The Time of Green Magic

A Reading Group Guide to The Time of Green Magic

By Hilary McKay

About the Book

When Abi’s widowed father meets Louis and Max’s mother, the three children find themselves thrown together to form a new family. Abi is not used to sharing her father with anyone, and Max and Louis find it hard to trust their new stepfather and sister. At first, the only thing they seem to agree on is that they all want to move into the mysterious old house covered in ivy; a place where Abi thinks nothing will be impossible, with rooms overflowing with green magic. Inside the ivy-covered walls, Abi finds herself able to travel inside books. Louis is visited by a mysterious nocturnal creature whose wildness is both exhilarating and terrifying. Now the three children will have to learn to trust one another before the green magic grows too big and wild for them to control.

Discussion Questions

1. The book begins with a description of Abi reading: Abi is “hunched over her book like a diving bird on the edge of a pool, poised between worlds.” What makes this an effective simile? Explain how reading is like being “poised between worlds.” Can you come up with a simile for the way you feel when reading or doing something you love?


2. How does the author describe each of the main characters, Abi, Louis, and Max? What can you infer about them based on their actions, thoughts, speech, and the way others react to them?


3. What are some of the challenges that result from Theo and Polly’s marriage? What advice would you give to Abi, Louis, and Max about getting along with a stepparent or new siblings? When do you see their relationships start to change? Give examples from the book in your answer.


4. Why does Granny Grace say she is leaving after Theo and Polly get married? What other reasons could she have for leaving?


5. When Abi’s family visits the house with the ivy for the first time, each member finds something that they love. Describe the thing that attracts each person to the house.


6. Explain the sacrifice that each family member offers to make in order to afford the house. Did any of them surprise you? What do you think you would be willing to do if you were in their shoes? Explain your answers. Do you have a goal in mind that you’d like to see your family work together to achieve?


7. The author uses vivid imagery, or descriptive words that appeal to the senses, to describe various characters, objects, and settings. Look for a description that appeals to each of your five senses; note that a single description might appeal to more than one sense. Then, using the novel as a guide, try writing your own descriptive paragraph about a room in your house or school. 


8. What causes Max’s falling out with Danny? How does losing his best friend affect him? Have you ever gotten into a fight with a friend? If so, how were you able to resolve your disagreement? What advice would you have given Max about Danny?


9. Abi writes a letter to Granny Grace, and tells her that the house with the ivy “is kind.” How can a house be kind? Why do you think Abi describes the house this way? Do you agree with Abi’s description? Explain your answers.


10. Reread the first description of Mrs. Puddock, looking closely at context clues. How can you use them to guess what kind of creature Mrs. Puddock is? Why do you think Louis is afraid of her?


11. Why does Polly have to leave? Which member of the family do you think is most impacted by her extended absence? Explain your answer.


12. Why do you think Abi is reluctant to share her rocking horse? Do you think she should let Louis play on it? Describe an object that is particularly meaningful to you. Would you be willing to share it? Explain your answers.


13. Describe Louis’s relationship with Iffen. Do you think Louis was right to trust Iffen? Is he right to keep him a secret? Explain your answers. 


14. Because of green magic, Abi is able to slip into the reality of several books. How does Abi feel about that? How does it add to her experiences with the stories?


15. If you could enter the world of any book, which one would you choose? What would you do inside that world? What object from the book would you want to bring back with you? Is there a book whose world you definitely would NOT want to visit?


16. Why is Max upset that Esmé is watching Louis? What causes him to change his mind about her? In your opinion, how old should you be before staying home alone? How old should you be before you can take care of younger siblings or babysit for others? How do you feel about this kind of responsibility? Explain your answers.


17. In literature, we describe characters who change over the course of a text as dynamic characters. In this novel, how does Abi change? What causes this change? What does Max realize about the mistakes he made in his relationships with Danny, Abi, and Louis? How does he change the way he interacts with them?


18. Why do you think Theo can’t see Iffen? Do you think Iffen is real? Explain your answers.  


19. Describe Abi’s and Max’s plan to return Iffen to his home in the book. How did they each contribute? What were the risks? Evaluate whether or not you think they had an effective plan. What might you have added or changed?


20. Chapter thirteen begins with a description of “practical magic.” Based on the book’s descriptions of magic, how would you define the difference between “practical magic” and “green magic”? Can you give a real-life example of something that would be “practical magic”? 



Extension Activities


1. When Abi sees the house with the ivy for the first time, she thinks that “nothing could be impossible.” In many ways, the house acts as a character in the book. Identify passages that describe the exterior and interior of the house, and create a 2D or 3D model based on these descriptions.


2. One of the books that Abi visits is The Diary of Anne Frank, and Anne’s story gives Abi courage. McKay writes: “As Abi read those words, Anne’s courage unfurled like a banner and flew over the room. Fear vanished.” Unlike The Time of Green Magic, Anne Frank’s diary is a work of nonfiction. Research the life of Anne Frank. Why do you think her story inspires Abi as much as it does? 


3. After Granny Grace moves home to Jamaica, she communicates with Abi—and, eventually, Louis—through handwritten letters. Choose a family member or close friend who does not live with you and write them a handwritten letter. Make sure to correctly address the envelope too. When you write, ask them to write back to you; include a self-addressed, stamped envelope to make it easier for them to reply. How did sending and receiving a letter make you feel? How was it different from communicating via text, email, phone, or Skype? As a class, debate whether or not you think we should go back to writing physical letters to people. 


4. As mentioned earlier, reading The Diary of Anne Frank was a deeply meaningful experience for Abi. Because of the book, she “found courage that afternoon, brought it back with her, admired it, and installed it in her heart.” Think about a book that has taught you an important message or changed the way you view the world. Write a personal essay about how the book impacted you, and why you would recommend it to others.


5. Iffen is based on a prehistoric painting found on the wall of the famous Chauvet Cave in France. Research the significance of this UNESCO World Heritage site. Why is it culturally and historically important? What kind of emotions or ideas do the paintings evoke? Try to re-create one of the pieces in Esmé’s art portfolio based on the Chauvet Cave paintings.


6. A prologue is a structural term used to describe a part of a story that serves as an introduction. In The Time of Green Magic, the section “Salt Spray & Shadows” functions as a prologue. What important ideas or characters does this section introduce? What elements are effective at capturing the reader’s interest? A book can also have an epilogue, or a section at the end that gives the reader an idea about what happened after the events in the book. Write an epilogue for this book, and try to match Hilary McKay’s tone and style.



Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy.


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