"Lily's Crossing" by Patricia Reilly Giff: Study Guide for Elementary Readers

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Plot Summary

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff is a work of American young adult literature aimed at readers beginning in the fourth grade. The story focuses on Lily and Albert, two children who face grief during the Second World War.

Lily’s father goes off to fight in Europe, and Albert has escaped from the Nazis; but he was the only one in his family to get away. His sister Ruth, who had measles, had to stay back in the hospital.

Lily is a liar, which is her most significant character flaw. She takes advantage of Albert by telling him that she will help him find Ruth, when she has no intention of doing so.

She tells him this lie so that he will help her get to Europe to find her father. The plan they devise to get to Europe almost ends Albert’s life. In the end, though, Lily learns a lot about what it means to be a true friend, and the interaction between Albert and Lily expresses the tribulation that children go through as part of losing a loved one.

Theme: Grief

It takes learning about grief to teach Lily about friendship. At the beginning of the novel, Lily, her grandmother and her father are headed away from the coast to escape danger from the German navy. Soon after, though, Lily’s father joins the war effort by helping with rebuilding areas destroyed by the war. Lily goes through the grief of losing her father’s presence and also experiences the fear that her father might not make it home from the end of the conflict.

At the same time, Lily’s best friend, Margaret, is headed across the country to Detroit; her father, instead of joining the military, is headed to work in one of the factories that will turn out tanks and other machinery for the war effort. So Lily is left alone, grieving for her father and her friend.

Enter Albert: fresh off the boat from Europe, having escaped the horrors of Nazi occupation. His parents and grandparents were left behind; the only one who came with him was his sister, Ruth. However, she was pulled off the boat while Albert was asleep, just before the boat left, because she had the measles. Albert awakens headed to a new world, safe from the Germans, but alone, grieving not only the people he knew he had lost, but also the sister he had thought would be saved.

As Lily and Albert become friends, they talk about each other’s grief. Lily uses Albert’s grief to get him to agree to help her get to Europe, but the grief that comes with almost losing Albert, when her plan almost kills him, ends up teaching Lily what it means to be a genuine person and an honest friend.

Journal Writing Prompts

Each of these prompts can inspire a journal response of 1/2 page to a page depending on the depth of description and the desired rigor in the classroom.

1. Lily and Albert both feel guilty for not saying goodbye to people who are very important to them because they are not sure they will get to see them again. For Lily, it’s her father; for Albert, it’s Ruth. Describe a time when you wish you had said something to an important person in your life but you didn’t get a chance to. What did you want to say? Why did the person go away? How did the situation resolve itself?

2. Make a list of Lily’s personal strengths and flaws. Write a short journal entry comparing Lily’s character with your own or with one of your best friends. Do you think you and Lily would be friends? Why or why not?

3. Does your family have a place that it likes to go; perhaps a favorite vacation destination? Have you established a tradition around this place? Tell one of your favorite memories from visiting this place.

Study Questions

1. In Chapter 2, what lie does Lily tell Gram? What is the purpose of this lie?

Lily doesn’t want Gram to see the “D” in music on her report card. Gram loves music, and Lily doesn’t want to let her down. While the motive behind this lie is not malicious, it’s still a lie.

2. In Chapter 6, how can we tell that Lily is very upset about Poppy leaving for Europe?

Even though she acts noncommittal, once the train leaves, she sprints to the bridge to wave at him and keeps waving until she can’t see the train anymore.

3. In Chapter 7, why is Albert afraid of the plane overhead?

Albert is used to enemy aircraft flying overhead. Lily reassures him by telling him that the plane is a friendly one.

4. What upsets Lily the most about her mother’s death?

Over time, Lily has forgotten her mother’s voice – and even what she looks like. This disturbs Lily, because she feels that a child should be able to remember her mother.

5. What does Gram mean when she says “even in the worst times, something lovely happens” in Chapter 28?

Even though World War II has wrought unthinkable horrors across the planet, Lily has gotten her father back – and her best friend.

Image Credit

Image Credits: WWII Memorial Pacific, by Dan Smith, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.