Don’t Call Me Ishmael


Michael Gerard Bauer

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Michael Gerard Bauer's Don’t Call Me Ishmael. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Michael Gerard Bauer

Michael Gerard Bauer was born in Brisbane, Australia. He studied English literature in college and then became an economics and English teacher in Brisbane. Bauer taught for decades until he quit his job to write his first novel, The Running Man, which was published in 2005. The Running Man won a number of awards in Australia and elsewhere, and it jumpstarted Bauer’s career as an author of young adult fiction. Don’t Call Me Ishmael was his second book; his son designed the cover art for the original Australian edition. Bauer has continued to publish about a book per year since then—some for middle-grade readers, some for younger readers, and several picture books. His novels have been translated into many different languages and published all over the world. Bauer has said that he doesn’t have the opportunity to write every day, since he spends a lot of his time speaking to school groups and attending literary festivals. He also maintains a blog and interacts with fans on Facebook. He and his wife, who was also a teacher, live in Brisbane.
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Historical Context of Don’t Call Me Ishmael

Ishmael is so focused on his own problems that he doesn’t mention much of what’s going on in the outside world—though he does reference many well-known superhero, fantasy, and sci-fi franchises, such as Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, and X-Men, which situate the novel as taking place in the early 2000s. Much of the focus in Don’t Call Me Ishmael is on bullying and its effects on students in schools. In Australia, anti-discrimination and anti-bullying legislation first started to pass in the mid-1970s. Today, many countries—including Australia—teach anti-bullying programs in schools. And while in some countries, such as the UK, there’s no formal definition of what bullying is, some U.S. states have laws banning specific types of bullying. Current research suggests that bullying can increase rates of depression in victims, which can in turn lead to an increased risk of suicide. Disabled or minority students are at a higher risk of being bullied.

Other Books Related to Don’t Call Me Ishmael

Don’t Call Me Ishmael is the first in a trilogy about Ishmael and his debating friends at St. Daniel’s. It’s followed by Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs and Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel. And, of course, Ishmael takes Herman Melville’s classic 1851 novel Moby-Dick as its inspiration (Don’t Call Me Ishmael’s protagonist is named after Moby-Dick’s narrator). Books like Dear Miss Karana by Eric Elliott and These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong are other contemporary young adult novels that take classic novels as their inspiration (Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, respectively). In interviews, Bauer has said that as a kid, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy were some of his favorite books. And though he insists he’s not purposefully writing for a specific audience, he’s also said that he tries to write funny books that will appeal specifically to boys. In this way, Bauer shares some similarities with children’s author Roald Dahl (who was insistent that children’s books should be humorous, not serious), who wrote classics like James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Other young adult and children’s novels that tackle similar themes of bullying, difference, and friendship include Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Within the novel, Scobie also reads from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and the debating team mentions J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Key Facts about Don’t Call Me Ishmael
  • Full Title: Don’t Call Me Ishmael
  • When Written: 2005
  • Where Written: Brisbane, Australia
  • When Published: 2006
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Novel, Bildungsroman, Issue Novel
  • Setting: St. Daniel’s School for Boys, an Australian secondary school
  • Climax: Ishmael chooses not to embarrass Barry in his speech to the school.
  • Antagonist: Barry Bagsley
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Don’t Call Me Ishmael

Popularity Contest. Though Melville’s novel Moby-Dick has, since its publication, gone from extremely unpopular to a famous “Great American Novel” (and its opening line, “Call me Ishmael,” has become one of the best-known lines in literature), the name Ishmael hasn’t enjoyed quite the same success. A version of the name (Ismael) is somewhat popular in Spanish-speaking countries, but in the United States, fewer than 1,000 babies are named Ishmael every year.

Rugby vs. Football. In the original Australian edition of Don’t Call Me Ishmael, the sporting event against Churchill Boys Grammar is a rugby match. The sport was changed to American football in the U.S. edition of the novel.