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The Next Chapter: First Year Program

Your Westminster education begins even before you set foot on our beautiful campus, with this year’s summer reading — People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. The common summer reading assignment provides you with the opportunity to share an intellectual experience with your future classmates and professors. It will give you a sense of what college-level reading is like, and serve as the basis for classroom discussion and campus events this fall. Your experience with this summer’s program will set you on the road to a liberal arts education that will challenge you intellectually and personally, and help prepare you to make contributions in the rapidly changing world that you will enter upon graduation.

Your job now is to read People of the Book and to write an essay in response to one of the three questions provided in the Reading Guide. We have provided reading tips and a concise glossary that you may want to consult as you read the book. Follow the instructions for writing and submitting your summer essay that are provided on page 14. Be sure to submit it to your Inquiry instructor via Desire2Learn on or before August 12th.

We hope you enjoy People of the Book.


  Essay Questions

CHOOSE ONE OF THE THREE essay topics below and write a two-page essay that responds to the questions posed. Be sure to use examples from the book and explain how those examples illustrate the points you want to make.

Requirements for Your Essay

  • Your essay must be submitted to Desire2Learn on or before August 12th. See instructions below.
  • The essay should be 2 typed, double spaced pages.
  • Use 12 point font and one inch marging.
  • You may write in first person, but it is not required.
  • Put your name in the top left corner of the paper.
  • You are not required to use sources other than People of the Book. If you do use other sources, be sure to cite them appropriately using footnotes or in-text citation and a works cited page.

Essay Question #1

Geraldine Brooks says that in history, “when hateful forces arose in these societies and crushed the spirit of multi-ethnic, interfaith acceptance, there were these individuals who saw what was happening and acted to stop it in any way they could.” In People of the Book, we see examples of violent intolerance, but we also encounter acceptance and compassion shared between people from very different backgrounds and beliefs.

  • Where do you see examples of multi-ethnic or interfaith acceptance in the book?
  • What drives the examples of hateful intolerance that we see in the book?
  • Which force do you see as stronger in human history—acceptance or intolerance? Why?
  • Does humanity have the capacity to live and let live?

Essay Question #2

One of the things Geraldine Brooks likes about writing historical fiction is finding “stories from the past where we can know something but not everything.” As a fiction writer, Brooks can fill in details that are lost to history. Her character Hanna Heath describes her job as a book conservator as “technical, science and craftsmanship…. But there is something else too. It has to do with an intuition about the past. By linking research and imagination, sometimes I can thrust myself into the minds of the people who made the book” (p. 11).

  • How does Hanna use her knowledge of both science and history to uncover the life of the Haggadah and the people associated with it?
  • Which parts of the story are factual and which parts have to be imagined?
  • What aspects of the history of the Haggadah and its people are impossible to discover?
  • What might future researchers be able to learn about us from artifacts we leave behind, and what might be unknowable to the future?

Essay Question #3

The family is often described as the building block of society, and we are all influenced by the families from which we come. Those influences may be positive, but they may also be negative. The stories recounted in People of the Book are full of issues relating to family — love, support, tradition, expectation, legacy, obligation, tension, and roles within the family.

There are also many different families depicted in the book, including:

Hanna, her mother and the Sharanskys; Ozren and Alia; Isak and Ina; Lola and the Kamals; Dr. Hirschfeldt, his wife and brother; the Ben Shoushans; Father Vistorini, his church and his birth family; Doña de Serena and her family; Zahra and her father; and Isabella and Pedro

Choose 3 of the Families Mentioned in the Book

  • What does each of these families teach us about the impact of families on individuals and society?
  • How are the characters molded by their families?
  • On balance, is family a positive or negative force for the characters?
  • Which of the family dynamics in the book are familiar to you and which ones seem different from your own family experiences?

  Instructions for Uploading Your Summer Reading Essay

You will need to upload your paper to the Dropbox for your Inquiry 111 class.

  1. Follow this link to the course page:

  2. Click on Dropbox at the top of the page.

  3. Look for the “People of the Book" folder that includes the day/time your section of Inquiry meets and your instructor's name (For example, People of the Book — 9:20 MWF with Knop).

    Note: Your folder might be on the second page of results.

    Click on the folder and upload your essay there.


  First Year Program

The First-Year Program at Westminster College is an innovative educational experience required of all new students. It is designed to introduce you to the philosophy and practice of a liberal arts education and equip you with skills essential to your success at college and in life beyond Westminster College. This program seeks to develop the whole student, and thus involves both academics and the social and co-curricular opportunities which support them.


The formal academic portion of the program is composed of three classes you will take over the course of your first two semesters. These classes are Inquiry 111, Writing 111, and Speech 111. The Inquiry 111 course has been structured so that, following completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Articulate and practice the values and methods of a liberal arts education.
  • Engage, experience and explain different ways of knowing.
  • Pursue interdisciplinary study and discussion of important issues.

Writing 111 and Speech 111 are purposely designed to complement Inquiry 111. For more information regarding these courses, please refer to the Westminster College Undergraduate Catalog.


A sense of community is important to the people of Westminster College, so much so that we often refer to Westminster as a "family." Therefore, the development of community is an essential component of your Westminster experience and the First-Year Program. Orientation is your introduction to this community and a vital part of your social life here.


The co-curriculum at Westminster College is a rich one. Student organizations that support your academic studies, service opportunities offered in and out of class, leadership opportunities, and internship experiences are only a few examples of all that is available to enhance and deepen your education at Westminster. Your introduction to the co-curriculum is "The Next Chapter", our summer reading program for all incoming first year students. The summer reading is a collaborative effort of the Division of Student Affairs and the Inquiry Program, and it provides an enjoyable way for our students to continue to hone their critical thinking skills during the summer through the exploration of a selected literary work.