1. What do Olive Wellwood’s fairy stories, presented in the text in italics, add to The Children’s Book?
2. There are some very different women in the book, from the dreamy, absent Seraphita to Phillip’s practical sister Elsie. With these portraits, what is A.S. Byatt saying about women and women’s roles in English society?
3. Violet asks, under her breath: “Who is a child’s real mother? The one who feeds it, and cleans it, and knows its little ways, or the one who leaves it in the nest to do as best it can . . . ?” How is this question explored in The Children’s Book?
4. What is the importance of sexuality to The Children’s Book? What is behind Olive’s response to Humphrey’s liaisons, or his attack on Dorothy, or Dorothy’s eventual link with Gabriel? Do you feel sexuality has changed since the era the book depicts and, if so, how?
5. Who is your favourite character in The Children’s Book and why? How does this character change over the course of the book and why?
6. If you have read A.S. Byatt’s previous novels, such as Possession, how do they compare to The Children’s Book? What is she trying to explore here that is different and how is her method similar or distinct this time around?
7. How do the characters in this book experience death? What is the importance of suicide in the novel?
8. How are Germany and relations between English people and Germans significant in The Children’s Book? What do these elements add to the story?
9. Discuss the theme of childhood, or childishness, in the novel.
10. How do you feel at the end of the book and why?
11. Explore and describe the structure of the novel. How do events follow each other? Which characters come to the forefront or recede? How does A.S. Byatt manage to juggle so many characters and situations without confusing the reader or losing the reader’s interest?
12. The Children’s Book includes some memorable locations, particularly the Tree House, Purchase House and Todefright. How are they different? How does each matter to the story?
13. How is the era depicted in The Children’s Book similar to and different from our own? Is A.S. Byatt trying to tell us anything about our own time with her portrait of the Wellwoods’ time?
14. What is the significance of performance and theatre in The Children’s Book? You might discuss puppet theatre and Shakespeare as well as the importance of performance in daily life.
15. What is ‘The Children’s Book’ referred to in the title, really?
16. In what ways, if any, is The Children’s Book an old-fashioned novel? In what ways is it original? Which other books does it make you think of?
17. What do the occasional historical summaries (e.g. “1896 was a gloomy year. William Morris died in October . . .”) add to the novel?
18. If you could ask A.S. Byatt one question about this book, what would it be?