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by Han Nolan
About the Guide
A Summer of Kings is appropriate for readers ages twelve to eighteen or in grades seven through twelve. This guide was created for use in the classroom or with smaller reading groups. It contains a variety of activities and questions that address comprehension and prompt readers to draw conclusions, to speculate, to make connections, and to “dig deeper” into the story. The questions can be adapted into writing prompts. The page numbers in the guide refer to the hardcover edition of the book.

Reading Guide for

About the Book
National Book Award–winning author Han Nolan offers readers a poignant, powerful coming-of-age story set in Westchester County, New York, during the turbulent period of America’s civil rights movement. The year is 1963, and fourteen-year-old Esther Young is “in great need of a new adventure.” Feeling like an outcast among her family and peers, Esther is determined to get the attention she craves by initiating a summer romance with King-Roy Johnson, an eighteen-year-old black teen who comes to live with her family after he is accused of murdering a white man in Alabama. King-Roy is an angry young man who feels betrayed by the nonviolent teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. His anger and frustration are fueled by a follower of Malcolm X, who advocates black revolution. Esther and King-Roy help each other battle personal demons and discover things about themselves that transform their lives.


★“The brilliantly portrayed cast of characters illuminates the gut-wrenching history of the time, making tangible the sorrow and hurt that is always personal.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Prereading Activities
There are many references in the story to civil rights movement events and leaders. Ask the students to research the following: Martin Luther King Jr., Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, the March on Washington, and the Nation of Islam.

Why has King-Roy given up on nonviolence? (pp. 215–17 and 224–25) Why is King-Roy so angry when he returns from Harlem the third time? (pp. 241–42) What does King-Roy mean when he tells Esther they can never be “real friends”? (p. 245) What does Esther mean when she sees Kathy and Laura in the girls’ room and asks herself, “When did I get so old?”? (p. 334) What is ironic about King-Roy’s death? How does Esther’s view of Pip change over the course of the story? In what ways does Esther change over the course of the story?

Reading and Understanding This Book
Why does Esther feel “in great need of a new adventure”? (p. 3) How does Pip feel about Esther? How does Esther feel about him? (p. 4) What do Kathy and Laura have to do with Esther’s obsession with King-Roy? (p. 7) How does Esther feel about herself in comparison to her siblings? (p. 25) Why does Esther think King-Roy is “the luckiest boy on Earth”? (p. 27) Is Auntie Pie’s reaction to King-Roy reasonable? Why or why not? (p. 31) Why is Esther scared of the name Malcolm X? (p. 34) Why does Esther’s mother give her such a hard time? (p. 52) Esther accuses Auntie Pie of being prejudiced. Do you agree? Why or why not? (p. 58) Why does King-Roy believe he needs a gun? (p. 71) What does King-Roy say to Esther about the “white devil”? Who introduced him to these ideas? (p. 74) What does Esther think of Monsieur Vichy? (p. 81) What does Esther overhear her father and Monsieur Vichy discussing in the kitchen? How does it make her feel? (pp. 84–85) What are the three things King-Roy says he will never do for a living? What are his reasons? (p. 100) Why does King-Roy refuse to tap dance for Esther? (p. 106) What does King-Roy tell Esther and Pip about his younger siblings? Why is King-Roy so angry? (pp. 112–17) Why does Esther not want the part in the play that she is offered? (pp. 139–40) Esther feels guilty for being afraid of the man in the gold suit in Harlem because she believes her thinking is prejudiced. Do you agree that she is being prejudiced? Why or why not? (p. 152) What does Esther realize when she listens to the speaker at the Harlem rally? (pp. 160–61)

Further Activities
• Esther’s mother will not allow her to listen to the Beach Boys because she says they are too loud and hedonistic. Play a recording of “Surfin’ USA” for your class and ask the students what they think of it. Do their parents react to their music the same way Esther’s mother reacts to Esther’s music? Which songs do their parents dislike? Why don’t their parents like the music? • Esther feels like the world is passing her by. Ask the students to write about a time in their life when they have felt like Esther. Instruct them to include details such as national or world events, what their family was doing, trends in pop culture, or scientific discoveries. • When Esther begins learning about the civil rights movement, she discovers that the nonviolent philosophy advocated by Martin Luther King Jr. is based on the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Ask the students to research Gandhi, his accomplishments, and the principles of his nonviolent teachings. • Esther and King-Roy do not share the same view, but both want the same outcome: equality. Ask the students to write an essay comparing and contrasting Esther and King-Roy’s views using direct quotes and supporting facts from the book. Have students write about which method they would have followed if they had been part of the civil rights era, and why.

Additional Resources
Reading A Summer of Kings is an excellent opportunity to introduce students to the history of the civil rights movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, offers noteworthy resources to teachers free of charge through its Teaching Tolerance project. A free kit called America’s Civil Rights Movement is available. The kit contains the documentary A Time for Justice, which addresses the events and issues depicted in the novel; a companion book, Free at Last; and a teacher’s guide with lesson plans. The kit can be ordered at the website

An Interview with Han Nolan
What inspired you to write this novel?

It’s hard to think back and figure out what the original impetus was for writing this story. I tend to carry ideas and characters and bits of this and that around in my head for years before they finally find a place in my stories. I’ve always wanted to write about this big old house my family lived in for three years from 1963 to 1965. I was only seven years old in 1963, but several things left an impression on me about those days in that house. First, there was just the fun of living in such an amazing building—a house with this really cool ballroom in it. The other thing that left an impression on me was all the people who came and stayed at the house: young, old, white, black, wealthy, poor, church groups, teachers, students. My parents have always been that way, including everyone they know in what they’re doing and inviting them into their homes, but this was a time when I first really became aware of it and realized everyone didn’t live like that. I thought it was great. I felt special having all these people in my life. As for the civil rights aspects of the story, that’s something I’ve been researching and wanting to write about for about eight years. I’ve been interested in human rights, including the civil rights movement, just about all my life. I think again that stems from my parents’ generous and inclusive attitude toward people.
What was your greatest challenge in writing this novel?

Yet another problem for me was the length of the story. It took me eighty-six pages just to get through the first day, and I knew I still had a whole summer to write about. I felt I could have written eighty-six pages for every day of that summer, so obviously I had to really rein it in to keep the story a manageable length.
A Summer of Kings is set during a tumultuous period in American history and obviously the lives of Esther and King-Roy are deeply touched by these historical events, but would you characterize the book as a historical novel?

Yes and no. I’d hate to think of any period of time I’ve lived through as being historical—that makes me feel so old—but it is set in the past, and it does touch on some historical events and in as truthful and as authentic a way as I could possibly make it, so in that sense it’s a historical novel. However, I really tried to focus on two young people from two different worlds and how their lives come together for this brief time. For me it’s always about the people: the characters and their lives and their feelings and interactions with others.
You were a child during the civil rights movement. Are there any particular events from that time that left a strong impression upon you?

There were quite a few challenges for me with this novel. As I said, I’ve been trying to write this story for years, but I never quite had the right characters and I could never find the right “entrance” into the story until now. It wasn’t until I set the story in the New York town where I grew up that the whole thing started to come together. Up to that point, I had been trying to write the story set in the South, but I finally realized that wasn’t where the story needed to take place. Another problem was that until I got about halfway through the book, I didn’t really know what Esther’s problem was. I didn’t know her true reason for being—for existing—and because of that, King-Roy’s character kept threatening to take over the story. I wondered if I needed to tell this story through King-Roy’s eyes. Then, while I was in Maine for two weeks up to my eyeballs in snow and shivering in a house without heat, it came to me. I knew who Esther really was and why she was telling this story: She felt she was being left behind. The reason had been there all along; I just couldn’t see it. That’s when I knew this had to be Esther’s story. That’s when she really came alive for me.

As I said, I was only seven in 1963 and to tell you the truth, at that time I was completely oblivious to the civil rights movement. I remember we had a young black boy staying with us for a while back then. I didn’t know why he was there. I just thought he was a playmate my parents had invited to stay with us. I only found out this year from my older sister that his visit was part of a program to bring city children out to the “country.” I just thought he was the child of one of my parent’s friends. So, when I wrote this story, I wanted to include some of that innocence and ignorance about the movement and those times in Esther and some of the other characters.
What sort of research did you have to do get the historical aspects of the story right?

Like most writers I did a ton of research. Every day before, during, and after writing this story, I was doing some kind of research. I wanted to get every detail right, down to the type of trees that line the mall in Washington, D.C., so that when Esther and Pip climb up in the tree, I could name it. I read everything

I could get my hands on, redid the research I had done years before when I first started to work on this book, and I listened to tapes and watched videos of both Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Malcolm X’s speeches. I did not rely on my memories for the details, but I do feel that my memories helped me bring the right feel to the story.
All of the characters in the novel are vivid and memorable. Are any of them based upon people you know or have known?

come to writing myself into a story. She has the same spirit and energy that I had, but still, she is not me.
In the course of the summer, Esther is transformed in so many ways. Was there a specific period in your own adolescence when you experienced so much dramatic change?

When I was young and before we moved to the house in this story, we lived in a close-knit New York neighborhood that happened to be full of well-known actors and home to a singer, a director, a public television producer, and a journalist, so I drew on this, placing some of them in the house instead of a neighborhood. But the people in my story do not have the same personalities as the people in that neighborhood, and Esther’s brother and sister and parents, I’m happy to say, are nothing like my own family. Esther, on the other hand, is the closest I’ve ever

I wasn’t a teenager yet, but yes. I hated school when I was young, and I felt really sick every time I had to go. I ended up missing so much school one year that I had to repeat the year to make up the work. That really woke me up! I was in the fifth grade. Until then I don’t think I had a real sense of myself and how my actions could affect my life. That event turned my life around. I became a different person; more conscious of my actions, more aware of my surroundings, and more in tune with school and the teachers and learning what it took to become the kind of person and student I wanted to be. I’m grateful I learned that lesson as young as I did. I’m sure I drew on this experience to write about Esther’s awakening.

Han Nolan is the author of the National Book Award winner Dancing on the Edge, the National Book Award finalist Send Me Down a Miracle, Born Blue, and several other acclaimed novels. She and her husband live in the South.

A Summer of Kings 0-15-205108-2 Hardcover $17.00

About the author of the guide: Edward T. Sullivan is a librarian and author in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is the author of many articles, books, and reviews about children’s and young adult literature.
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