Lea Wait

Teacher Guide: Wintering Well
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Historical Events in Wintering Well:

  • Maine lobbies for, and then attains, statehood, through the Missouri Compromise (1820)

Wintering Well is told in two points of view (Common Core Standard,) Will’s, a  boy who, as a result of a farm accident, has his leg amputated, and Cassie’s, his younger sister, whose journal entries begin each chapter, and who vows to take care of him. Several themes run through the book, among them the differences between career choice for men and women in 1820. Will, although disabled, finds several avenues open to him. Cassie does not. (Common Core standards: How have beliefs changed over the years.) Statehood brings more economic possibilities to Maine (Common Core Standards: influence of setting on characters and plot, consequences of personal decisions economically) which opens up new options for Will. A number of scenes in the book illustrate the ways in which households are interdependent in a small town or farming community, what medical practices were in 1820, how important schooling was seen at that time, and how the disabled were viewed by the community. In all those areas, today’s beliefs have changed considerably. On the other hand, Will has to deal with bullies, which still exist. 

Note:  Cassie’s recipe for Anadama bread is here.  

New vocabulary words in Wintering Well   

  • figurehead
  • shipwright
  • scour 
  • pallet
  • cauterize
  • gangrene
  • tankard


Why didn’t Will’s father want to call the doctor? What would a father do today if his son were injured? (changes in beliefs; in the role of the disabled in society)

What is gangrene? Could someone get gangrene today? If so, how would it be treated?

No matter what the situation, a person always has choices about some things. What choices did Will have after his accident?  What did he decide to do? What choices did Cassie have? What, if anything, did they NOT have choices about? What were the results of their decisions? (Causes and effects … consequences)

Do you know anyone who is missing an arm or leg? Have they had any problems in school? In finding jobs? Why or why not?

Why is there a drawing of a feather at the beginning of each chapter of Wintering Well? (symbol)

Some boys in Wiscasset made fun of Will because he was disabled. Do people in your town or school do that? What has changed, and what has not changed, about treatment of people with disabilities since 1820? (Common Core Standard)

If you had lived in Maine in 1819-1820, what would you have chosen to do? Continue in school? Work with your family on their farm or in their business? Be an apprentice? 

What were the differences in choices girls and boys had in 1820?  Are there any differences in the choices girls and boys have today? 

Great Blue Heron

What does “wintering well” mean? Why did Lea Wait choose “wintering well” as the title of her book?

Cassie tries to meet the expectations her family has for her. Do you think she is happy? If Cassie were living today, what do you think she would choose to do with the rest of her life?

Will, Cassie, Alice and Nathan all made different choices about their futures. Who do you think made the best choice? Why?

Maine became a state in 1820. What difference did that make in the lives of the characters in Wintering Well?


Do you feel sorry for anyone in Wintering Well?  If so, who do you feel sorry for?  Why?

Choose one character in the book, and write a letter from that character to another – ten years after the book ends. What are they doing then? Where are they? What have they accomplished? 

Read the first dedication in Wintering Well. What do you think it means? 

Lea dedicated Wintering Well to Abby and Ben Park, who, like Lea's daughter Elizabeth, were born in India. Abby and Ben had polio while they were still in India, were adopted by a close friend of Lea's, and grew up as close extended family of the Waits'. Today Ben and Abby are grown up; Ben teaches middle school, and Abby is an occupational therapist with, as this picture shows, a beautiful family. As Lea wrote, "a disability may only be a curve in the road, not a stop sign."


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