Thursday, January 31, 2019

What the Creature Read

I haven't really looked at myself in a long time, but I think this is what I look like to my students, especially today when I sort of lit into them about rudeness and respect and the difficulty of teaching when they're walking around making cup o'noodles and chatting to one another and blurting out questions completely unrelated to the subject I'm talking about. I'm not kidding about the cup o'noodles. I think they got the message, though, because they got really, really quiet and apologized and then sang me some kind of song which was kind of embarrassing, but, damn, they're sweet and I just love my new job. I had them do this presentation in small groups about What the Creature Read, and each presentation was so original and interesting and funny and intelligent, that all my frustration melted away. If you're interested, we are finishing up a unit on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and since the theme I chose to dwell upon was empathy in the novel, and I found a really good curriculum on the world wide webs, the project was for each group to review a famous novel or work of literature that the Creature read when he found a bunch of books in a bag outside the home where he was staying. They had to answer a series of questions about why Shelley had chosen for the Creature to read those books and think critically about all of it. (Lord the whole phrase critical thinking!) The books Mary Shelley had him read included Milton's Paradise Lost, Goethe's Young Werther and Plutarch's Lives, and in lieu of my students reading all of those, I printed out some summaries and they went from there. If you're interested, The Creature basically learned from these books how to feel and how to live, so my students worked in groups and placed themselves into the Creature's shoes. They were incredibly creative, down to re-titling the books themselves, which was part of the assignment. For Paradise Lost, they changed it to Garden Gone Wrong. The Sorrows of Young Werther became The Book of Sad Love. One group did a silly play that was quite funny and each group made astounding drawings.

I hope it's okay that I put this up on the old blog. I am filled with delight over these girls when I'm not wildly distracted by their chattiness and unruliness and devotion to cup o'noodles. I'm looking for book selections for the 3rd term for the 12th grade -- thinking of Virginia Woolf perhaps, but which one? For the 11th grade, I'm thinking of Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. It's so profoundly American and has lots of music in it to break up the dryness. What do you think? Any ideas? Remember that I have massive restrictions on what I can teach -- no sex or romance or extreme violence or teenage pregnancy or suicide or mutilation or abuse or or or or or or.

The Bird-Catcher

When fighting time is on, I go
With clap-net and decoy
A-fowling after goldfinches
And other birds of joy;

I lurk among the thickets of
The Heart where they are bred,
And catch the twittering beauties as
They fly into my Head

Ralph Hodgson, b. 1879, Northumberland 

Thank you, dear Andrea, for sending me this poem.


  1. Whatever you teach, WOW, it seems like it will be the stuff of inspiration and deep engagement. It makes me happy just to imagine it. Would you consider integrating in any Facing History resources? ( Or would those massive restrictions be an issue? I would love to be in your class -- except for the noodle business. I just cannot with the cup o'noodle.

  2. The Cup O'Noodle seems to be The Thing with Today's Teens, my Granddaughter practically survives on them along with all of her 7th Grade Friends! Your Students sound delightful and so typically Youthful even with the seriousness that is Learning... I can clearly see the Love you put into your Lessons for them. I Wish I had some helpful suggestions, alas, I am not great scholar and still prefer books with pictures... LOL!

  3. I am blown.away. Those lucky, lovely girls!

  4. Last night I dreamed I was entering academia via poetry, believe it or not, and there is no explanation for this in my mind except that you, dear Elizabeth, have influenced me more than even I realized.
    Gosh. If only your parameters were a bit looser on what your darlings can read. They sound amazing. "The Book of Sad Love." Yes. Exactly.

  5. I love that your students sang a song to you after you spoke up about rudeness. I love your teaching and their responsiveness to it. Last night I dreamed that I saw a tiny goldfinch that brought me joy.

    To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf.

  6. Cup O' Noodles in CLASS? I'm trying to imagine how that's even possible. So you can't teach books containing romance at all -- or just romance that includes sex? Prohibiting ALL romance is a pretty tall order.

  7. How about Pentimento by Lillian Hellman? Savage Beauty, The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford, or Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor. I THINK those are all OK??? Willa Cather good, the earlier Virginia Woolf (The Voyage Out) might be easier for High School kids, rather than the later more stylistic stuff (that we love!).

  8. So Anna Karenina is out? I love this lesson plan and want to personally do it. Thank you again Elizabeth. Your writing settles me.

  9. To be honest I can't imagine anything worse than teaching teenage girls literature. Teenage girls are emotional terrorists at times. I personally loved English class but most of the kids in the class were there to do their time. And for me, a class where we were told to read, heaven.

    It's so nice that the parents are preparing their daughters for real life. No sex, no violence, no romance. As my coworker would say, What the What!

  10. What a wonderful post! Amidst the slurping of noodles, Paradise Lost and Lives!

  11. We should all have had literature teachers like you! The assignment sounds wonderfully imaginative and you obviously gave inspired guidance that allowed your students to rise to the challenge. The Book of Sad Love is a fantastic retitling. Brava, you.

  12. Love Willa Cather. I think My Antonia would teach better than SOL, but there is an attempted rape and A. has a baby out of wedlock. But in SOL Fred and Thea are romantically involved and run off to Mexico while Fred is married to someone else. There is adultery in Oh Pioneers!, but both characters die. Maybe that would please the arbiters of morality? Shadows on the Rock is lovely and interesting, and My Mortal Enemy is grim and interesting.

  13. Hello, Elizabeth!
    I followed you here from Steve Reed's blog, and I love this question. Books pretty much got me through my miserable teenage-girl years.

    I haven't kept up with YA fic though, but classics are still great, right?

    Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" and Sophocles's "Antigone" are both great depictions of girls/young women who bravely insist on following their own code, risking a high price.
    Their codes may seem outdated but the girls' passion for them is relatable-
    --and updateable!
    Quick search--I see the Classical Theater of Harlem presented Antigone as a "Black Lives Matter" play last summer

    Not sure how limited you are re violence, but "Jane Eyre" could be paired with Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea", to show how every story has another side--what are the people in the background thinking?

    Jane Austen could be fun to mix-and-match with contemporary retellings too.

    Haven't read these since high school some-40 years ago, but loved Carson McCullers' "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter", and "My Antonia" too (never read SOL).

    Is this strictly fiction? If not, I'd vote for Woolf's "A Room of One's Own."

    Toni Morrisson's "Bluest Eye" and "Sula" (I can't remember how explicit these are though...).

    I guess "Handmaid's Tale" is out?

    I love that the girls sang you a song!

    Good luck: I think this would be a hard but awesome job!



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