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When teaching a book like this, I first ask students what message the author was trying to send and why fantasy was the best outlet. I have them ask a) What does the main character learn? And b) How does the main character change? For example, the major universal themes of the importance of hard work and good versus evil are explored in this text through James’s adventures.
I would suggest finding articles which speak to the lives of youths placed in foster homes (or are in the "system"). While a stretch from the story, articles like this can speak to the trials and changes which children in foster homes or "in the system" face. A link for examples if provided below.
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