Lynda Rutledge’s novel West with Giraffes is a new book club favorite! This historical coming-of-age novel is a best-seller and critically acclaimed, and it’s the perfect book club read. To get ready for your next book club meeting, check out our guide for how to run a book club, and then look over the West with Giraffes book club discussion questions we’ve prepared to help your discussion run smoothly!
West with Giraffes Summary
In the year 2025, at age 105, Woodrow Wilson Nickel reads that giraffes are becoming extinct, and suddenly memories come rushing back. In 1938, the Great Depression is not yet a memory in the United States, and Hitler is becoming a major threat in Europe. Two giraffes miraculously survive a dangerous Atlantic crossing during a hurricane, and young Dust Bowl survivor Woodrow is hired to drive them across the country to the San Diego Zoo in a specially constructed truck. The 12-day drive is just the beginning of his adventures.
West with Giraffes Themes
The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, endangered and extinct species, human’s relationships to animals, how childhood shapes us as people, treatment of the elderly, the power of storytelling
West with Giraffes Book Club Ideas
Before you launch into your discussion, it might be helpful to come up with an icebreaker question to help get the conversation flowing. These can be silly or fun, and are not meant to be taken too seriously. For this discussion, try asking: What is your favorite road trip memory? Whether it was a relatively short drive or a long one like Woodrow’s, what was one interesting thing that happened on the road?
West with Giraffes Discussion Questions
- Woody was looking for a way to get to California when he found out the giraffes needed a driver. Having already escaped the West (the Texas panhandle) and the Dust Bowl, what do you think Woody expected to find in California?
- Red is the young reporter who follows the giraffe truck across the country. She is married to a much older man, and Woody is just beginning his life, although they are close in age. Do you think their lives are as different as they seem on the surface? Could they have built a relationship and a life together under different circumstances?
- Red has a bucket list, including famous people she’d like to meet before she dies. Do you have a list like that? If you do (or if you were to write one), who would be on your list?
- The Old Man, who is driving the truck with Woody, is a complicated character. What do you think he and Woody learned from each other?
- The book is told as a journal Woody writes, addressed to a “You” who is not identified until the end of the book. Did that person’s identity surprise you? Who else do you think it could have been written to?
- The book is based on a true story and includes some real life characters alongside fictional characters like Woody. Do you think the newspaper clippings throughout the novel — which are taken from real papers and are nearly verbatim — add to the authenticity of the story?
- One of the real life characters is Belle Benchley, the woman director of the San Diego Zoo. Although she ran the zoo for years, her title remained “Secretary” due to sexist ideas about what jobs women could do. Were you surprised to read that the (male) zookeepers loved her?
- Zoos are somewhat controversial for their methods, criticized for keeping animals in cages but appreciated for preserving endangered species. What do you think about zoos, both then and now? Do you think that in the 1930s a zoo was a better environment for animals than a circus?
- Do you think humans owe it to animals to protect endangered species? How have we been affected by the past extinctions of species like The Old Man’s (carrier) pigeons?
- How much do the things we go through as children and young adults shape the people we become? How did Woody’s adventures shape the version of himself who writes down his story?
Looking for more great book club content or recommendations? Check out our lists of historical books set in the 1950s and the best historical fiction novels.
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