Life Is So Good Reading Guide Questions

1. There are many reasons to admire George Dawson. What qualities did you notice and admire?

2. George often noticed and took pleasure in ordinary things like the taste of his mother's biscuits, seeing the stars, even the "wait in the station."
What are the ordinary things in your life that bring pleasure?

3. Growing up in the Jim Crow south, George often recalls his wary caution with whites.
Are there ways in which minorities and women still must be cautious in their interactions with society?

4. What factors may have contributed to George's long life span?

5. In chapter 20, George says “I had to work all those years, but I was glad to work. A man is supposed to work and take pride in what he does no matter what the work is.” Do you think many people feel this way about work?

6. How does George cope with his illiteracy? How might his life have been different if he'd had the opportunity to go to school as a child?

7. George faced hardships and injustice, he never had much money; yet he still led a successful life.
Did he also have some advantages? Was he “rich” in other ways?

8. Why do you think students in the adult education program and other young students are so drawn to George?

9. In chapter 1, George's father told him "You have no right to judge another human being. Don't you ever forget."
How does this advice effect George's life?

10. How do you think George would answer the question "what makes life worth living"? Why does he think "life is so good"?

11. In Chapter 24, George says “there are some parents these days that are growing children , not raising children.”
What does he mean by this? Do you agree with him?

12. Given that George Dawson's life was limited by racism and poverty, it would be understandable if he was bitter about opportunities lost--but he chose not to feel bitter and instead adopted a willed optimism. How did Dawson's attitude effect his life?

13. Have you ever thought of writing a book? If you had a book in you, what would it be?

Youth Reading List - Curated by Ypsilanti District Library

What makes life worth living?

Grades K-5

The Dangerous Book for Boys
by Conn Iggulden, 2007, 0061243582
The overall premise of this nostalgic book is that action and adventure are fun and worth the risks.

The Daring Book for Girls
by Andrea Buchanon, 2007, 0061472573
See above – it’s all ok for girls to be adventurous too.

Is There Really a Human Race
by Jamie Lee Curtis, 2006, 0060753463
While thinking about life as a race, a child wonders whether it is most important to finish first or to have fun along the way.

Complete Adventures of Curious George
by Margret and H. A. Rey
I’m a sucker for Curious George – nobody is more fantastically curious or adventurous or intrepid than this little monkey.

And the behind the scenes story of the Reys’ escape, The Journey That Saved Curious George : the true wartime escape of Margret and H.A. Rey
by Louise Borden
An extraordinary story about escaping death.

Anne of Green Gables
by L. M. Montgomery, 1908
Anne is an orphan, sent to help out a lonely middle-aged brother and sister on a farm on Prince Edward Island. Anne has a feisty spirit and exuberance for life that captivates everyone around her.

by Jerry Spinelli, 2002, 0060540745
Even though his classmates consider him strange and a loser, Daniel Zinkoff’s optimism and exuberance and the support of his loving family do not allow him to feel that way about himself.

Thank You Mr. Falker
by Patricia Polacco, 1998, 0399237321
An autobiographical account of a teacher that goes the extra mile in helping her overcome her dyslexia when others make her feel dumb.

Goin’ Someplace Special
by Patricia McKissack, 2001, 1416927352
In segregated 1950s Nashville, a brave African American girl braves indignities and obstacles to get to one of the few integrated places in town, the public library.

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop
by Margaree King Mitchell, 1993, 0689819137
At age 79, after a lifetime of obstacles, Uncle Jed finally fulfills his lifetime dream of owning his own barbershop.

Grades 6-12

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank, 1953
We all know this story

Zlata’s Diary: a child’s life in Sarajevo
by Zlata Filipović, 1994,
Similar to Anne Frank’s diary only in Sarajevo. A privileged 11 year old, only concerned with Madonna and MTV has to get used to bombing, snipers, shortages of food, gas, water and electricity.

Farewell to Manzanar
by Jeanne Wakutsuki Houston, 1986, 0618216200
Yet another Anne Frank-like autobiography. The author was 7 years old when her family was forced to leave their home and their fishing business in Long Beach, CA and move to a Japanese Internment camp called Manzanar in the California desert.

by Jerry Spinelli, 2000, 0679886370
Spinelli shows what it means to be a human being on a planet that is rich with wonders. "She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl."

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak, 2006, 0375842209
This is a mesmerizing, moving story of a young German girl in World War II Germany who steals books and survives amidst a dreadful existence. The story is narrated by Death, himself, who is funny, self deprecating and unsentimental.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
by Sherman Alexie, 2007, 0316013684
A semi-autobiographical account of a budding cartoonist who transfers from the reservation school to a rich, white school. Amidst daily struggles of reservation life, Arnold Spirit is determined to improve himself and overcome poverty.

A Long Way Down
by Nick Hornby, 2005, 1573223026
This is a book written for adults but I know several teens who have read this book through word of mouth. 4 people independently meet on New Year’s Eve at an infamous suicidal destination to commit suicide and unlikely bonding occurs.

Make Lemonade
by Virginia Euwer Wolff, 1993, 0805022287
A triumphant, hopeful story about a bright, loving 14 year old who wants very badly to go to college. To earn money she babysits for a 17 year old with 2 children who live in squalor. As she helps Jolly make lemonade out of the lemons her life has given her, LaVaughn learns some lessons outside the classroom.

Youth Reading List - Curated by Ann Arbor District Library

What Makes Life Worth Living?

John Denver's Sunshine on my Shoulders
Adapted & illustrated by Christopher Canyon
Dawn Publications, c2003 9781584690481
Picture book adaptation of a John Denver song which celebrates the simple things in life such as sunshine, being in nature, and loving relationships.

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti
by Edwidge Danticat Orchard Books c2010 9780545278492
Junior is seven, and he is trapped under his house for eight days. We know from the first page that he is rescued, as we see him surrounded by news crews with huge cameras. But then we find out what he has played in his mind during his time in the rubble. Here are all the normal things Haitian children do, like marbles, kite-flying, hide and seek, visiting Papa at his business, singing in the choir at the church, soccer. Here is a beautiful Haitian family, welcoming back their rescued son. There is grief in this story, but it is understated. The main message is that Haiti is a place worth rebuilding, a place of hope.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
by Mem Fox; illustrated by Julie Vivas
Kane Miller c1989 (1985) 9780916291266
A small boy tries to discover the meaning of "memory" so he can restore that of an elderly friend.

Mama, Do you Love Me?
by Barbara M. Joosse; illustrated by Barbara Lavallee
Chronicle Books c1991 9780877017592
In this universal story, a child tests the limits of independence and comfortingly learns that a parent's love is unconditional and everlasting.

The Thanksgiving Bowl
by Virginia Kroll; illustrated by Philomena O'Neill
Pelican Pub. Co. c2007 9781589803657
Each member of a family writes an anonymous "I'm thankful for" note and places it in the Thanksgiving bowl. When the bowl is accidentally left outside, various creatures find and put the bowl to good use.

Guess how Much I Love You
by Sam McBratney; illustrated by Anita Jeram
Candlewick Press c2008 (1995) 9780763641757
During a bedtime game, every time Little Nutbrown Hare demonstrates how much he loves his father, Big Nutbrown Hare gently shows him that the love is returned even more.

Thank you World
by Alice B. McGinty; illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
Dial Books for Young Readers c2007 9780803727052
Eight children from eight different countries express their thanks for many special things including the sun that colors the sky, breezes that lift kites, clouds that paint cotton pictures and send rain, and sparkling stars that "shine like Mommy's eyes."

Inside All
by Margaret H. Mason; illustrated by Holly Welch
Dawn Publications c2008 9781584691112
Takes the reader on a nesting doll-like journey, from the edges of the universe into the heart of a child at bedtime, showing how we each have our place inside the universe and the universe has a place inside each of us.

The Bee Tree
by Patricia Polacco
Philomel Books, c1993 9780399219658
When Mary Ellen complains to Grampa that she's tired of reading her book, he proposes they hunt for a bee tree. After an adventurous chase, Grampa spoons a drop of honey onto Mary Ellen's book, saying "There's such sweetness inside books too . . . adventure, knowledge, wisdom. But these things do not come easily. You must pursue them…"

Let's go Home: the Wonderful Things about a House
by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
Simon & Schuster c2002 9780689823268
Describes the individual rooms in a house, moving from porch to attic, stopping by the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms in between. In a quiet, warm mood, the narrative delineates the gestures and activities of a multigenerational household. “No matter the kind of house, it is the living inside that makes it wonderful.”

City Dog, Country Frog
by Mo Willems; illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Hyperion Books for Children c2010 9781423103004
Two seemingly incompatible animals--a free-range frog and a curious urban dog--discover the endless possibilities that unfold when we share the best of ourselves with each other.

Biblioburro: a True Story from Colombia
by Jeanette Winter
Beach Lane Books c2010 9781416997788
After amassing piles of books, Luis, a voracious reader, dreams up a way to share his collection with “faraway villages.” He starts with two burros—one for himself, one for books—and heads off. Both understated and full of life, this satisfying story is a vibrant reminder of the pleasures of books and the difference one individual can make.

The Story Blanket
by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz; illustrated by Elena Odriozola
Peachtree, c2008 9781561454662
With no wool to be found in the village, Babba Zarrah, the storyteller, starts unraveling her story blanket bit by bit, to secretly supply the needs of the community, and when the villagers realize what is happening they return the favor.

Year Of Wonders

yowonders Year Of Wonders: A Novel Of The Plague, by Geraldine Brooks, is an international bestselling work of historical fiction, chosen as a Notable Book by both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Exploring love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggle of science and religion to interpret the world at the cusp of the modern era, Year of Wonders is at once a story of unconventional love and a richly detailed evocation of a riveting moment in history.

This gripping historical novel is based on the true story of Eyam, the “Plague Village,” tucked in the rugged mountain spine of England. In 1666, when an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to the isolated settlement of shepherds and lead miners, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer.

Through Anna’s eyes the reader follows the story of the plague year, as her fellow villagers make an extraordinary choice: convinced by a visionary young minister they elect to quarantine themselves within the village boundaries to arrest the spread of the disease. As the death toll rises and people turn from prayers and herbal cures to sorcery and murderous witch-hunting, Anna must confront the deaths of family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of illicit love. Year of Wonders blends learning and romance into an unforgettable read.

What did you think of this book? Tell us!

The Undertaking

undertaking The Undertaking: Life Studies From The Dismal Trade, by Thomas Lynch, is an unforgettable collection of essays written by a Michigan undertaker, which became a National Book Award Finalist and won the Heartland Prize for non-fiction and The American Book Award.

Poet (and undertaker) Lynch stands between “the living and the living who have died” with outrage and amazement, awe and calm, straining for the brief glimpse we all get of what mortality means to a vital species.

“Each year, I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople.” So opens the singular testimony of the poet Thomas Lynch. Like all poets, inspired by death, Lynch is, unlike others, also hired to serve the living by caring for the dead in the small Michigan town where he serves as the funeral director.

In this wholly unique collection of essays, the two vocations meet as Lynch shows himself to be a competent functionary of mourning, a reliable witness to life’s mysteries and a poet poignantly tuning language to the right tones of private release. The Nation says that this collection of essays is “life affirming….(and) brims with humanity, irreverence and candor.”

What did you think of this book? Tell us!

Life Is So Good

Life is so good Life Is So Good, by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman, is a winner of the Christopher Award for Non-Fiction.

In this remarkable book, 103-year-old George Dawson, a slave’s grandson who learned to read at age 98, reflects on his life and offers valuable lessons in living as well as a fresh, firsthand view of America during the twentieth century.

Richard Glaubman captures Dawson's irresistible voice and view of the world, offering insights into humanity, history, hardships, and happiness. From segregation and civil rights, to the wars, presidents, and defining moments in history, George Dawson's description and assessment of the last century inspires readers with the message that-through it all-has sustained him: "Life is so good. I do believe it's getting better."

This inspirational autobiography was published in 2000 and received much attention in the national media. Dawson appeared on Oprah and told his story in the June 2001 issue of Guideposts. USA Today remarked that “Dawson had become a literary hero, a testament to the power of perseverance.”

What did you think of this book? Tell us!

Sponsors: 2010

Thanks to the following organizations for their contributions to the 2010 Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads:
Ann Arbor District Library
University of Michigan
Washtenaw Community College
Ypsilanti District Library

Special Thanks to the Following Individuals Who Served on 2010 Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads Committees:

Blue Ribbon Committee
Laurel Champion, Executive Vice-President,
Mary Sue Coleman, President, University of Michigan
John Hieftje, Mayor, Ann Arbor
Dr. Susan Martin, President, Eastern Michigan University
Jill Morey, Director, Ypsilanti District Library
Josie Barnes Parker, Director, Ann Arbor District Library
Paul Schreiber, Mayor, Ypsilanti
Dr. Larry Whitworth, President, Washtenaw Community College

Steering Committee
Donna DeButts, Community Relations Coordinator, Ypsilanti District Library
Tim Grimes, Community Relations and Marketing Manager, Ann Arbor District Library
Lori Kunkel-Coryell, Assistant Director, Ypsilanti District Library
Ira Lax, Outreach Assistant, Ann Arbor District Library
Evans Young, Assistant Dean, College of Literature, Science and the Arts, University of Michigan

Screening Committee
Lori Kunkel-Coryell, Assistant Director, Ypsilanti District Library, Co-Chair
Ira Lax, Outreach Assistant, Ann Arbor District Library, Co-Chair
Maureen Angyan, Teacher, Ypsilanti Public Schools,
Jeanine Bessette, Assistant Director, Residence Education, University Housing, Univerity of Michigan
Kathe Blue Hetter, Teacher, Ann Arbor Public Schools
Michael Homel, Professor, Eastern Michigan University History Department
Elizabeth James, UM Center for Afroamerican and African Studies
Molly Mahony, Tanner Philosophy Librarian, Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan
Sara Memmott, Librarian, Eastern Michigan University
Judy Nagle, author
Nicola Rooney, Nicola’s Books,

Selection Committee
Molly Mahoney, Philosophy Librarian, University of Michigan, Chair
Vicki Browne, Librarian, Ann Arbor District Library
Destiny Cebuhar, Student, Ypsilanti
Paula Drummond, Librarian, Ypsilanti District Library
Britnee Johnson, Student, Ann Arbor
Billie Ocheberg, Ann Arbor
Marcia Schaffer, Teacher, Ann Arbor
Robert Stevens, Librarian, Eastern Michigan University
Larry Vandenbergen, Ypsilanti

Outreach Committee
Donna DeButts, Community Relations Coordinator, Ypsilanti District Library
Sharon Gambin, Inventory Supervisor, Border’s Books and Music
Tim Grimes, Community Relations and Marketing Manager, Ann Arbor District Library
Chuck Hatt, Coordinator for Literacy and Social Studies Instruction, Ann Arbor Public Schools
Ira Lax, Outreach Assistant, Ann Arbor District Library
Molly Mohoney, Philosophy Librarian, University of Michigan
Jean Nelson, Liaison, Washtenaw Community College
Kate Pittsley, Business Librarian, Eastern Michigan University
Nicola Rooney, Owner, Nicola’s Books
Gayle Townsend, Community Relations Manager, Barnes and Noble Bookstores
Evans Young, Assistant Dean, College of Literature, Science and the Arts, University of Michigan

How to Participate: 2010

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads 2010 is a community-wide event! How may you participate?

Hold A Discussion Group In Your Community

Organize an event or discussion related to the read.
Events may be open to the public or restricted. Examples include:
• Book clubs wishing to use the book at a private meeting or discussion
• College or high school instructors assigning the book to their class
• Local workplaces hosting discussion groups for their employees
• Coffee shops inviting customers to connect over coffee on a particular night
• Film societies presenting a film related to the topic

Learn How To Moderate a Discussion Group
All of the information that you need to moderate your own discussion group can be found on our Resources page.

Tell Us About Your Event

If you have an event related to the Read, and would like to have it listed on this site, please contact Shannon Riffe, Ann Arbor District Library Community Relations and Marketing Program Assistant at (734-327-4228). Please tell us the title of the event, date, time, location, sponsoring organization and contact information. Also, let us know if registration is required or if the event is on a drop-in basis.

Keep Checking this Website for Updates!
The site will change often as events are added. Please check for changes.

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