Ark Discussion 1

Stephanie S. Tolan

Welcome to the Ark

Welcome to the Ark

by Stephanie S. Tolan



Welcome to the Ark focuses on four children ranging in age from eight to seventeen, whose extraordinary gifts isolate them from other children and from normal expectations of what constitutes rational, reasonable behavior.

Taryn, a poetry prodigy labeled schizophrenic, is a healer able to communicate with other life forms; Elijah, an apparently autistic child, "hears" the deep growl of violence when it occurs in the world around him; Miranda, world-renowned "baby genius" and linguistic prodigy, has become alienated not only from other humans, but from her own emotions and natural empathy; and Doug, flutist and math whiz, has turned the violence he sees in his family and cultural environment first against its treasured material goods and then against himself.

ISBN: 0-380-73319-6

In a near-future world in which violence is pandemic, these four intensely sensitive children are brought together in an experimental group home in a private mental hospital. In the program they dub "the Ark," they discover their deep mental bond with one another, a bond that eventually connects them with other unusual children around the world. As they begin to explore the power of their connection, they discover it offers great hope for the future of the world, and great danger as well.


"Tolan weaves the themes of adolescent alienation, the transcendent power of cooperation, and the threat of social disintegration in this tautly constructed work of science fiction.... Frightening and grim, a sophisticated tale of redemption." - Kirkus Reviews

"Tolan blends elements of science fiction with nonstop suspense in a provocative, disturbingly real story.... Drawing on her own experiences with exceptionally bright children, she has created a finely portrayed group of characters who will seem achingly familiar to any child who has ever felt isolated or disconnected. She also raises tantalizing questions guaranteed to spur discussion in classroom literature circles." - Booklist

 Novels can help us think about our lives and our world in new ways - SST



These topics are designed to encourage thinking and the sharing of beliefs and ideas. They are not about the "right" answer, or about literary analysis.


  • Are people more prone to violence today than in the past?

  • Is violence necessary and morally acceptable for defensive purposes?


  • How do people usually respond to people who are different from themselves?

  • Do we respond to people we think are brighter than ourselves in the same way we respond to people of different races and cultures?


  • Is the human race changing biologically?


  • Can we get information from outside ourselves as well as from our five senses?

  • Is there consciousness in the universe outside of the human mind?


  •  Are biological families the best place for children to grow up?


  • How reliable is the information science provides about reality at any given time?

  • Could science constitute a belief system similar to religious belief systems?


  • How much are children valued in our culture?

  • How might we determine how much value any society places on its children?


  • Is it necessary for all human beings to feel part of a group or community?



The same topics and related ones can serve to spur deeper and broader-ranging discussions that can lead to research to support or refute studentsí opinions, beliefs, and conclusions. Formal debates or research papers may result from these explorations.


  • How do we know the level of violence in our own society? In societies and cultures of the past? What is the difference between media, government or police statistics, and historical reporting? What are possible reasons someone might purposely distort information about social violence, personal violence, or war? Can you find examples of distortion either in history texts or in media?

  • Do you agree with Taryn that using violence to oppose violence is futile? Do you agree with Doug that whoever is willing to use the most violence inevitably "wins any conflict? Can you think of a context in which winning by violence is ultimately harmful to the winner, or in which someone who dies can be said to have won?


  • How open do you believe modem science is to phenomena that cannot be studied or replicated in a laboratory? Do you think contemporary scientists can be limited by their beliefs about material reality? Do you think there may be realities not yet observable or measurable with the instruments and methodologies available today? Can you find examples of cases where science has been held back in its efforts to explain an aspect of reality by the lack of sufficiently sensitive technology?

  • Do you think we "pretty much know" now what the universe is like? Or do you think there is much we have yet to discover, much that might change our current view? What have been some of the great changes in the way science has explained aspects of the universe?


  • Do you believe that some people are naturally more intelligent than others, or do you think that with the right teaching anyone could be an Einstein? Do you feel the same way about extraordinary athletic ability, extraordinary artistic ability?

  • Do you believe humans are or could be capable of communicating with mental energy? Do you believe it is possible for humans to communicate with other life forms, with or without language? Can you find examples of such abilities?

  • The Latin name for modern humans is Homo sapiens, which means intelligent, or thinking, man. Do you think human beings have used their intelligence primarily for good or, as Doug suggests in calling the human species Homo horrbilis, to do harm?


Welcome to the Ark is a work of fiction and Miranda, Doug, Elijah, and Taryn are invented characters. However, they are based on real people. In working with a group of extremely bright children, I was able to observe the sort of "thinking together" that the children of the Ark begin to do. I know someone who is able to "read" a book merely by holding it in her hands. I can't explain these abilities, but like Noah and Abigail, I know because of my own experience that they exist.

Modem physics has shown us that mind and matter are not as separate as we once thought. Can anyone (or any group of people) really "reflect" violence back on those who would use it, or "tame" the violent impulse in another human being? I don't know. That is an aspect of this book which came from my imagination. But here's something else to think about-we don't know exactly what imagination is or how it works.

Copyright 1997 by Stephanie S. Tolan

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Last modified: August 15, 2012