I've been in a similar position before with teaching texts that are clearly far more complex than they overtly appear to be and then having to find a grade appropriate essay question. A great way to do this is to give a question that is as open as possible and gives the students the chance to interpret the text based on that quotation at their level. One of my favourite quotes from this story, that you could easily use to form the basis of an essay question, is the following:
What's the use of stories that aren't even true?
Clearly, this excellent novel is about the value of stories and their purpose in life. Using this quote as the basis of an essay question will allow students to discuss what the novel presents as the answer to this question and then also their own response to this statement. This will allow them to show their knowledge of theme and its importance whilst also having to argue their own point. I hope this helps!
Here are some questions I'm posing to my ninth graders.
1. In the opening pages of the book, Haroun looks up at his father and asks the question that propels the reader into the central conflict: “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” According to the novel, what is the answer to this question? Please be comprehensive in your approach, meaning, please address all the many answers the book suggests. Examine every time a story is told. What are the many different powers a made-up story can possess?
2. At the beginning of our study, we discussed the literary term, allegory. In what sense is the novel an allegory? What social, cultural, and political issues of our times does the book comment on and how? You may want to organize your paper around the key social, political, and cultural issues the book explores.
3. A central motif in the novel is the idea of two worlds. The reader begins in Haroun’s home of origin Sad City, and then takes off on an adventure to the Earth’s second moon, Kahani. Although the reader is initially struck by the oppositional nature of the two worlds, the reader begins to notice a series of parallels between them. Why does Rushdie choose to organize the novel in this way? What does each world represent and why create the parallels? How does this structure relate to the central themes of the text?
4. According to the novel, what is the role of the artist in society? What can the artist accomplish and what obstacles does the artist face? Why are artists essential to communities?