Now the thought of Chuck Palahniuk writing the back story for a cartoon intrigues me, and I began to think of multiple mash-ups of writers and stories. This morning I envisioned a complete Nathanial Hawthorne Scarlet Letter version of Rugrats, whereas every time Angelica attempts to bully the babies she must wear her insignia “A” embroidered on her chest, serving multiple purposes. The adults are the villagers, of course, standing firm in judgment. Well, it played out better before I had coffee. Now I’m not so sure.
But what about Stephen King and a treatment of Roadrunner? I think Kurt Vonnegut could do justice to Bugs Bunny. Or as John quoted, ‘create sad backstories to all the Animaniacs.’ Brilliant. This, of course, is the essence of fan fiction, with a hefty side of writer’s craft, style, and voice for good measure.
Allow me to meander a bit:
Ayn Rand takes over an episode of Invader Zim.
Neil Gaiman rewrites a ‘Hey, Arnold’ episode.
J.K. Rowling takes on Powerpuff Girls.
G.R.R. Martin rewrites Dexter’s Laboratory.
Dr. Seuss: Ren and Stimpy, of course.
Suzanne Collins and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.
Okay, I could go on all day. I am seeing a really fun lesson idea here: D&D dice with each number associated with an author and then a second roll for the cartoon episode.
What other ideas come to mind?
Now–parents–think for a second. When I was growing up Bugs Bunny and his ilk alluded to operas, literature, film, etc. I know there are ‘jokes for grownups’ in current children’s media, today, too, but I am a bit out of touch with the ten and under crowd these days. My sons are 18 and 21, and they share gritty, funny binge-worthy media. We are long past the Rugrats days. If you’re a parent of kids under 10-11 and let them watch tv, what do they watch?
Did you ever buy a book, tried to engage, and then put it down? This is one such novel: I’ve had it for years (6 years? 8 years?) on my nightstand, and somehow it shimmied back up to the surface, and yes, the timing is perfect.
The narrative flawlessly stitches together constructs from the pre-Revolutionary period: from the Age of Enlightenment to the burgeoning economic and social demands of the Colonies to England. The mythic narrative told to me while I was in high school included a one-direction, one perspective: England/King = Crazy: Patriots=Good and Righteous. They lost. We win, and then sing a song with a weird F sharp. (But modern singers get over this hurdle with their flourishes and trills.) Women and slaves are not represented, except by the odd, racist background chorus of servants, and the token Betsy Ross or Dolly Madison mention.
This novel made me research: willingly and joyfully. There is much mentioned where my background and knowledge is lacking. Does everything come at a cost? Every piece of enlightenment that betrays humanity, is that the price? Making the connections between when England began its emancipation process and abolition, and concurrently as the suspicions and fear of the Colonists grew over the slaves in their midst, it stands to reason that the U.S. would never willingly give up control over other human beings, and created a legacy we may never shake, and perhaps nor should we.
“…boots us nothing to feel rage for things that long ago transpired. We must curb our fury, and allow sadness to diminish, and speak our stories with coolness and deliberation. “Animum rege, qui nisi paret, imperat,” quoth the poet Horace. “Rule thy passion, for unless it obeys, it rules you.” I ask the Lord God Jehovah for strength to forgive. Whatever I have felt about those men, I have much to thank them for. They lavished luxuries upon me. They supported my every interest and encouraged my curiosity. They instructed me in the Christian religion. They taught me the tongues of the Greeks and the Romans and opened for me the colonnaded vistas of those long-forgotten empires, in this, the dawning of a new empire. They schooled me in music, which is my greatest delight. These are not little things.
I do not believe they ever meant unkindness.”
Anderson, M. T. (2011-01-25). The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party (p. 13). Candlewick Press. Kindle Edition.
There is disturbing irony in this idea, of not intending harm.
This has my full attention now, in between grading, preparing for conferences, and relatives coming over to our broken-down house for Thanksgiving. But I am grateful for my home, and for my family, and those who strive for peace and equity.
The novel may be too much for my seventh-grade students. The voice is 18th Century Enlightened Man With Classical Education, a voice in a modern work I’ve never been exposed to until now. But this isn’t just any Enlightened Man, it’s Octavian.
This Wish I Had Written That comes courtesy of Emily St. John Mandel, the author of Station Eleven. Granted, again I am sharing a novel with a few adult/mature audiences overtones: when I search through my Kindle and look for profanities, a few bubble up, but nothing I noticed while reading. Not sure what that says about my numbness to vulgarities. There is a tame love scene, but many allusions to much more difficult ‘trigger-warning’ level events. Hey, it’s the end of the world as we know it–people who didn’t behave pre-post-apocalypse sure aren’t going to be better post-post-apocalypse.
I include this as my WIHWT, however, because it struck me how much and how little all of us are prepared for world’s end, both literally and figuratively. How much we encourage our students to do “maker spaces” and “genius hours,” to construct whole notions of thinking based off of the borg known as the Internet, encourage them not to learn how to write by hand but by keyboard, yet cherish and make precious artisanship. We send so many mixed messages. Learn to code, but forget teaching math basics: Project-Based learning of ‘real world’ problems but don’t teach them fundamental sciences such as the process of cell division or photosynthesis. Students look at my “teacher” handwriting with such longing, as if I know how to bake a pie from scratch and deny them this knowledge.
I realize at this point you’re fashioning a lovely tin-foil hat for me, and I’ll take it and wear it with pride. That’s what a good story does: makes us take long, painful looks at the current situation and consider other possible worlds. Perhaps these quaint ‘how to’s’ will serve our future well. In the meantime, I’m thinking of converting all my e-books back to paper and ink ones. Those things are going to be worth something someday.
(Note to self: ask Cult of Pedagogy if she makes any cash from her links to Amazon.)
This “Wish I Had Written That” is stretching a bit here — this novel is meant for grown-ups. This is not a recommendation for secondary students, although if seniors in high school, or even my own children, wanted to read this novel or anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I’d be proud. (As it is, my older son is trying to get me to read Goncharov and my younger one understand the mastery of Dungeons & Dragons, and geological surveys–good luck with that, kids.) But it does need a little life experience under one’s belt. A little bit of context. And full disclosure: I couldn’t have written this. The protagonist has her own story, and for me to make even presumptions or connections about race, love, family, or hair would be disingenuous. (The protagonist is a blogger, but makes a living from it. I’m also not quite there yet!)
But I still think it should be required reading. Wait–scratch that. Read if you want to know about race, love, family, and hair. And surviving yourself through your twenties, and finding your way. Or, if you’re beyond your twenties, how you found your way, which you surely did.
Tomorrow night is night I look forward to–it’s Book Club night. This month’s selection was my choice–I chickened out and gave the ladies a choice, between this book and J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. When the book club members overwhelmingly chose Rowling’s book, at first I was a little disappointed because I really want to read Americanah. (That’s what I get for my chicken-ness.) However, I was not disappointed after reading Rowling’s first ‘grown up’ book. I loved it. She is a master of characters, connections, and layers of plots that are never ‘sub’ to anything, but partner plots that hold the whole story together. The only thing I may regret is that I will not have another grown-up to talk about Americanah with.
And what a concept: that I’m truly sorry I have no one in real time to discuss a great book and author. And that–that is what I want to ignite in my classroom. Not just “read it” –but read it so you can talk about it. A book shared is a gift from our inner lives, our inner thoughts: what others come to believe or interpret about literature is sublime and…it’s love.
Last night I was out to dinner with my husband, and telling him about my Renaissance with ‘The Raven‘ by Edgar Allan Poe and 7th grade students. I am not the same teacher I was so many years ago, and have learned over the past four to five years to let the students do most of the heavy mental lifting. Being in on their discussions as they grapple with stanzas and translate early 19th century gothic poetry is so fun. My husband brought up that Poe was not a favorite of his until he heard ‘Annabel Lee.’ Being the modern woman I am, found the poem on my phone, and he looked it over again, and offered new insight to the beauty of some of its lines…how beautiful a concept that angels, who are supposed to be so beatific and perfect, could be jealous of humans’ love…
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
By talking about a poem, I learned something new about my husband, even after 23 years.
Now I’m not sure how to tell students what this all means, how to show them what’s in front of them, and what beauty is around the corner for them, too. I’ll try to figure out a way though–look through my old scrolls and tomes of quaint and curious lore, of long forgotten lesson plans of book talks and sharing of tales, and see what they create. These experiences, too, add to their own stories.
Are there books or texts you desperately want to teach, to introduce, yet never find the right moment? The place in the curriculum, scope and sequence, where a text resides permanently in outlier territory? Green Angel is one such novel for me. This Wish I Had Written That, authored by one of my favorite writers, Alice Hoffman, tells a powerful story of loss, identity, and regrowth. It’s short, only 116 small pages, and is one of those stories that still leaves me aching and in awe over the human spirit. Some say it’s a parable for the events of 9/11, and while that may be the case, it’s themes lend themselves to catastrophe and devastation over time and space.
Some guiding questions:
Closely read the colophon: Describe the structure of the text, and question why the writer requested this. (Buy a copy of the book or review on Amazon to understand this lens–do not want to impede on its copyright laws.)
Closely read the introduction–who is speaking? What are they telling us, and in what timing? Why did the writer use this pacing?
This is how it happened I once believed that life was a gift. I thought whatever I wanted I would someday possess. Is that greed, or only youth? Is it hope or stupidity? As far as I was concerned the future was a book I could write to suit myself, chapter after chapter of good fortune. All was right with the world, and my place in it was assured, or so I thought then. I had no idea that all stories unfold like white flowers, petal by petal, each in its own time and season, dependent on circumstance and fate. The future is something no one can foretell. My family had always lived on the ridgetop above the village in a county where days were sunny and warm. At twilight, dusk wove across the meadows like a dream of the next day to come. People said we were blessed, and maybe that was true. My father was honest and strong. My mother collected blue jay feathers, preferring them to her pearls. My little sister, Aurora, was as wild as she was beautiful.
Hoffman, Alice (2010-02-01). Green Angel (Kindle Locations 11-19). Scholastic Inc.. Kindle Edition.
There are multiple themes to discuss. Keep in mind not to steer students’ thinking to ONE big idea–there are multiple discussion points.
“Or that the book is a commentary on the value of our memories. All rich books have several themes. When a teacher predetermines “the” theme, the teacher also predetermines the students’ thinking. So what do I mean when I say I want students to generate their own thinking? Let’s return to The Giver, for example. Before reading the novel, I would have told my students that there were several large ideas imbedded in the text and that their job as they read would be to identify one or more of them and to track the development of the ideas. After reading a few chapters, I would schedule a day for the class to revisit their reading. Instead of assigning a theme to track, I might put them in small groups and ask them, “What’s worth talking about in this chapter? What big ideas are beginning to emerge?” ”
Gallagher, Kelly (2015-02-28). In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom (Kindle Locations 2873-2879). Stenhouse Publishers. Kindle Edition.
I highly recommend this secondary-level novel if you’re doing any teaching discussing and considering loss, identity, destruction, regrowth, sibling and family relationships, etc. Add informational texts from 9/11, and use StoryCorp and This I Believe to hear real narratives. It’s an opportunity to compare how the writer crafts a narrative to tell a ‘true’ story, and how truth, fact, and opinion often live together.
Ah, what a wonderful world with so many stories to tell…
Postscript: Writing opportunities–
*Write a brief analysis of how the writer introduces the main character, and how this supports style/craft.
*Write a quick narrative introducing the story from the sister’s point of view.
*Write a news report of the events.
*Write a perspective from the attackers’ point of view.
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
Craft and Structure:
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver)