Why teach Little Brother?

Little Brother, a novel by Canadian author Cory Doctorow, depicts the fight of a San Francisco teen against the policies of a government reeling from a terrorist attack on the Bay Bridge and Bay Area subway system. This provides the foil for Doctorow to explore the expansion of the surveillance and security states since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Books can be like time machines. They can bring us back to events and feelings long after they’ve happened. They can also be like experience machines, helping us to understand things we didn’t live through. The 9/11 attacks are one of the most important contemporary events that shape our public policy, but high school students today may not have appreciated the events as they happened, if they remember them at all. Little Brother provides an opportunity for students to imagine the feelings and fallout from such an event and explore their beliefs about the trade-off between freedom and security.

Students can build empathy for those who put the policies of the post-9/11 world in place and explore whether those policies are appropriate today and how they believe we should proceed. Fiction allows the discussion to escape the politically charged world of reality.

Similarly, the novel also presents opportunities to discuss racism, privacy, civic responsibility, the ethics of whistleblowing, a comparative discussion of Canadian law, and recent Canadian history.

Little Brother can be taught as an alternative to George Orwell’s 1984 as it covers many of the same subjects in a more contemporary context and is written by a Canadian author.


Little Brother Study Guide

Full text online as PDF (from Cory Doctorow’s website).


Exercise Sheets

Chapter 1 – 7 Exercises

Chapter 8 – 14 Exercises

Chapter 15 – 22 Exercises


Supplementary Materials

Chapters 1 – 7

Torture is Bad- So Psychologists Helped the US Redefine It (WIRED)

Greenberg – Guilty Until Proven Guilty Threatening the Presumption of Innocence

Amber Hildebrandt: CSE tracks millions of downloads daily: Snowden documents (CBC) (with video for discussion)


Chapters 8 – 14

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

U.S. Constitution

CBC News: Does racial profiling exist at the Canada-U.S. border? (with video for discussion)


Chapters 15 – 22

ACLU Fact Sheet: Extraordinary Rendition

CBC Interactive Web Resource: Ten whistleblowers and the scandals they spurred

Daniel Ellsberg credits Edward Snowden with catalysing US surveillance reform (The Guardian) (with video for discussion)


Cumulative Resources

Brown – Where is Canada’s Rage Over Digital Surveillance? (Toronto Star)

Kestler-D’Amours – Majority of Canadians oppose surveillance, new report says (Toronto Star)

Doctorow – The NSA’s Prism, Why we should care


Resource for Drama classes or acting exercises

Little Brother for stage – Full text