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West With Giraffes Discussion Guide: West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

Lynda Rutledge

Lynda Rutledge (Author of West with Giraffes)

To learn more about the author and her works:


Also by Lynda Rutledge


Discussion Questions

From booksthatslay:

  1. Growing up in a household with a neglectful father and an absentee mother, Woodrow experienced plenty of injustice. His external struggles carried into his own adulthood and became a part of who he was as a person. Despite the difficulty of his life journey, Woody managed to stay resilient and determined. How did those experiences early on shape Woody’s understanding of himself, the world and other people?
  2. Even though he started off as an unwilling student, Woodrow slowly developed a bond with the Old Man under his guidance and teachings. This was due in part to their shared knowledge of being outsiders and the conversations that ensued over. The Old Man provided Woody with unconditional acceptance and love, pushing him out of his comfort zone while providing much needed reassurance at the same time. What other key elements do you think contributed to their connection?
  3. We all have different views on lying and stealing depending on various factors such as whether it is right/wrong or justified/unjustified based on one’s context or underlying motive- so how do you think your personal stance would change if placed in desperate times like Red did?
  4. Woody’s musings on stories are incredibly poignant – it’s almost like he is acknowledging that these moments are fleeting yet we can still hold onto them through our memories if treasured correctly. Do any stories from your life stand out on reflection – where you feel like they have shaped who you are today? Whether it be a momentous event or something seemingly small but with profound significance?
  5. The novel is based on a true story that is told through creative license, providing an example of how powerful storytelling can be when artfully executed. As you read through this vibrant tale of perseverance, courage and hope – did you sense an equilibrium between fact and fiction? What themes from the real-life history were preserved across the narrative?
  6. If there’s one thing that this novel taught us it’s that stories have power – the power to transform lives forever by connecting strangers from different parts of the world together. Having written initially for no one in particular – “you” provided an unexpected connection for Woody throughout his journey which enabled him to discover himself more deeply than before during their brief encounters. What themes centered around storytelling stood out most to you while reading this book? And what emotions arose within you as Woody wrote accompanied by hope yet so much uncertainty?
  7. Red had quite an extensive bucket list that demonstrates her drive for adventure and curiosity for new experiences, which stood out as key personality traits amongst her peers in the book. How did this list shape her character development in particular? Does this make you reflect upon your own bucket list experiences (or lack thereof) when it comes to achieving personal aspirations?
  8. Stuck in poverty stricken place for all his life, Woodrow had never encountered any Black people until he set out on his jaunt across country – which brought him face-to-face with the extreme prejudice occurring within the nation at that time. How did those encounters change or challenge his internalized racism that was forged by years of ignorance?
  9. One of the most memorable scenes from this novel has to be when Woody befriending giraffes at the San Diego Zoo despite the strict rules against visitors touching animals. His relationship with them speaks volumes about people’s capability towards forming special bonds with animals and nature alike – what can we learn from this particular instance about respect for our environment and creatures around us? As well as broader implications into how captivity vs freedom affects certain species mentally & physically in establishments such as zoos- what does your opinion say about these kinds of institutions?
  10. The Old Man, who is driving the truck with Woody in the novel, comes across as a gruff and serious individual, but it also appears that he has a kind heart beneath his exterior. He is clearly wise and experienced in life from his stories and experiences, while Woody is just beginning to learn the lessons of adulthood. They both teach each other about their different perspectives on life by sharing their perspectives on what they see during their journey together. How important do you think mentorship plays a role in your life? If you were the Old Man, what would you teach Woody? Say something not mentioned in the novel.
  11. The book is told as a journal written by Woody which is addressed to a “You” who isn’t revealed until the end of the book. When this identity was revealed, it was surprising as to who was actually being spoken to throughout the entire novel and struck an emotional chord with readers. It could have been any number of people such as a close friend, or someone he had lost along the way or never even met, such as a guardian angel figure representing someone he missed in his life but held close in his heart.
  12. The book is based on a true story and includes some real-life characters alongside fictional characters like Woody. The newspaper clippings included throughout the novel are taken from real papers and are nearly verbatim, adding an extra layer of authenticity to the story presented within its pages. This allows readers to directly experience events from history through these articles, giving them insight into what happened at that time and how those events could have shaped Wendy’s story. What is your take on the use of these newspaper articles in this book? Did it make you feel more connected to the story and its characters, or did it distance you further from them?

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