Reader’s Guide for The Mystery of the Ancient Stone City:
The Mystery of the Ancient Stone City by Christine Z. Mason
READER’S GUIDE by Breta Holgers
Thirteen-year-old Sidney Jacobsen thought that when she flew to a Pacific island to live with her family for a year, she would be spending her time solving one of the greatest mysteries of all time—who built the ancient, enormous stone city of Nan Madol. Giants? Godlike creatures from another planet? She wants to write a book about Nan Madol, and is excited at the prospect of spending a year living in a picturesque grass hut with her family. Sidney’s mother, a doctor, has been delayed in California to take care of an emergency at her clinic. Dr. Jacobsen plans to volunteer on the island as a doctor for the International Corps and to join the family soon.
Sidney, Peter, and their father wind up living in a dirty tin shack, and are forced to deal with curses by the frightening Nanmarki, the King of the Nan Madol District; a mysterious nighttime visitor; a ghost encounter on the river road; and coconut bombings of the Jacobsens’ tin shack by prisoners in their underwear.
However, things look up when an intriguing fourteen-year old islander, Jabro, takes Sidney and Peter on a motorboat ride around the island. However, when the boat breaks down, the three are forced to trek through the jungle, facing a wild boar attack and other dangers. They find a missing IC volunteer and go with him in his boat to Nan Madol. There they discover a giant’s jawbone and a tombstone with strange letterings. Sidney wants to write a book about their discovery and become famous, but she decides they must keep the finds secret in order to prevent further intrusion by swarms of people, who would destroy the sacred place.
At that moment the Nanmarki and his men arrive and take the intruders prisoner. As the captives are about to be sentenced for their trespass, Sidney stands up to address the Nanmarki and convinces him that they meant no harm and that they will never disclose their discoveries to anyone.
The explorers are allowed to return to Palikir. Both Sidney and Peter have gained a new sense of themselves and a great appreciation for the culture of Pohnpei. They convince their mother, who has just arrived on the island, that they must stay on Pohnpei and fulfill their commitment to the islanders.
Background on Micronesia
Pohnpei is one of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia. It is part of the Caroline Islands group. Palikir, the capital of the Federation, is located on Pohnpei. Pohnpei is the largest island in the Federation.
Pohnpei has a tropical climate and is one of the wettest places on earth with over 300 inches of rain each year in the mountains. Its highest mountain is over 2,500 feet in height. The circumference of the island is eighty miles. It has a great diversity of plant and animal life, including many rare tropical plants and a great variety of fish.
The population of Pohnpei is approximately 34,000 people. The people of the island welcome visitors, and the island has become a tourist site for those seeking a primitive tropical experience.
Background on Nan Madol
Nan Madol is a ruined stone city that lies off the eastern shore of Pohnpei. Numerous structures built of enormous boulders remain. The city consists of nearly one hundred artificial islets linked by a network of canals. It was used as the capital of the Saudaleur dynasty until about 1500 A.D. At one time it was the ceremonial and political center of Pohnpei with about 25,000 people living at Nan Madol. There was human activity in the area as early as the first or second century A.D. The islet construction began by the 8th or 9th century, but the building of the megalithic structure was probably not begun until the 12th or 13th century.
No one actually knows how the huge boulders were brought to the islets, but quarrying sites have been found on the main island of Pohnpei. Legends tell of a powerful magician who caused the boulders to fly to the construction site. There are also traditions that claim the builders of the Lelu complex on nearby Kosrae traveled to Pohnpei to build Nan Madol.
Nan Madol was a special residence for the nobility and was also a ceremonial site used by priests. Many tombs are located on the islets.
There was no fresh water or food at Nan Madol, and the people had to go to Pohnpei Island for all their needs. When the Saudaleurs were overthrown, the first Nanmarkis took over, but eventually deserted the complex.
The ruins of Nan Madol were eventually declared a National Historical Landmark.
VOCABULARY WORDS AND QUESTIONS
1. Why did the Jacobsen family come to Pohnpei?
2. Why did Sidney’s mother stay behind?
3. Why was Sidney particularly interested in Pohnpei?
4. Locate Pohnpei on a map of the Pacific Ocean.
5. Sidney believes that life will be very different on Pohnpei. Make one prediction as to how her life may be different.
1. Why did Sidney look forward to living somewhere where no one knew her?
2. Why were the locals so disappointed that Dr. Jacobsen had been delayed?
3. What was Sidney’s impression of the town of Palikir?
4. Who was the Nanmarki?
1. Describe the Jacobsens’ new house.
2. Contrast how their father felt about their situation to the feelings of Peter and Sidney.
3. How would the family members be able to shower?
4. How does Sidney think her mother would react to the living conditions?
3. Could you adapt well to living without modern conveniences? Why or why not?
1. How did Sidney feel she fit in with her friends in Junior High? How did she contrast her feelings with what she observed about the Pohnpeian teenagers?
2. Whom did Sidney and Peter meet in their neighborhood?
3. What was Jabro’s response to their interest in visiting Nan Madol?
4. Where did Jabro agree to take Sidney and Peter?
1.What did the family eat for dinner the first night?
2. What sounds did Sidney hear as she lay awake?
3. After Sidney dozed off, what woke her up again?
4. What kind of clothing were women and girls supposed to wear on Pohnpei?
5. Describe Sidney’s feelings about her mom being back in the States.
6. How did Sidney’s father respond to her story about twigs being pushed through her window?
7. How did Peter respond?
8. What legends does Sidney explain to Peter?
9. Describe the neighbors’ hut.
1. What phrases did the Jacobsens learn in their language class?
2. How long did Sidney and Peter have to learn Pohnpeian before they began school?
3. What did they learn from the doctor about local health issues?
4. Who is Andy Trenton?
5. How did Sidney and Peter react to the dancing they saw?
6. What did Sidney think about the way the Pohnpeian women were dressed?
7. What did the Nanmarki do during the dancing?
8. Sidney began to feel quite ill. What were some of the possible causes of her illness?
1. Describe the plants the children saw on their trip to the river.
2. Describe the spirit encounter they had along the road.
3. Why did Jabro choose not to swim in the river?
4. What did Sidney and Peter use to wash their hair?
5. What did Jabro tell Sidney and Peter about Nan Madol?
1. What did Peter and Sidney tell their Dad, Bill, and Teri?
2. What advice did Teri give Sidney about swimming in the river?
3. How did the recent typhoon affect the island?
4. How did Sidney feel about Teri?
5. How did the grownups explain why the boy was poking sticks into Sidney’s window?
1. Describe the view from Sidney’s window at night.
2. What interrupted the family’s sleep that night?
3. What did Tom do about the intrusion?
4. What did Peter think they should do about it?
5. What were Sidney’s thoughts about the Nanmarki’s possible role in the intrusion?
1. How did the police respond to the report of the coconut bombing?
2. Explain the relationship between the police and the prisoners on the island.
3. Why did Tom mention that his wife would be the new island doctor?
4. Why was Peter excited as the Jacobsens left the police station?
5. What do you think Zipper will do about the intrusions?
1. What message did the family have from Mom?
2. Which family member was most interested in going to Micronesia, and why?
3. Where did Jabro offer to take the children?
4. What did Sidney and Peter bring along on the trip?
5. What is Sidney secretly hoping to do on the trip?
1. What was the condition of the boat before the start of the trip?
2. Describe the children’s trip to the atoll in the boat.
3. Describe the atoll.
4. What did the children do on the atoll?
5. What was the weather like as they left the atoll?
1. What happened to interrupt the children’s trip?
2. How did they get to shore?
3. What kind of marine animals might be found in the water?
4. Why did the children set off to hike through the jungle?
5. How do you think each of the children felt as they set off?
1. What previous camping experience did Sidney and Peter have?
2. What fears did Sidney have about spending the night in the jungle?
3. How did the children predict that their father would react if they didn’t return to Palikir?
4. What were the different ways the children protected themselves from mosquitoes?
5. How did they prepare a sleeping area?
6. What did they have to eat?
1. What happened between Sidney and Jabro?
2. How does Peter feel about their chances of getting back to their dad?
3. Why does Sidney defend Jabro?
4. What impeded their progress toward the village?
5. Who were the Little Folk?
6. How do stories get passed along in this culture?
7. What did Sidney sense as she walked through the storm?
1. Describe the wild boars the children encountered.
2. What happened to Peter?
3. Why did Sidney feel responsible for Peter?
4. How did Sidney and Jabro get Peter away from the pond area?
5. What did Jabro do to make Peter’s ankle feel better?
6. Where did they spend the night?
7. Despite all her worries about not getting back to Palikir, what does Sidney notice about life in the village?
1. What did the villagers serve the children for breakfast?
2. Describe the children’s visit to the waterfall.
2. Why was Sidney surprised when Jabro went swimming with them?
3. How did Sidney feel as they sat eating by the waterfall?
4. What happened when the children arrived in the swamp area?
5. Describe the man they saw.
1. What was Andy Trenton’s attitude toward the children?
2. Would you have crossed the water to talk to Andy? Why or why not?
3. What food does Andy serve his visitors?
4. Where does Andy plan to go that day?
5. Why do you think Andy agrees to take the children to Nan Madol?
6. What does Sidney hope Andy will do for them after the visit?
1. Describe Sidney’s first view of Nan Madol.
2. Why does Andy warn the children to be quiet in Nan Madol?
3. How does Jabro feel about their visit to Pankalera?
4. What does Andy explain about the buildings on this island?
5. What information does Jabro add about the building of the temples?
6. Why does Jabro refuse to go inside the temple?
7. What does Sidney sense about the place?
1. What did the children see in the center of the burial grounds?
2. How did Andy’s mood change inside the burial grounds?
3. Why did Andy tell Peter not to pick any of the limes?
4. What did Sidney sense inside the burial grounds?
5. Jabro was upset about their entry into the burial grounds. Why was he so upset?
1. What discovery did Peter make in the burial grounds?
2. What was the children’s second big discovery?
3. Why did they agree to not tell anyone about their discoveries?
4. What would you have done in their place?
5. How were they prevented from leaving?
1. Why were the four explorers taken prisoner?
2. What were Sidney’s thoughts as they traveled through the channel?
3. Where were they taken?
4. Why had the villagers traveled to the island of Pankalera on that day?
5. Why did Sidney feel responsible for their problems?
6. What explanation did Jabro offer to the Nanmarki?
7. What explanation did Andy give to the Nanmarki?
8. What was the Nanmarki’s answer?
1. How did Sidney and Peter feel as they waited for the Nanmarki’s judgment?
2. Why did Jabro believe that the Nanmarki was unlikely to believe their story?
3. What did Jabro feel the Nanmarki was likely to do to them?
4. Why did Andy leave Palikir?
5. Do you agree or disagree with Andy’s point of view? Why?
6. How did Sidney feel about what Andy had said?
1. What did Sidney try to explain to the Nanmarki?
2. What effect did her speech have on the people?
3. What did Andy tell the Nanmarki?
4. What terms did the Nanmarki agree to?
5. Do you believe that Andy, Sidney, Peter, and Jabro will be able to keep their side of the bargain?
6. Do you think it is realistic to keep outsiders out of Nan Madol?
1. What amazed Sidney after their agreement with the Nanmarki?
2. What was upsetting to Sidney and Peter about the feast?
3. What ceremony did they participate in?
4. Jabro said that Sidney could drink the sakau, but Peter could only have a sip. Why?
5. What did the old woman do to Andy?
6. How did Sidney feel as she rested in the hut that night?
1. What gifts did the children offer to the Nanmarki?
2. What gifts did they receive in return?
3. As they were preparing to leave, who arrived?
4. At this point, how long had the children been missing?
5. At first, Tom Jacobsen was angry with Jabro for taking the children too far on the boat. What changed his mind?
6. How did Tom and Evelyn react to hearing about all the children’s adventures?
7. Sidney felt that she was coming home as she arrived in Palikir. How has her attitude changed from the beginning of the story?
8. What does Andy plan to do back in Palikir?
9. How has Sidney’s attitude changed toward the kids back home?
1. What was Evelyn’s first reaction to the idea of staying on Pohnpei?
2. What did Peter tell his mom about their adventure?
3. How do the children steer their dad away from immediately going off to Nan Madol and digging for treasure?
4. What convinces their mother to stay?
5. How do you feel the family will adapt to life on Pohnpei?
6. In what ways do you think will Peter and Sidney be different when they return to the states?
1. Using the map of Pohnpei, trace the children’s route. Label the major sites that they pass on their journey.
2. Figurative language helps readers picture the setting vividly. Find five examples of figurative language (similes, metaphors, personification or hyperbole) in this story. Give the page number for each example, the exact wording of the figure of speech and its meaning.
Phrase Page # Meaning_________
3. Create a picture of one of the settings in the story that is clearest in your mind. Be sure to label your illustration.
4. Italic is a form of special type used to highlight words or phrases and set them apart from the rest of the text. In this story, italics are used to highlight foreign language usage. Find at least ten words in italics. Give the page number for each word, and define the word from the clues given in the story.
Word Page # Meaning___________________________________
5. Sequencing: Using the numbers 1-11 order these events as they occurred in the story.
_____ The children visit a beautiful waterfall.
_____ The Jacobsens visit the cultural center and watch the dancing.
_____ The family is shown to their new house.
_____ Peter, Sidney and Jabro meet Andy Trenton.
_____ A wild boar attacks Peter.
_____ Jabro takes Peter and Sidney to a local river.
_____ Their boat is damaged on their trip around the island.
_____ Prisoners throw coconuts on the roof of the Jacobsens’ house.
_____ The children visit Nan Madol and find writing on a stone.
_____ The children are held prisoner by the Nanmarki.
_____ The family discusses whether to stay on the island or to go home.
6. In a good paragraph, write what things you could learn from the culture of Pohnpei.
7. Explain how disputes were resolved on the island.
8. Name five plants and five animals that the children saw on the island.
9. Draw a picture of at least one of plants and one of the animals on your list.
10. Are any of these plants or animals found in your area? Explain.
11. How do archeologists learn about an ancient culture such as the one at Nan Madol where there is no written record?
12. On their journey across the island, Jabro led the way and helped the three children to survive. Explain at least five survival skills Jabro possessed that helped them to survive.
13. Contrast Sidney’s feelings about Pohnpei when she arrived to how she felt at the end of the story.
14. Would you be willing to spend a significant amount of time in a vastly different culture from the one you currently live in? Explain why or why not, and support you point of view with specific examples.
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