Reading Group Guide

About Brass Monkeys

1. Immediately upon arriving in Grindsville Eugene realizes something is odd about the town. What is the most obvious moment in the opening chapter that convinces the reader of this? What are some of the more subtle uses of language that help push the story in this direction? What makes Eugene so sensitive to weird things?

2. Eugene is obviously attracted to Harriet right away. We hardly know much about her, yet she seems very likable. How does the author convince us of her likability in such a short space of time? What are some of Harriet’s outstanding qualities that are revealed in the first three chapters?

3. Which character is more humorous – Alvin or Weeser? How does the author use language to reveal each one? What are some examples? Who would be the most fun to have along on a journey? Who would get tossed out first?

4. Mrs. Mingley (a.k.a. Ming) is described as “the woman with hair like red snakes.” We know the author is using a literary device known as hyperbole, which means making an exaggerated statement that’s not meant to be taken literally. There’s a very good reason the author uses that device at that moment: to clearly define the emotion overwhelming Eugene. What is that emotion? Why is it such an important theme in terms of education at Grindsville Middle School?

5. “Conborfear” (accent on the second syllable) may only exist in this exaggerated way in Grindsville Middle School. Still, we all know these problems (confusion, boredom, and fear) do exist in some classrooms. How do our better teachers avoid these negatives? What methods do they use? Cite examples from the Blue Grotto classrooms if you wish.

6. Why does Eugene feel such a responsibility for the kidnapping of his classmates – especially Harriet? What motives are driving him to try to save his friends? Why are these emotions so powerful in anyone’s life? Are they more powerful when you’re young?

7. Why is Eugene amazed at his first sight of Monkeyopolis? What are some of the interesting details of this fantastic underworld?

8. Jack is an interesting character and quite complex. It becomes clear that he’s driven by something dark in his background. What is that darker aspect of his character? How is it finally resolved? Or is it resolved?

9. It’s obvious that music plays an important role in Brass Monkeys. How does the author make that clear right from the beginning? Explain why Eugene’s trumpet becomes so important. What does it represent or symbolize?

10. Raymondo, or Ray, is an interesting character. He has many wonderful qualities, and it’s obvious that Eugene and Harriet like him a lot. What are some of his outstanding character traits? How would you describe his sense of humor? Why is he so important in this story? How would you describe the end of the story? Is it sad? Humorous? Dramatic? Or a blend of elements?

11. Why is Ming such a frightening villain? What seems to be driving her and making her so bad? Do you dislike her, or do you feel sorry for her?

12. Do you believe Adjana and her Master Teachers will ever regain power in the underworld? If they did, would they be able to help restore great education across the country?

13. Why does Eugene have such a fascination with Spanish music? How does that interest fit his character? Do you know any Spanish music? How does it make you feel when you hear it? Find some outstanding pieces – pop or classical – and play them to inspire further discussion.

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