How to Teach The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is told from the perspective of Christopher, a teenager with "behavioral difficulties." Although Haddon does not specifically name Christopher's condition, it is widely understood that he has Asperger's syndrome. Students should know about this autism spectrum disorder and its common characteristics, but be aware that Christopher's behaviors are not indicative of how all people with Asperger's act. With this background, students can discuss communication obstacles that Christopher faces regularly. They should examine how people interact with him and whether they take his differences into account. This can open a broader discussion about mental illness or difference, including how it is perceived by society, how it can be used to define people, how it affects family members, and how people can live full and satisfying lives despite difficulties they face.

Haddon also includes graphics, such as diagrams, smiley faces, and graphs, in his novel. These elements prompt class discussion on what these images convey and how they allow readers to understand Christopher in ways that words do not.

Summary

Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old who describes himself as "a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties," becomes engaged in a murder mystery as he tries to determine who killed his neighbor's dog. His Asperger's syndrome, which causes him to view and interact with the world in a unique way, both aids and impedes his investigation. As he investigates further, despite his father's concerned disapproval, Christopher has a revelation about his mother, whom his father had said died two years ago.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Paperback

When Christopher John Francis Boone discovers his neighbor's dead dog, an improbable murder mystery begins. Christopher is autistic, seeing and reacting to the world with a unique perspective that can be both funny and enlightening. This book will capture your students' imaginations, and it's a fantastic opportunity to discuss the role of the narrator in fiction.

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Content Warning

This novel contains abuse, discussions of atheism, references to sexuality, and some explicit language.

Objectives for Teaching The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

  • Discuss the characteristics of autism, including how being autistic equips Christopher to solve the mystery.
  • Elucidate the importance of mathematics in Christopher's life
  • Assess the three police officers in this story by considering their demeanors, comprehension of Christopher's unique needs, and effectiveness in maintaining public safety.
  • Analyze the character of Christopher's father, both his personal limitations and his effectiveness as a parent.
  • Discuss the use of mathematical puzzles and classic problems in the story.
  • Consider how the emotional and intellectual limitations of Christopher's mother affect her ability to deal with her son.
  • Trace Christopher's expanding understanding of honesty.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Digression
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Independence — Christopher Boone struggles to become an independent person while dealing with his special needs.
  • Identity — Christopher tries to be defined by his skills at math and writing, not by his Asperger syndrome.
  • Loss — Christopher must cope with the initial loss of his mother as well as a loss of trust in his father.

Key Facts

  • Length: 240 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1180
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10
  • Publication Date: 2003

Awards

  • 2004 Boeke Prize
  • Whitbread Book of the Year award (2003)
  • Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book (2004)
  • The Guardian Children's Fiction Prize (2003)

Movies

Although Haddon has sold the film rights of the novel, it has not yet been released as a feature film.

Your students will love:

  • The unique and fresh perspective of the protagonist as he tries to solve the mystery.
  • The satisfying ending.

Students may have problems with:

  • Understanding the reason for some of Christopher's behaviors.
  • The austere language.
  • The use of prime numbers, in lieu of conventional numbering, to organize the chapters.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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