What is the theme of a novel?

A statement about life.

But you need to infer in order to find that message.

You need to find the clues that point to the theme.


Fleischman, Sid. The Whipping Boy. New York: HarperTrophy, 2003, c1986.

I think the author’s message is that even the most stubborn and ignorant people can change. I think this because in the book, the prince is given the nickname “Prince Brat” due to his notorious pranks on people around the castle. Every day, he causes mischief without consequences for his actions because it is forbidden to whip, beat or thrash the heir to the throne. Instead, whenever the Prince does something irresponsible, they beat Jemmy, the whipping boy, in an attempt to make the Prince feel sorry for him because he is suffering for the Prince’s actions. Unfortunately, the Prince yells at Jemmy because he does not holler in pain, and the Prince claims Jemmy is the worst whipping boy he has ever had. When the Prince decides to run away and bring Jemmy with him, they are kidnapped by highwaymen who demand a ransom from the King. The two boys get away, however, due to Jemmy’s quick thinking. On the road, the Prince has no choice but to rely on Jemmy because he does not know how to survive on the streets. When they finally decide to head home after visiting the parade and defeating the highwaymen, the prince changes his ignorant and stubborn views. (Brennon in grade eight)


Hautzig, Esther. The Endless Steppe. New York : HarperCollins, 1968.
I think Esther Hautzig believes that life isn’t always fair but it will always go on. I think this because in the novel they are sent to the endless steppe of Siberia to work as slaves. Is that fair? Of course not! Did her life end though? No, it didn’t, it kept going and she had to work out her terrible problems. I think Esther, wisely and intelligently, believes that once you hit rock bottom, it can only get better. In the book, their life eventually got a bit better. The Rudomin family, bravely, went from the growth of a potato being a decision between life and death, like when the woman in charge shrieked “A potato! You pulled a potato…we will starve…do you want us to starve?” (58), to Esther going to school and her problems being fitting in with other girls. This belief, I think, is very powerful and is exceptionally inspirational. It sends a great message to kids and is a good one to live by, it basically stating to never give up. (Bradley in grade eight)

Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Shadows on the Wall. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1980.

In this book, I could see a few messages that Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, the author of my book, was trying to give. I think one of the author’s messages is that teens shouldn’t be too worried about their future. In the book, the main character, Dan, is always worrying about his future. First of all, he notices something strange going on with his parents. Why did they bring him to York in the middle of the school year? What were they talking about when he was asleep? Could they be hiding something from him? All these questions start to worry him, and lead to a situation where Dan starts looking through his mother’s papers. He finally finds out the big secret: he and his father might have Huntington’s disease, which have been running down his family for years. The worst part is that he and his dad can’t do anything about it, except waiting. Dan starts to worry about his future: college, marriage, and a possible family. How can he bear getting married and having a family when he knows that he might have the disease which might pass on to his children? Additionally, Dan keeps seeing dead Roman soldiers who all seem to be reaching out to him. What did they have to do with him? Could they be trying to tell him something? What if this never stops, even when he goes back home? Finally, there were the strange local gypsies who seemed to know something about his future that he didn’t. With all these things that seemed to ruin his future, he gets very anxious and stressed out. But later on in the book, his parents, a friend named Joe, and the gypsies, removes some of his stress and worries. He learns to be thankful for each day he and his father is healthy, and to focus on the present, not so much about the future. In conclusion, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is trying to tell us that we shouldn’t stress out worrying about our future, when we can enjoy the life we live today. (Juli in grade eight)

The author, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, believes that there isn’t anyone “…who [has] never been apprehensive about the future…” (170). In her opinion, it is “…one of the things that [distinguishes] man from animals: the ability- or the curse to worry…” (170). She also believes that we should loosen up on the anxious worries we have because “… weren’t they all linked to a yearning to have some control over [our] own destiny?” (170). And in this novel, Naylor often reflects that message by showing Dan’s family’s anxiety about Huntingdon’s disease, a deadly disease that has run through their family for generations. Naylor also uses gypsies, who read one’s palm to predict the future, to reflect that human preoccupation with control. “’No,’ she said suddenly dropping his hand, ‘one cannot give a proper fortune to a boy under twenty. Come back Dan, when you are thirty five- forty, even- and I will tell it to you then.’” (45) In addition, Naylor’s chosen genre- mystery- creates suspense and makes you worry and wonder about the main character’s future. This entire novel, from beginning to the end, continues to build suspense about Dan’s future. Will he have Huntingdon’s disease? Will he ever meet the band of gypsies again? Will he ever return to York? The author, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, delivers her message- humans are naturally anxious over their future- through her novel, Shadows on The Wall. (Ann in grade eight)

Practice exercises: Finding Words of Wisdom


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