Tag Archives: Black History month

Two novels: multiple lesson plans

Little Women and/ or/ versus/ Gone with the Wind

Two classics

Neither story only for “girls” though Gone with the Wind may have more “action and adventure” while Little Women tends to be about domestic events both stories give different insights into the period of time known as “the Civil War”- American.  And boys will read and get interested in the history of the events, for both stories offer a reader a stylized “first hand” look at how war affects the personal.   Never “just political” -War invades and permeates the two stories, and with one set in the North East (Concord) while the other gives readers a Southern perspective, what both do share is a female perspective on events.  “Rosie the Riveter” may adorn posters and suggest that women played a part in going to work and taking over factory jobs in the 1900s((often volunteer positions during WW11)- what Little Women shares is how minus the male in the household, the March family girls HAVE to earn a living and doing so is neither “ordinary” nor at times “pleasant”.  Heroine Jo has a patchworked dress and only one glove to wear- Scarlett of Gone with the Wind fame manages an outfit made from former curtains- yards of extravagant material reworked, and hands that display her manual labour in the fields- bereft of gloves, they show blisters.

Close reading provides further details into what each author saw as values related to the times, however Ms. Alcott experienced the Civil war, while Margaret Mitchell recreated it.  This in itself is a question for a class to consider- the personal first hand knowledge of events versus research to highlight and backdrop a love story.  And some may even argue that Gone with the Wind is not a classic, however as a tale that grabs at one and simultaneously presents a reader with characters who later become almost archetypes for a period, Gone with the Wind deserves a review.  The text also presents strong images of plantation life and automatically lends itself to discussion of contrasting tales, tales written by former slaves, and more recent authors, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou rounded off with material from:


Writing this from my current perch in Toronto, Canada, and hoping that it won’t be seen as only for those in the United States- we live in a global time, and are bombarded by images of what ever is taking place elsewhere.  Because of this it can be difficult for students to comprehend facts of history if presented as bare facts; stories that weave the caring of people for one another make real the inter-relatedness of events- even in a pre- internet, pre -modern- technology time period.  Louisa May Alcott knew Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau two icons of American thinking and persons who ought to be discussed in conjunction with a class talk featuring American History, civil rights, Black History Month and today’s consciousness.

And if time permits – share the movies, but please-  have a few departments open up the time to show a movie properly- not in segments and pieces but as a sweeping event- when a holistic approach is taken to education, when the history department and the language arts department, and the science (imagine the topics for a discussion on technology/weapons, agriculture/communication per time period) department and today’s IT department collaborate, the message will become clear; the school cares.

( going to call this a”soap box” pitch and will be adding to the series )

Increasing Literacy

I confess

writing poetry is how I digress-

and then, it leaves my desk

a mess!

Poem inspired by the simple examples in Lois Lowry’s  novel Gooney Bird is so Absurd – a story set in a Grade 2 classroom that invites both adults and children to view the inside of an elementary class in action.  For any adult who wishes to peek inside her child’s classroom, this story will provide many a chuckle and is “just right” for emerging readers to connect with character and plot.  It also works as a primer for how to increase Literacy at home; the simple use of couplets, the encouraging of the children’s efforts, the genuine enjoyment in demonstrating how the many voices in a classroom respond to direction.  Perhaps what I liked best is that in this day and age when we profess to being about “diversity” it is fun to read a story where the children’s comments are believable and the multiple perspectives simply expressed.

I immersed myself in children’s novels these past few weeks, marveling at how some managed to convey really “big ideas” and encourage a reader of any age to “care”.  Another book that impressed: Stealing Home by Ellen Schwartz.  This one is geared to slightly older children and set in 1947- with the story of Jackie Robinson as a backdrop for the main character developing and finding both himself and his own home.  Fans of baseball will be asked to consider the importance of radio (technology at the time) as well as being given insight into what is really behind major events like “Black History Month”.  Ms. Schwartz also shares insight into a Jewish family in Brooklyn’s 1940s – as a cross cultural novel the book displays understanding of “miscommunication” and suggests how inter-generational bonds can be formed.

The Secret Garden now this one is a step back in time and for readers who already possess a strong vocabulary and who read regardless of the dialects and who can become curious about the formal and very full descriptions of time, place, and characters.  It is important to remember that writers in the last century were focusing on sharing a story, not gearing their writing to a specific age group- so many of the books which I found in the “children’s” section of the library weren’t originally written with a particular genre in mind.  The book being about friendships formed and new beginnings, can definitely be shared as an in class study for junior and even senior high school students- in the older grades there would be the opportunity to look into the politics subtly expressed.  Too often it seems books with deeper social/cultural meaning are currently being relegated as “children’s stories” which has a double sided sword.  Children do indeed absorb the nuances in a story and the extra curious will try to learn more about a particular time period or why characters may have behaved or been expected to behave in a certain way.  But older students with the deeper knowledge base may shy away from reading a novel that is labelled “children’s” even if also called a classic and then become stuck between what is available in the young adult sections- and what is enforced- that is, chosen by a teacher for classroom study.  It is a bit of a truism that reading makes readers.

As an adult I continue to be thrilled when I can find a book on Project Gutenberg, or quickly use the internet to source a topic, and am all in favour of encouraging students to value reading in all its various dimensions however there is simply something intrinsic to the feel of a book- and to the value that can be gained through taking the time to connect with voices that travel across time and space and into one’s psyche; when a novel’s characters no longer appear as words on a page but indeed become examples of people worth caring about -this happens.  And that is what is meant by how reading may encourage empathy.

Next week: some classics reviewed