own youth and his search for a candy store, he acknowledges the changes that Inupiaq elders have witnessed. The youth "rush past" on "fancy equipment," but they don't seem to respect or value the hardships of the elders.

Final Questions:

What does Kantner mean when he says, "Maybe we've found that mythical candy store after all"? (p. 8)

How have the technological changes in our lifetime helped or hindered us?

What connection can you see between kids and candy and humanity and technology?

How might we be like Susan, tricking ourselves into thinking technology might lead us to the candy store?

Will watching television and playing videogames produce children with less or more creativity than kids who play outside and search for imaginary candy stores?

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