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The Root Cellar

Book Report Guide


Title, Author & Publication

The Root Cellar was written by Janet Lunn and published by the Penguin Group of London in 1981.


The story begins in New York, but quickly moves to Hawthorne Bay, Ontario, a small community located right on the border of the United States. Here, the real setting, a temporal one, is exposed. The main character travels through time from present day to the 1860s where she experiences the Civil War first hand.

Main Characters

Rose Larkin: the protagonist. Twelve year old Rose is a young orphan who finds herself suddenly in the care of her father's sister and family.
The Henrys: the people who take in Rose after her grandmother dies.
Susan Morrisay: the first friend Rose makes when she travels back in time to the 1860s.
Will Morrisay: a young man, also of the 1860s, who runs away to join the Civil War.


Rose Larkin is an isolated girl who, after her grandmother dies, moves from a life of hotels and room service to the cluttered and hectic household of her Aunt Nan. Rose feels so different from her cousins and so displaced in her new home that she hides herself in the family's root cellar. Here she is shifted through time to the 1860s. The story follows Rose as she and Susan attempt to find Will, encountering on their way dangers and difficulties for which they are both unprepared. Their journey parallels Rose's own journey toward self acceptance and maturity.

Questions to Ponder

Think about these questions as you read. They will help you identify themes that are important to a comprehensive understanding of the book.

1. Examine Rose's conflict within herself:

  • How does Rose's relationship with her grandmother affect her ability to blend into her new family situation?
  • What significance is there to Rose adopting the identity of 'David Larkin' when she and Susan begin their quest to find Will?
  • Consider how often Rose mentions hunger. What does this reveal about her character?

2. Examine the perspectives of the different time periods:

  • How does Rose in present day life differ from Rose in the 1860s?
  • Why does Rose find it easier to belong in the past?
  • Consider the theme of maturity?
  • How does Rose's journey help her to grow up?
  • How does Susan contribute to the change Rose goes through?

Possible First Sentences

  • "Growing up and gaining maturity is the goal of every child's life."
  • "Accepting oneself is one of the most difficult tasks of life."
  • "Everyone needs to feel as though they belong somewhere."
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