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WIHWT: Green Angel

Green Angel by Alice Hoffman
Green Angel by Alice Hoffman, 2010

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.

Suggested Standards:

Key Ideas and Details:

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.
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WIHWT: Red Rising

Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Red Rising by Pierce Brown

This Wish I Had Written That (WIHWT) post is about my own connections to reading. In 2009, I participated in my first Puget Sound Writing Project, via the National Writing Project. One of the requirements (or labor of love in my case) is a full-blow lesson, complete with all the lesson-y trimmings. I created, from scratch, an original lesson I titled Voices from the Grave, in order to serve the wonky 8th grade curriculum in my district: social studies does World History/Ancient Civilizations, and since I taught an 8th grade Humanities at the time, wanted to serve multiple standards. I had never heard the term ‘role playing’ but that is essentially what the unit is: you draw a character from Ancient Rome, be it a Proctor, Legate, even Obstetrix and Emperors. There were slaves, legionnaires, gladiators, eques–all types and manners of rank, privilege, jobs, and avocations. There is even a mosaic artist. The purpose of the unit is multi-layered: by immersing oneself in an ancient world, and seeing life through the eyes of the past, we can deeply learn about culture, politics, and society as well as learn content (academic and content language/knowledge). Some of the best work I’ve ever read was from a struggling student who became a legionnaire: down to his hob-nailed boots and a description of his death. He became this foot soldier, and I know he will never forget the transference of skills and knowledge: soldiers move nations, for the generals and the emperors.

I switch from Humanities to ELA, and the the Box of Destiny was born: become a Greek god/goddess, and present in original voice “your” story. This novel is replete with Greek/Roman influences, and its plot structure hangs on a hierarchal, archetypal mythic proportions. To see an 8th grade girl transform herself into Athena or misunderstood Medusa is truly sublime.

Good stuff.

“Matched me with a little girl. I tried to kill her softly … but she wouldn’t die.” Pollux grunts something and claps me on the shoulder. He tries a sour chuckle. “We’ve got it raw, but at least we’re not Reds, you register?”

Brown, Pierce (2014-01-28). Red Rising (The Red Rising Trilogy, Book 1) (p. 371). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Now: combine all of that, a hefty nod to Hunger Games, and a flawed hero, and you have one of the best monomythic tales: Red Rising. I just finished it, and began its sequel, Golden Sun. The potential for rich conversations about class, wealth, power, human nature, politics, love and war. And how legends are created, and destroyed. Just looking at through the lens of lies and control would be enough.

He ignores me. “They heard her song and they call her Persephone already.” I flinch and look over at him. No. That is not her name. She is not their symbol. She doesn’t belong to these brigands with trumped-up names. “Her name is Eo,” I sneer. “And she belongs to Lykos.” “She belongs to her people now, Darrow. And they remember the old tales of a goddess stolen from her family by the god of death. Yet even when she was stolen, death could not forever keep her. She was the Maiden, the goddess of spring destined to return after each winter. Beauty incarnate can touch life even from the grave; that’s how they think of your wife.”

Brown, Pierce (2014-01-28). Red Rising (The Red Rising Trilogy, Book 1) (p. 64). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Questions of trust: from our most personal relationships to our relationships with government and institutions. After reading this novel, I wish I was teaching 8th grade (it does have some implied references to some grittier concepts). I would pair it with Voices from the Grave, and add the element of power and control. And a lot more questions.

Back to the mines.

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Media Festival: Go West, Teacher! (Part 2)

Is that 19th Century Texting?!
Is that 19th Century Texting?!

This is a follow-up to Part 1 of “Go West, Teacher!” One of my burning questions is a ‘Now and Then’ sort of game — what do we do now, and what did folks do back then to (fill in the blank)? Many of these will be treated in a constructivist model, with the questions posed as writing about what students’ experiences are now, and then constructing and inquiring about the past. Any suggestions for constructing meaning and thinking are welcome. 

How did the Europeans construct their ‘new world?’ What ideals should they have left behind, and what values and technologies help them survive? (What IF they had left some of their values behind and embraced the indigenous cultures’ values instead–how might our country be different?)

1692 Salem Witch Trials

‘The Crucible” by Arthur Miller

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

How did people find someone to date?

When Flirtation Cards Were All The Rage

Handkerchief Flirting

What did people read for fun?

Washington Irving

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820)

The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – maybe just close reading excerpts, and let them have all the fun in high school?

Edgar Allan Poe (b. 1809)

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes –though published in 1906, it harkens back to earlier times.

The Emergence of Popular Culture in Colonial America

American Folklore


American Fairy Tales by L. Frank Baum

Her Stories: African Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales –Virginia Hamilton

…and I basically bought out the collection of Laurie Halse Anderson.

Who wrote, and why? How were items published? How was freedom of speech manifested and protected then?

*Note to self: research into literary period timelines

*Note to self: re-read Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates

How are the Amendments interpreted now?

Bill of Rights

What were forms of entertainment? 

How were gender roles defined, and why?

1747 John Greenwood (Amerian colonial era artist, 1727-1792) The Greenwood-Lee Family MFA (2)
The Greenwood-Lee Family

By the time of the Revolution, historian Jane Carson writes, second to their dolls, the “favorite toy of little girls” was the tea set, sold in Williamsburg shops. This toy offered the colonial girl an opportunity to play at the enormously popular adult pastime, the tea ceremony, which had captivated Americans from the wealthiest to the lower classes. So popular had tea services and daily rituals surrounding the consumption of the beverage become that a survey of estate inventories in New York from 1742 through 1768 shows that wealthy and lowly estates in cities as well as in rural areas included the essentials: teapots, cups, saucers, and teaspoons. The boycott of tea called in response to the Townshend Act of 1767 did not alter the behavior of many colonials, and even those who gave up tea continued their tea ceremonies by substituting chocolate or coffee.

Who contributed to the dialogue?

African-American Women Writers of the 19th Century

African-American Writers/Thinkers of the 19th Century

Women Writing in 19th Century America

Female Writers 19th Century

A Time-Line of Native American Culture

More questions…

How did teenage girls become women? –look across all cultures – more research

How did teenage boys become men?–look across all cultures–more research

Dare I venture back to my fifth grade experience? Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes

What was school like? Who received an education, and how?

'11 Ways School Was Different in the 1800s'
’11 Ways School Was Different in the 1800s’

How did they punish criminals? What were considered crimes compared to now?

And of course, the most important question: how do I keep future generations from believing “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is fact?

vampire hunter

I appreciate your indulgence in these ‘curation posts’.


Just as a placeholder, here are the texts used for 7th grade (Washington State) in the past:

novel sets

A unit on Japanese Interment camps would be excellent. No to “Jackie’s Wild” and “Walk Across the Sea”…hard to teach texts that are not engaging personally.

Chock full of unity-goodness, just needs updating and refinement.

 These texts must be reviewed through the text complexity lens, and many other filters, too.