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Reading Discussion Guides

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsberg

About the Book

Amedeo Kaplan seems just like any other new kid who has moved into the town of St. Malo, Florida, a U.S. Navy town where new faces are the norm. But Amedeo has a secret, a dream: More than anything in the world, he wants to discover something — a place, a process, even a fossil — some treasure that no one realizes is there until he finds it. And he would also like to discover a true friend to share these things with.

When Amedeo Kaplan and William Wilcox find themselves working together on a house sale for Amedeo’s eccentric neighbor, the two develop an unlikely friendship. The boys learn the story behind one artifact in the house — a story that links a sketch, a young boy’s life, an old man’s reminiscence, and a painful secret dating back to the outrages of Nazi Germany. It’s a story that will take them to the edge of what they know about heroism and the mystery of the human heart.

Pre-Reading Activity

Define the terms “censorship” and “degenerate.” Learn about the National Socialist Society for German Culture, and their efforts to censor art they called degenerate. (A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust: Degenerate Art(opens in a new window)).

Discussion Questions

  • Amedeo Kaplan has a desire to discover something. Why does he think that moving to Florida will cause him to give up his dream? Debate whether Amedeo is blindsided by his discovery at Mrs. Zender’s house. How does his discovery contribute to important changes in the lives of each of the characters in the novel?
  • Explain the difference between a relationship and a friendship. How does Amedeo’s business relationship with William Wilcox develop into a friendship? Why might the two boys seem unlikely friends? What does each boy bring to the friendship? At first William appears to be the dominant person in the friendship. At what point does this begin to change? Amedeo says, “I think you always give a part of yourself away when you make a friend.” What part of himself does Amedeo give away?
  • What does Konigsburg mean when she uses the phrase “turn away anger”? How do Ellen Wilcox, Mrs. Vanderwaal, and Mrs. Zender “turn away anger”? Discuss Amedeo’s role in helping each of these adult characters deal with their anger.
  • Mrs. Vanderwaal says, “I don’t think, Mrs. Zender, that you can possibly call Eisenhuth or Zender a hero. And you, Mrs. Zender, do not get to choose.” How might Mrs. Zender and Mrs. Vanderwaal’s definition of a hero differ? Who is the real hero in the novel? Is there just one?
  • Discuss the cunning, kind, shabby, and heroic edge of Mrs. Zender.

Extension Activities

  • Konigsburg uses the following metaphor to convey the character of William Wilcox: “In a school as variegated as an argyle sock, William Wilcox was not part of the pattern.” (p. 3) Write a brief character sketch of William Wilcox that supports Konigsburg’s metaphor. Then write appropriate metaphors that best describe Amedeo Kaplan, Mrs. Zender, Peter Vanderwaal, Mrs. Vanderwaal, Mrs. Wilcox, and Mrs. Kaplan.
  • Konigsburg states in the novel, “Friendship is a combination of art and craft.” (p. 128) Write a brief essay that describes Amedeo and William’s friendship as both art and craft.
  • When Aida Tull (Mrs. Zender) went away to study opera, the local newspaper referred to her as “our local diva.” Write an article titled “Our Local Diva” for the local newspaper that might have appeared at the end of the novel.
  • The “Degenerate Art” exhibit that Peter Vanderwaal saw in San Francisco traveled to art museums across the nation. The exhibit raised several important questions: Who gives a government the right to dictate what people are permitted to like? Should taste be a matter for a government to decide? Read about the conflict(opens in a new window) in our own nation over the National Endowment for the Arts. Stage a class debate regarding the controversy about government funding and the NEA. Should the NEA censor art that the organization funds? Is this government enforced-censorship?
The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

E.L. Konigsburg
Age Level:
Historical Fiction, Mystery / Crime