THIS IS NOT A DRILL - In bookstores everywhere - Click to Learn More



Teacher Guide for Last Bus Out

Teachers’ Guide – Reading Group Discussion

Last Bus Out by Beck McDowell


Before You Read


1. Discuss any stories you’ve heard about Hurricane Katrina.

2. Look at a map of the New Orleans area and find the location of Algiers.

3. Define the term situational ethics. Is there any circumstance in which stealing

         is justified, or is it always wrong to steal, no matter what?


Individual Research

Find blogs online written by survivors of Hurricane Katrina and summarize the information you find about their personal accounts of their experiences.


Journal Writing

If you had only five minutes to pack before a major natural disaster and could only take one suitcase, what would you pack? Make a list in priority order.



Chapter 1 – Prelude to Disaster


Tuesday, August 23

1. List three things we learn about Courtney’s physical descripti.

2. What evidence do we have of his commitment to basketball?  his talent?

Wednesday, August 24

3. Why does the author include a violent scene so early in the book?

4. What is the effect of the narrative shifting into present tense?

5. What do you think Miz Geraldine means by “Follow your first mind.”? Is it good advice? Why or why not?

Thursday, August 25

6. What is Courtney’s nickname and where did he get it?

7. Why does Courtney consider the people of Fischer his family?

8. What two physical displays show his allegiance to his neighborhood?

9. How did Courtney stay away from the street gangs? Why was it hard?

10. What does Courtney fear when he jokes with the street dudes? Why?

Friday, August 26

11. What are three names Courtney calls his grandmother? Explain them.

12. Why didn’ he take the meteorologist’s hurricane warnings seriously?

13. What were the names of two previous hurricanes that damaged NOLA?



Chapter 2 – Riding Out the Storm


1. List several words and phrases that help set the mood and establish tone.

2. In Shakespeare’s plays, a storm in the opening scene symbolizes chaos in the political or social world. What trauma has Courtney suffered that might be seen as a parallel to weather in Chapter 2?

3. List some of the similes and metaphors used to describe the scene outside.

4. List three other phrases that describe Algiers after Katrina.


Journal Writing

Write about a time when you didn’t take something seriously that later turned out to be a bigger deal than you thought.



Chapter 3 –When the Levees Fail


1. What is a levee? How is it made?

2. List five things that contributed to the flooding of New Orleans.

3. What historical evidence shows Algiers’ higher elevation than New Orleans?



Chapter 4 – This Time is Different


1. How does the other boys’ treatment of Courtney indicate he's a leader?

2. Why was Courtney calmer about the post-flood problems than most people?

3. Is their anger over water bottles dropped from planes justified? Why or why not?

4. What health dangers did the people of Fischer Projects face?

5. Why couldn’t the people walk out of the city?



Chapter 5 – The Key to Escape


1. What is the median called in New Orleans? Why? Are there regional names for things in your city a visitor might not understand?

2. List three obstacles to the stealing of the bus that might have stopped someone less determined.


Journal Writing

Write about a time when you tried to accomplish something that was difficult. What were the obstacles that stood in your way and how did you overcome them?



Chapter 6 – Drive


1. Discuss possible multiple meanings of the title of the chapter.

2. What do we learn that complicates Courtney’s decision to take the bus?

3. As they drive out of the lot, Courtney admits he never really thought they’d find buses with keys and gas. Why did he go to the bus lot anyway?


Journal Writing

Write about a time something happened that you hoped for but didn’t really expect.



Chapter 7 – Loaded


1. Why did the people of Fischer project feel the government had abandoned them?

2. Where does Algiers, Louisiana’s name come from?

3. Besides the lack of funds for transportation and shelter, list two other reasons the people of  Fischer didn’t evacuate before the hurricane.



Chapter 8 – Roadblock


1. What memory is triggered by passing his old elementary school? Why is this important to the story?

2. Why is it ironic that his mother’s drug money keeps him healthy?

3. Courtney relies on instinct, doing what he feels is right even more often than what he thinks is right. Can you think of a time when you relied on instinct to make an important decision? Did it work out well? Why or why not?

4. What was Courtney’s plan for the passengers on his bus as they pulled onto the Westbank Expressway and headed out of town?


Journal Writing

Reread the author’s description of Courtney’s fear as he drives away from the police roadblock. Write about a time when you were afraid, paying special attention to your description of how fear feels to you. Include physical reactions as well as emotional ones.



Chapter 9 - To Lafayette


1. What metaphor is used to describe the landscape?

2. List two similes used to describe the randomness of the devastation. How is the second one extended into the next sentence?

3. What flashback is triggered by Courtney’s concern for people left homeless by the storm?

4. What fantasy does Courtney indulge in while living alone in the empty house?

5. Why does his Grandmother say his mom stops calling him? Do you agree and how do you feel about it?


Journal Writing

About his mother, the author says, “Courtney loved her and wanted her to be happy. But he didn’t know how to help her.” Write a journal about a time when you wanted to help someone but had trouble finding a way.



Chapter 10 - Ninth Ward Survivors


1. Why are the Ninth Ward victims’ stories so different from the stories of the Algiers people?

2. List some of the substances that contaminated the flood waters, posing health risks to the residents forced to flee in them.

3. Why were numbers of dead painted on houses with spray paint?

4. What were some of the problems faced by police officers after the storm?

5. What rumor fueled cries of racism by residents of flooded areas? What two factors influenced the rumor’s spread?

6. How did some reporters treat stories about white and black victims differently?

7. Many New Orleans victims were offended at being called refugees? Why?

8. Why does Courtney feel lonely on the bus?

9. What are some of the things he worries about while driving? Which do you think are the most valid concerns?


Journal Writing

Write about a time when you felt lonely.



Chapter 11 – Promises to Keep


1. Why does Courtney park on the side street at the Cajundome?

2. Why does Courtney step forward to answer the man’s questions?

3. Why does he walk to the front of the line when they first arrive?

4. What two sports similes are used in this chapter?

5. Describe Grandma Streets’ reaction to Courtney’s story? What does this say about her?

6. Why does he go with his Dad to the football game after hiding at his Grandmother’s?

7. What poem do the titles of Chapter 10 and 11 come from? What promises does Courtney set out to keep at the end of Chapter 10?


Journal Writing

Write about a time when you had to tell a parent, relative, or friend about something you’d done that might get you in trouble. How did you break the news and what was the reaction?



Chapter 12 – Miles to Go Before I Sleep


1. What do we learn about Courtney’s mom? Describe the two sides of her Gemini personality. What factors might contribute to the “rages” that came over her?

2. How does Courtney try to justify her behavior?

3. What does Courtney do to try to help his mother?

4. How did Hurricane Katrina hurt Courtney’s chance to pursue his dreams?

5. In your opinion, why do the two National Guardsmen allow Courtney to drive back into the city when they’re under orders to keep people out.


Journal Writing

Write about a time when someone you loved or respected disappointed you.



Chapter 13 – The Cajundome


1. What do Courtney and Tom learn about the fate of the people on the second bus?

2. What were conditions like in the Cajundome?


Journal Writing

Write about a time when your living conditions were not what you expected. How did you cope with the situation?



Chapter 14 – FEMA Trailer


1. Describe the FEMA trailer Courtney and his grandmother are given as temporary housing. What is their reaction to their living conditions?

2. What does Courtney’s grandmother plan to try to get back to normal?

3. Courtney realizes as he goes to enroll at Northside that he will never see many of his friends again. If you knew you might not see your friends tomorrow, what things would you want to do and say today?

4. Describe Coach Moore. What techniques does he use to motivate his players? How do you feel about him?


Journal Writing

Courtney is expelled from school for something he says he didn’t do.Write about a time when you were falsely accused or someone you know was falsely accused.



Chapter 15 – Get In Where You Fit In


1. How does the situation change at the high school after Courtney plays ball on Open Gym night?

2. Why didn’t people try to fix up their homes after the storm?

3. Why is Courtney not allowed to play ball at Helen Cox High School?

4. What offer comes from Gil Dorsey-Wagner ? How did he know about     Courtney?

5. In what way does Courtney’s decision to move to California parallel hisinvitation to people on the bus to “get in where you fit in”?


Journal Writing

Courtney feels alive for the first time in weeks when he plays basketball. Describe something you love doing and tell how it makes you feel.



Chapter 16 – Oakland


1. What were some of Courtney’s concerns as he flew to Oakland?

2. Who does Courtney meet in the office of the Castlemont ? Why is he surprised?

3. Why does Courtney have such a hard time academically at Castlemont?

4. How did other people in Oakland step up to help him succeed? Why did they?


Journal Writing

Write about a time when other people helped you accomplish something important.



Chapter 17 – A College Education


1.What adjustments did Courtney have to make at City College?

2.What insights does Courtney begin to have about his father?

3. Describe Courtney’s tattoo and explain what it represents.

4. How does the marijuana incident make you feel about Courtney?


Journal Writing

Make a list of expectations you have about college. What aspects do you expect to be difficult and what parts do you expect to enjoy?



Chapter 18 – Alone Again


1. What is the devastating news Courtney learns about Jamie? How does he react?

2. Why doesn’t the author reveal Courtney’s conversation with Jamie after he learns that she’s betrayed him? How do you feel about that?

3. What does Courtney do to relieve his pain?

4. What is Courtney’s RIP list? Why does he keep it?


Journal Writing

Make a list of things you do to lift your spirits when you’re feeling down.



Extra Journal Writing Assigments


Write about people in your life who have functioned in parental roles who are not your biological parents.


Write about a time when you were tempted to join in an activity that you knew was wrong. How did you handle the situation?


Write about a time someone gave you good advice. Explain how you applied it and how it helped you in life.


Write about a time when you or someone you know performed a heroic deed.


| Leave Comment

Posted in March


A Greatly Exaggerated Demise

You've read the doom and gloom predictions that books as we know them will soon cease to exist. I'm gonna ask the obvious question here:

I like movies at the theater AND on my TV.

I listen to music on my iPod, car radio, AND my computer.

I read newspapers and magazines online AND in print.

And I think there's PLENTY of room for E-BOOKS AND TREE BOOKS!

(Yes, I'm yelling. This whole "demise of books" thing gets me riled up.)

If you haven't embraced e-books, you WILL because it's awesome to :
-read in bed without disturbing your roommate
-read in a dark car (when you're not driving, please!)
-download at book at midnight when you finish reading another one
-travel for weeks without lugging heavy books
-save trees; books are destroyed when no one buys them
-save money by downloading e-books at a cheaper price
-obtain full texts of obscure, hard-to-find books - in seconds
-find thousands of classics for free through Project Gutenberg
-search for a word or passage easily
-find your place in an instant without keeping up with bookmarks
-change the text size or font or background color
-read in line at the grocery or in traffic - on your handy cell phone
-save your back by not lugging six heavy textbooks through the school halls (hopefully, one day)

But we will NEVER give up PAPER BOOKS because we LOVE:
-the satisfying heft of the solid binding in our hands
-the ambiance of libraries and the smell of books
-the emotional connection to memories of being read to as a child
-the pleasure of browsing favorite books stores and discovering new ones
-the beauty of a well designed cover and the tease of the back cover text
-the company of shelves of our favorites surrounding us in our homes
-turning pages and the sense of closure in nearing the end
-reorganizing them by genres and author's names (embrace nerdiness!)
-finding a "bargain" at a used book store or an extra to share with friends
-the joy of handing a favorite to a friend, the anticipation of his response
-the security of knowing you can read when the battery's dead and the power's out
-the knowledge that we'll still have our books even if B&N, Amazon, and all the others go out of business.

The synergy I've discovered is that I like Kindle for "come and go" books - books I'm reading for information or for examination of literary craft. But if it's an fun read with a fast-moving plot, I need to turn pages. And when an e-book turns out to be a favorite, I always buy want a hard copy for my bookshelf. Each has its value and its rewards and for me, it's always gonna be a 50-50 split. How will your reading habits change . . . or will they?

| Leave Comment

Posted in March, 2010


Never Feed Him Too Much

Never Feed Him Too Much

We're told that picture books should go easy on the morals; if you beat kids over the head with a lesson they're supposed to learn, you'll take the fun out of reading. But I must have been loaded with teacher genes from the get-go 'cause a lot of my favorites are a tiny bit didactic. I loved A Fish Out of Water. The idea that a fish could grow gigantic (or in real life - go belly-up) from overfeeding was a revelation to me. How was it possible to love a pet to death? Terrifying that - in giving him too much of a good thing - I could smother him with love or floating flakes of nutrition or both.

I was probably not at too much risk here, in reality. I'm not a creature of routine, so the idea of a regular feeding time - for me or said pets - is a bit of a burden. I always assume babies will cry when they're hungry, too, and they usually do. (This mentality does not bode well for the poor plants on my desk who droop in silent supplication, praying I will glance up and notice their desperation for w-a-a-t-e-r.)

I did manage to raise two incredibly cool children, somehow, who do not evidence any lasting effects of the benign neglect to which they were subjected so maybe the fish book lesson was worthwhile. I like to think my "hands-off" attitude benefitted them; I was never the kind of parent who snooped in their rooms or asked a million questions, or tried to live vicariously through them. I guess I was really lucky that they made it easy to trust them (not that they never did anything wrong; they are very real velveteen rabbits.) This would be a good spot for one of those silly quotes about giving your children wings as well as roots, but P.D. Eastman made it much simpler:

"Never feed him too much
Never more than a spot
Or something may happen
You never know what!

| Leave Comment

Posted in March, 2010


Let it Simmer

Tim O'Brien reminded us of an important writing practice in his chat with Mediabistro on Monday. On the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Things They Carried, he worries that the ease of digital publication in blogs, online articles and even books, will adversely affect the quality of writing. He fears it's too tempting to "push the button" and launch freshly written prose that hasn't had time to marinate. Whether you're writing an angry letter to your boss or the first three chapters of your new novel, it's always a good idea to "let it simmer." Most of us have had the experience of revisiting a piece we once thought quite brilliant and discovering that it's mostly crap. When you're caught up in a burst of creative energy, it's easy to overestimate your own originality. Always, always let your work in progress sit for at least a couple of days and preferably a couple of weeks until you can read it with an objective eye that is not influenced by the heat of the moment.

And if you haven't read The Things They Carried, it's an amazing look at war and its effect on the human psyche. One of my favorite writing assignments was asking my students to write an informal journal entry on "The Things I Carry." Through the years I read the most amazing pieces that ranged from discussions of how the contents of one's purse define its owner to thoughtful discussions of the emotional baggage we carry from our life experiences and how those biases shape our actions and relationships. If you take the time to try it, you might learn something new about yourself. And don't forget to let it simmer, then revise it.

| Leave Comment

Posted in March, 2010


A Dragonfly by Any Other Name

A Dragonfly by Any Other Name

While doing some research for a story line yesterday, I came across all the different animal sounds in various languages. I only became aware of this difference a few years ago when a friend's child, whose babysitter was Japanese, began to answer "Boof, Boof," when asked "What does the pig say?" My friend mentioned this to the sitter, who was a bit defensive. "Do you actually hear, 'oink, oink' when a pig makes a sound?" she asked. Hmm, she's got us there.

I remember sitting by a pool a couple of summers ago with a British friend and her French boyfriend watching a dragonfly float past. I told him they were called "mosquito hawks" in New Orleans where I grew up, and I asked him the French word for "dragonfly." He taught me the word: libellulle, which he pronounced lee-beh-loo-lah. It's amazing how differently we look at things when they're called by different names. Shakespeare might've been wrong about that one.

| Leave Comment

Posted in March, 2010

[12  >>