What follows is a series of discussion questions for Jacob's Journal of Doom. They are not essential to understanding or enjoying the book, but our hope is that they will furnish some additional learning opportunities for Jacob's fans.
- Jacob worries that his big sister might look for secrets in his journal. Some people write down secrets in their journals, but many do not. What are some other reasons people write in a journal? (Possible answers: family history, sharing testimony with others, obeying the prophets, remembering important events, reflecting on personal experiences.)
- Jacob likes games. He is especially fond of board games and video games. Do you agree with Eric that video games are just board games with better technology? In what ways are they the same? In what ways are they different? What other kinds of games can you think of? (Possible answers: sports, card games, playgrounds games like tag or hide-and-seek.) What are your favorite games? Why?
- As you read Jacob’s Journal of Doom, you may notice that, in addition to games, Jacob spends time thinking about rules and rule-breaking. Most games would not be games at all if they didn’t have rules. How is life like that? (2 Nephi 2:11–14.)
- Jacob also thinks about heroes a lot. He thinks "heroes try to help other people, like it says in the Scout Oath.” Is Jacob right? Who are some of your heroes? Why are they your heroes? How can you be more like them?
- Something Jacob thinks about a lot is money. Unlike some very poor people in the world, Jacob has a place to live and plenty to eat. But his family doesn’t have much extra money, so Jacob often wants things he cannot have. "Wanting" can be a very powerful emotion. How can wanting something be good? (Possible answer: it can motivate us to work hard and earn things.) How can wanting something be bad? (Possible answers: being worldly, being covetous, being tempted to obtain that thing through sins like stealing or cheating.) What do the scriptures say about riches? (Jacob 2:18–19; 1 Timothy 6:10.)
- Jacob and his brother, Joseph (Joey), are named after the prophet Nephi's youngest brothers, who are named after the prophet Abraham’s grandson and great-grandson. Jacob’s sisters are named after cartoon princesses. How did you get your name? Are you named after anyone? Do you plan to name your own children after anyone? Why or why not?
- Do you keep a journal? Do you write in it every day? What sorts of things do you write about?
- What do you think your grandparents did for fun when they were young? If you can, ask your grandparents or an elderly member of your ward how they played as children. Is it very different from the way you spend your time? Are there any similarities? (You might also read Malachi 4:6 and talk about how getting to know our living ancestors helps us to better appreciate the work we are asked to do for the dead.)
- Culture alert! Who are the "four horsemen"? Can you find them in the scriptures? (Revelation 6:1–8.) Have you seen them portrayed in movies, television, books, comics, video games, or elsewhere?
- There are many different kinds of schools in the United States and around the world; Jacob’s school includes kids in their first seven years of school--Kindergarten through sixth grade. At your school, is sixth grade the highest or lowest grade? Or somewhere in the middle? In what grade (or at what age) do you think kids should be separated into different schools? Should schools be Kindergarten through sixth grade, or sixth through eighth grade, or Kindergarten through eighth grade, or something else? Why? Do you think it makes a difference at all? Does it matter if there are only a few kids in your city or town? What about children who are homeschooled--how might their experience be different from children who only have class with other kids their age?
- The Beast is a bully. Have you ever been bullied? What did you do about it? Jacob’s mother tries to help him respond in a Christlike way, but some people are "hard-hearted." What does "hard-hearted" mean? (Possible answers: cruel, unfeeling, resistant to the promptings of the Spirit.) What does "soft-hearted” mean? (Possible answers: kind, sensitive, sympathetic.) How can you be more soft-hearted?
- Jacob’s family only has one TV and one computer monitor--two screens for watching videos, playing games, and getting information. Some families don’t have any screens in their house; some families have many screens. How many screens do you have in your house? Don’t forget to count the screens on cell phones, tablets, electronic readers, and portable game systems (some have two each!) along with televisions and computers. What do you use these screens for? (Possible answers: watching television shows and movies, reading, researching.) Motion pictures are barely over a hundred years old. Before people had so many screens in their lives, how did they get information? (Possible answers: newspapers, telegraphs, radio, word-of-mouth.) What did they do for entertainment? (Possible answers: reading books, attending plays or concerts, making things by hand.) How do you think people will entertain each other in the future?
- Eric is a good friend to Jacob, but he lives a very different life. Eric is an "only child," which means he has no brothers or sisters. Do you have a sibling or siblings? Would you prefer to have more? Fewer? Why?
- When we think about missionary service, we often think about full-time missionaries. But President David O. McKay said, "Every member a missionary." How can you be a missionary now? (Possible answers: inviting friends to church, setting a good example for nonmember friends, being kind to everyone.) How can being a missionary now prepare you to serve a full-time mission? How can being a missionary now prepare you to be a better spouse (husband or wife), parent, or neighbor in the future? (Doctrine and Covenants 4.)
- Jacob imagines fighting pirates the way Ammon fought thieves. (Alma 17–19.) Being a full-time missionary is a lot safer now than it used to be! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. What kinds of sacrifices do full-time missionaries make? (Possible answers: money, education, time with family, time with friends, favorite leisure activities.) How can you prepare now to make those sacrifices?
- Jacob thinks his mom is kind of weird. Do your parents do things you think are weird? Sometimes, when adults do strange things it’s because they are trying to teach their children in a memorable way. What do you think Jacob’s mom wanted him to learn from the "swear jar"? (Possible answers: to keep his language clean, to keep his thoughts clean, that when we say cruel things to others we also pay a price.) What do you think she wanted him to learn from the "gunnysack"? (Possible answers: to keep his room clean, to stay organized, to take responsibility for his actions.) Do you think Jacob learned the right lessons? What do the scriptures say about our parents? (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2.)
- Jacob’s mom gives him chores. Many chores, like cleaning the bathroom or taking out the garbage, are necessary to live a healthy life. But some parents let their children do extra chores to earn special privileges or even money. What kind of chores do you do? How would your life be different if you never did your chores?
- When Jenny Hayes picks on Jacob, Amity doesn’t help him even though she knows Jenny is wrong. Why do you think Amity would behave that way? (Possible answers: she doesn’t like Jacob, she doesn’t want people to think she likes Jacob, she feels peer pressure from her friends to tease Jacob.) Have you ever done something you knew was wrong because you didn’t like someone, or because you liked someone else and wanted to fit in? How did you feel afterwards?
- Do you remember talking about Jacob wanting things? (September 11, Question #1) Jacob wants a "handheld" or portable video game system, like the Nintendo 3DS, Sony PSP, or Apple iPod Touch. Why does he want it? (Possible answers: to play video games whenever he wants, to play video games without using the television, to do research so he can become a video game millionaire.) Do you think owning a handheld will actually help Jacob become rich? Why or why not?
- Jacob compares his life to being swarmed by hordes of tiny enemies. Have you ever felt like the whole world was out to get you? What did you do? Who can you talk to when you feel this way? (Possible answers: Heavenly Father, Jesus, parents, church leaders, friends.) Read Doctrine & Covenants 122. When the Prophet Joseph Smith was imprisoned and felt that the whole world was rising against him, what did the Lord have to say?
- Eric sticks up for Jacob when Jenny makes fun of him. But the way he sticks up for Jacob is by making Jenny cry. How might Eric have stuck up for Jacob without being mean to anyone? (Possible answers: just tell Jenny to leave Jacob alone, tell an adult what is happening.)
- Because Jacob thinks a lot about rules, he thinks a lot about justice. What is "justice"? (Possible answers: getting what you deserve, being punished for your crimes, fairness.) What is a "vigilante"? (Possible answers: someone who takes the law into their own hands, someone who punishes people without legal authority.) Have you ever wanted to do something to someone because you thought they "deserved it"? Why might this be the wrong thing to do?
- When kids in Jacob’s class are caught passing notes, Mrs. Skinner reads the note out loud to everyone. Why do you think she does that? (Possible answers: to embarrass whoever wrote the note, to discourage others from passing notes.) Do you think embarrassing children in front of their friends is a good way to discipline them? Why or why not?
- Jacob gets teased for the nice words he wrote to Jenny. When we tease others for being kind, we discourage them from being kind in the future. When we laugh at mean jokes, we encourage others to tell mean jokes. This is sometimes called "reinforcing" behavior. How can you discourage cruelty and encourage kindness in your family and at school? (Possible answers: pay sincere compliments, don’t say mean things even if they’re funny, give service to others.) (Hymns, no. 232, "Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words"; Ephesians 4:29–32.)
- Most of Jacob’s church friends don’t go to his school. Depending on where you live, your church friends may or may not go to the same school as you do. Do you think it is easier or harder to live the gospel when you live near many Mormons? Or just different? Can you think of stories from the scriptures when faithful people were surrounded by unfaithful people? (Possible answers: Abraham in Sodom; Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Babylon.) Can you think of stories from the scriptures when faithful people were surrounded by others who were supposed to be faithful? (Possible answers: Jesus in Jerusalem, the Nephites under King Noah.) What about stories from the scriptures where everyone was faithful? (Possible answer: the City of Enoch.) How do you think Heavenly Father would want you to act in each of these situations?
- Culture alert! The "cthulhu" is a fictional creature created by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft in 1928. It is sometimes portrayed as a world-eating monster.
- Have you heard the saying "no good deed goes unpunished"? Why do you think people say that? (Possible answer: sometimes, when you do something good, unpleasant things happen anyway and it feels like a punishment.) Why might it be important to try to do something good, anyway?
- When Jacob finds his journal, he discovers that his little sisters have used it as a coloring book! Why do you think they did that? (Possible answers: they want to be like Jacob, they thought they were doing something nice for him, they don’t respect his privacy or his property.)
- Jacob doesn’t understand how missionary work, journals, and pioneers are connected. Can you think of how these things relate to one another? (Possible answers: the pioneers were mostly recent converts, many pioneers kept journals which are now part of Church history, early Utah settlers often traveled to other places to settle and to preach the gospel, journals can be a missionary tool to our descendants.)
- Do you have Internet at your house? Does your Internet have a "filter" on it? Do you know who chooses what to block and what not to block? Internet filters have gotten a lot better than they used to be, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. What should you do if you see something on the Internet that you shouldn’t be looking at? What should you do if your filter blocks something it shouldn’t be blocking?
- Culture alert! When Jacob’s mom talks about bad things coming into the house, Jacob thinks of undead monsters--zombies and vampires. Why do you think zombies and vampires are popular characters in books and movies?
- Jacob’s mom invites his friend Eric to come to Scouts. How can church activities be a good missionary tool? Why do you think the invitation makes Jacob nervous?
- The adults in Jacob’s life keep trying to get him to make friends with the Beast. Why do you think they do that? (Possible answer: sometimes your differences are really just a misunderstanding.) Have you ever had to spend a lot of time around someone who didn’t like you? How did you handle that?
- Why do you think heroes have sidekicks but villains have minions? What’s the difference? What are some qualities that make a good leader? What are the right reasons to follow someone who is a leader?
- Because we live in a world filled with entertainment, "media fasts" are becoming quite popular as a way to focus on the important things in life. You probably know that you should avoid profanity and pornography in books, music, and movies, but unwholesome media isn’t the only kind that can detract from the Spirit. Read Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ talk, "Good, Better, Best" (Ensign, November 2007, 104–8). He says:
"Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best."
- Culture alert! "Onomatopoeia" is the imitation of sounds in words, like "cheep cheep" or "bang!" The onomatopoeia "ke ke ke" is a reference to the sound the alien Zerg make in the video game Starcraft.
- Do you eat lunch at school? Do you pay for it or bring it from home? Which do you prefer? Why? In the United States, there is a lot of concern about how much people weigh, because weighing too much is unhealthy. That means a lot of people are very concerned about what kids eat at school. What are some ways you can make sure what you’re eating (your "diet") is healthy? (Possible answers: learn about nutrition, follow the Word of Wisdom.)
- Jacob doesn’t always tell an adult when the Beast does something mean to him. Why not? (Possible answers: Jacob is trying to be forgiving, his mom and teacher keep trying to get Jacob to be nice to the Beast, Jacob is concerned that getting the Beast in trouble will only make future trouble for Jacob.) Do you think Jacob is doing the right thing? What can you do if someone is bullying you but the adults you tell don’t seem to be taking your concerns seriously? (Possible answers: tell another adult, try telling them in a different way, such as writing a letter.)
- Culture alert! On page 82, the "minion" standing in front of the Beast is modeled after the character Szeth from Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novel The Stormlight Archive.
- Culture alert! Have you ever thought of something witty to say, but you thought it up too late to say it? The French have a word for this: l’esprit de l’escalier, or "staircase wit."
- When Jacob thinks of a mean retort (sometimes called a "comeback") in time, his friend gives him a high-five, but he makes Jenny cry. Do you think Jacob should feel good about his cleverness? What does it mean to "turn the other cheek"? (Matthew 5:39.)
- Jacob wonders who is worse: The Beastmonster, who "is more dangerous and sometimes steals things just to take them," or the Karate Queen, who "rejects the teachings of her master and uses her powers selfishly." Who do you think is worse? Why?
- In this chapter, Jacob spends some more time thinking about justice and mercy. Watch, read, or listen to President Boyd K. Packer’s talk, "The Mediator" (Ensign, May 1977, 54–56). Jacob often wants mercy for himself, but justice for other people. Would it be fair (or "just") for Jacob to have his way?
- The parable of the ungrateful servant can be found in Matthew 18:21-35. How do you think that parable relates to Jacob’s concerns about justice and mercy? How is Jacob like the ungrateful servant? (Possible answers: he wants justice for others but mercy for himself, he wants the Beast to stop bullying him but he is bullying Jenny.) What does it mean to be a "hypocrite"? (Answer: Someone whose actions contradict what they say or claim to believe.)
- Jacob writes, "I AM NOT THE BAD GUY!" But Amity clearly disagrees, at least sometimes. It is often easy to see when others are mistreating us, but it can be difficult to admit when we are mistreating others, because it is hard to see our own flaws. (Matthew 7:5.) Why is it important to recognize our own shortcomings and mistakes? (Possible answers: to better understand the mistakes of others, to know that no one is perfect, so we can improve, so we won’t make the same mistakes again, so we can start the repentance process.) Are there any risks to recognizing our own shortcomings and mistakes? (Possible answers: it’s possible to be too hard on ourselves, it can make us forget the good things we have accomplished.) How can you learn to take responsibility for your mistakes without falling into despair? (Possible answers: pray, rely on the promptings of the Spirit, seek wise counsel from parents and church leaders.)
Special Note: Chiasmus is a form of writing displaying "inverted parallelism." It can be written in many ways and is found in Greek and Latin literature as well as in the Bible and Book of Mormon. At its most simple, it takes the form A B C B A, with each letter representing a particular idea. Usually, the central point or idea will be in the middle. (For more on this topic, see John W. Welch, "Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon," New Era, February 1972, 6–11.)
The chapters in Jacob’s Journal of Doom are organized in a loose chiasmus; challenges and characters introduced in the second chapter, for example, are dealt with in the second-to-last chapter. This chapter (October 17) is at the approximate center because of the importance (and broad applicability) of the candle metaphor.
- Have you ever had to do a group project at school? How did you split up the work? Do you agree with Jacob that one person usually ends up doing all the work? Is that fair? Many times in life, your success or failure will depend on other people. What is the best way to encourage people to "do their fair share" of the work?
- Culture alert! "That’s no moon" is a line from Star Wars IV: A New Hope. Did you know that "episode four" was actually the first Star Wars movie George Lucas made?
- Culture alert! Eric says ideas are like fire. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a man named Thomas Jefferson, said this about ideas:
"He who receives ideas from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper [a ‘taper’ is a candle] at mine receives light without darkening me."
- Thomas Jefferson isn’t the only one who liked the candle metaphor. Proverbs 20:27, Matthew 5:15, and other scriptures use candles as a metaphor for spiritual light and knowledge. Jacob’s mom uses fire as a metaphor for love, to show that she can love all her children equally even when she has more children. Jacob’s concern is that candles don’t burn forever, but this is actually an important part of the metaphor. Mortality does not last forever, and what will matter in the end is what we’ve done with it--how many other candles we have lit in the process. What are some ways in which we can spend our time "lighting other candles"? (Possible answers: sharing the gospel, showing love to others, giving service, educating ourselves, teaching others, creating art, inventing things.)
- Culture alert! The costume Jacob is wearing as he prepares to light the "Sun" balloon is a tribute to Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a modern musical tragedy about a super villain.
- Amity’s family, the Pearsons, sometimes come to Jacob’s house for family home evening. Many families fellowship nonmembers, less-active members, and other members of their ward and stake by having them over to play games, eat meals, or even just visit. What does your family do to fellowship others? What have other families done to fellowship you?
- Amity writes Jacob a letter. Handwritten notes can be a very useful thing. Sometimes, when you need to say something important but you’re embarrassed about it, writing a letter can help. When someone does something very kind for you, a handwritten thank-you note is polite and appreciated. How is a handwritten note different from a typed or electronic message? How is it the same? How do you think Jacob should respond to Amity’s letter?
- Jacob has spent a lot of his leisure time trying to make a video game. Have you ever spent a lot of time trying to make something complicated or learn something new? How did it go?
- Jacob really likes weapons--especially guns and swords. Many kids do! Why do you think that is? Why do you think Jacob’s dad doesn’t like them? There are a lot of weapons in the scriptures, too. Sometimes they are used to oppress. Sometimes they are used by righteous people to defend liberty and justice. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies buried their weapons forever as a covenant to the Lord (Alma 24:17). What do you think about weapons?
- Culture alert! The ancient Greek goddess Justia is often portrayed blindfolded and holding a sword and scales. Her name is where we get the word justice. Jacob imagines her as a superhero, but you can also see statues of Justia at many courthouses, police stations, and other buildings related to the law. Why do you think the sword is a symbol of justice? What about the scales? How about the blindfold?
- Jacob’s dad is a "public defender." A public defender is a lawyer who works for the government defending accused criminals. In the United States, people accused of crimes are promised by the Constitution that they can have a lawyer to defend them. They are also promised that the government will assume they are innocent until someone proves they are guilty. What does it mean to be "innocent until proven guilty"?
- Jacob’s sister Rory is very committed to being good at karate. Some kids take piano lessons, play a sport, or learn foreign languages. What do you do when you aren’t in school? Is there anything you would like to do that you aren’t doing now?
- Culture alert! On page 121, Jacob suggests that computer programming looks like Egyptian hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics are pictures that represent words. The English alphabet is phonetic, meaning our writing represents sounds, so we only have a few letters or "characters." Many languages, like French, Spanish, and German, use an alphabet very similar to ours, but many do not. In China, they still use simple pictures to represent thousands of words. In Japan, they use a mixture of Chinese pictures (called kanji) and two phonetic alphabets (hiragana for native words and katakana for foreign words).
- Culture alert! Jacob’s little sisters love the Internet. Toaster-pastry Kitteh is a tribute to "nyan-cat," a flying Pop-Tart cat that leaves a rainbow in its wake. Puffy Rainbow Pony is a tribute to the re-creation of My Little Ponies that started online.
- The last time Jacob tried to earn more computer time, it didn’t work out very well. What did he do differently this time? (Possible answers: he prepared more carefully, he had more respect for the toddlers, he shared his game-creating talents to his advantage.)
- Jacob discovers that making a video game is a lot of work! Have you ever tried to do something that turned out to be more difficult than you thought it would be? What was it? What did you do? Does working hard for something always make it worthwhile? When you work hard and succeed, does the success make the hard work worthwhile?
- Culture alert! The name of the Revolutionary War figure who said "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" was Patrick Henry. Also, Moroni’s enormous sword pays homage to Cloud’s "Buster" sword, from the classic video game Final Fantasy VII.
- Sometimes it can be hard to find wholesome entertainment. Ratings systems can help, but even movies and games that are rated for children often have foul language or crude humor or even teach messages that go against gospel truths. How does your family choose media? As you get older, you will have greater opportunities to choose your own media. How can you prepare to make righteous choices at that time?
- Jacob believes that the Spirit prompted him to apologize to Jenny, but he’s had some second thoughts about doing it. Have you ever been prompted to do something you weren’t sure you could do? How did the prophet Nephi respond when he was prompted to do something difficult? (1 Nephi 3:7.)
- Jacob doesn’t always get along with his family, but they often turn out to be better friends than he thought. Can you think of ways in which your family has given you service or otherwise made your life better?
- Jacob lives in the mountains in northern California, where winter is cold and snowy. What is your favorite kind of weather? What is the weather like where you live? Do you want to live there your whole life? Where else would you like to live?
- Culture alert! "Dave" is the name of a character in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In that movie (which is based on a book with the same name), there is a very smart computer named HAL that talks to Dave.
- Culture alert! In Disney’s A Goofy Movie, Goofy takes his son, Max, camping. At one point in the middle of the night, Goofy asks Max, "How many cups of sugar does it take to get to the moon?"
- Jacob has been looking forward to Halloween for a long time, but the Beast ruins it for him. Sometimes, people who are very angry about something just want to make other people miserable. In 2 Nephi 2:27, we are told that the devil "seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." Sometimes people will even do completely senseless things just to hurt others or make them upset--this is called "spiting" someone. Spite is a strong, extremely negative emotion. When you are feeling spiteful toward someone, what are some things you can do to overcome that emotion and get the Spirit back? (Possible answers: pray for help, pray for the person who you want to hurt, read your scriptures, sing a hymn, reflect on the Atonement.)
- Even though the Beast is finally expelled from school, Jacob doesn’t feel happy about it. Why do think that is? How should we feel when people who hurt us get what they deserve?
- How did apologizing to Jenny help Jacob invite Eric to church? (Possible answers: he obeyed Heavenly Father so he was blessed, setting a good example created an opportunity for the invitation.) Have you ever been blessed in an unexpected way?
- Jacob feels a little silly when he realizes how easy it was to invite his friend to come to church. Have you ever been afraid to do something? Was it easier to do again after you’d done it once?
- Even though Jacob thought he was going to fail his group project, his mom came up with an idea to save him at the last minute. Have your parents ever gotten you out of a jam? Did you thank them?
- Culture alert! In Marvel comic books, there is an alien entity called Galactus who eats planets. Mrs. Skinner’s hat is shaped like his head! That makes two planet-consuming creatures with cameos in Jacob’s Journal of Doom. Do you remember the other one? (Cthulhu is mentioned on September 25, Question #2.)
- Jacob has a hard time thinking of his big sister as a nice person. But when Eric comes to church, she treats him very well. How do you think going to church might help people to be on their best behavior? (Possible answers: they can feel the Spirit there, being at church is a good reminder of how they should behave.) If you were Jacob, how would you want Eric to be treated at church? When you see visitors at church, what are some things you can do to help them feel welcome?
- When Rory saves Jacob from the Beast, Jacob is forced to reconsider his belief that his big sister is basically evil. Have you ever judged someone prematurely? How did they change your mind? If someone you wanted to be friends with got the wrong impression about you, how would you change their mind?
- Culture alert! People have been playing board games for as long as there have been people. Senet, Mehen, Backgammon, Pachisi, and Go were all played in Old Testament times. Today, board games are extremely popular in Europe; in Germany, a special award known as the Spiele des Jahres is given to the best new games every year. Some games have even been adapted to religious themes. What are your favorite board games?
- President Boyd K. Packer says that a "testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!" Then he says, "To speak out is the test of your faith" ("The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, January 1983, 54, 55; emphasis in original). In what ways does Jacob "speak out" in his journal? (Possible answers: he invites Eric to church, he apologizes to Jenny, he writes his testimony for future generations, he writes his testimony for himself.) Sometimes we don’t fully grasp the lessons we’ve learned until we speak them or write them down. What portions of Jacob’s testimony do you think he finds by "bearing it"? (Possible answers: that he loves his family after all, that obedience brings blessings.)