Welcome to the third installment of Brightly’s Book Club, where we encourage kids to read together, explore important topics through books, and have some fun! The idea of a book club is that everyone in the group reads the same book, which serves as a springboard for fun activities, fascinating discussions, meaningful connections with your children, and a lifelong passion for reading. The events depicted in this month’s book selection changed one boy’s life — how will reading together change you?
This Month’s Selection
Best For: Kids ages 9 – 13
What It’s About: In a rage of grief, 13-year-old Arthur Owens throws a brick at James Hampton, the neighborhood “Junk Man,” and injures him. Arthur looks like he’s bound straight for juvie — until Mr. Hampton comes up with an alternative punishment. Arthur is sentenced to become a “junk man” himself, collecting seven indispensable items from local trash bins for a project Mr. Hampton has in mind. Arthur’s work for Mr. Hampton, along with the friendships he forms along the way, help heal Arthur’s pain and give him a new sense of purpose and hope.
Major Themes: Grief, art, friendship, and redemption.
Why We Picked It: James Hampton was a real American artist whose work was acquired by the Smithsonian. We love the way this fictionalized glimpse into his life shows how broken things can be made beautiful, how very little is as it first seems, and how the same is often true of people, too. We think you’ll find this book rich with meaningful ideas to discuss.
Suggestions for Younger Readers: If you have children who are too young to read The Seventh Most Important Thing, try one (or more) of these picture books:
What You’ll Need for Book Club
You’ll need the book, decorations, snacks, a camera, access to the Internet, recycled items, aluminum foil, paper, and glue.
Snacks Mentioned in the Book:
- Stars: Cut out cardboard stars (using recycled cardboard, of course!) and cover with foil. Use to decorate your discussion space.
- Lights: Dangle Christmas lights from the ceiling or make patterns on the wall. Fill a large glass jar or vase with your string of lights, as in this example.
The Book Club Discussion
The Seventh Most Important Thing is filled with symbolism just waiting to be uncovered and interpreted. What does it all mean? That is up to you, the thoughtful readers, and that’s the fun of book club! Show your kids how to listen and continue the discussion by building off of the previous comment. Model strong critical thinking and analysis for your kids by using examples from the book (and your own life) to support your opinions. And, as always, encourage everyone to be respectful and kind.
- Why does the Junk Man believe getting hit by the brick was an act of God?
- What is the difference between retribution and rehabilitation? Which do you think is a better punishment?
- What other characters besides Mr. Hampton make a difference in Arthur’s life? How?
- Hampton took broken things in Guam after his first vision to create something beautiful from them. How is this a bigger life lesson?
- What are the Seven Most Important Things? Do you remember when each one appears in Arthur’s life? See if you can make a list of the items and when they show up for Arthur. What else is happening in his life at those moments that might make the objects important for him?
- “Where there is no vision, the people perish” is Mr. Hampton’s favorite Bible verse (Proverbs 29:18) and he shares it with everyone. What do you think it means?
- Why does Mr. Hampton call his cart a chariot and people saints?
- Arthur thinks Mr. Hampton is the reason he helps Squeak, something the “old” Arthur wouldn’t have done. Do you agree that Arthur changes throughout the story because of Mr. Hampton? How so?
- Hampton says that hell is easy to create but creating heaven takes a lifetime. What does he mean? Do you agree with the museum people that the throne — and heaven — reflect us?
- Do you believe in a heaven or paradise? If so, what do you think heaven is like? Why?
If you’re looking for even more conversation starters, check out this video of author Shelley Pearsall answering some questions for Brightly about The Seventh Most Important Thing:
Kick It Up a Notch
Games and Activities:
- Photo Scavenger Hunt: Find the Seven Most Important Things and take a photo of each item.
- Touchy-Feely: Put items from your recycling (or compost) into large, dark bags. Number the bags, but note in a separate location what each bag contains. Have everyone sit in a circle facing outward with a piece of paper and pen. Pass the bags around. Players may not look in the bags or turn around. They can only put their left hands in the bags and write down what they think is in each one. Whoever gets the most correct wins.
- Words of Wisdom: Hampton’s sign says “Fear Not” in foil letters. What are your words of wisdom to your friends, family, or the world? Make your own words of wisdom into a poster using aluminum foil for the letters.
- Bird Wings: Angel wings are like bird wings, says Mr. Hampton. Investigate the different types of bird wings — such as passive soaring wings, active soaring wings, elliptical wings, and high-speed wings — as well as the wings of different bird species. Share, draw, or color your favorite wings. Would you imagine these to be the wings of an angel? Why or why not?
- Recycled Art: Try a recycled art project using one of the Seven Most Important Things. Click on the item to discover a crafty project:
What to Read Next
We think you’ll want to read these other amazing books that are also about friendship, loss, and compassion.
Upper-Middle-Grade and Young Adult Books
Let us know what you think of The Seventh Most Important Thing and share your own ideas for Book Club in the comments below!