Archive for Non-Fiction to Pair with Coming of Age novels

Week in Review: Non Fiction to Pair with Coming of Age

 

           Friday Dialogue from                

                                      Your Two Favorite Educators 

As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss teen angst, Ugg boots, and coming of age novels.

1.)  Tuesday’s post links to George Will’s article that harshly criticizes teens for wearing denim. What clothing item that teens wear would you like to critically memorialize in your own op-ed?

Aubrey: Ugg boots. With skirts. And no tights. How is that a look? What does it say? I like to dress up but wear slipper moon boots? Ick.

Emily: I completely agree. What is with the skirt and boots? Isn’t the point of boots to wear them when it’s cold? Why wear a skirt when you’re cold? I also have another pet peeve. What is with boys wearing skin tight pants and bright neon shoes? I feel like an old lady but just don’t understand that look either. Read more

Non-Fiction to Pair with Coming of Age: Role of Parenting

Image from Eva Maria

I love my niece and nephew and my friend’s children, but the more I’m around them the more I realize how incredibly tough it is to be a parent.  It is, without a doubt, the hardest job imaginable.  Not only is there no instruction manua,l but, as literature has shown us, parents screwing up is the primary reason the memoir genre even exists–ahem, Augusten Burroughs and Jeannette Walls.  In fact, so much of who we are as adults is shaped by the way in which we are raised.  Therefore, when looking for pieces of non-fiction to pair with coming-of-age novels, consider providing texts that explore the role of parenting.  These could bring about discussions hypothesizing the way in which our character’s personalities are shaped.

Welcome to the Age of Overparenting,” is an article that appeared in Boston Magazine that describes the consequences of being too protective as a parent and provides suggestions on how to parent.  Have your students read the article and identify the qualities that lead to and the effects of overparenting.  Then, have them evaluate the role of parenting as possible interpretative motivations for the actions of the characters in the following pieces of literature:  David Copperfield, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Hamlet, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Jane Eyre.  Even a text that is antithetical, like To Kill a Mockingbird, would work well with this article.

In a different activity, have the students compare and contrast the methods of parenting in “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” by Amy Chua, and “No More Mrs Nice Mom,” by Judith Warner.  These texts in particular would be great pieces to study alongside “Mother Tongue,” by Amy Tan, another piece of non-fiction.  While all are explicitly cultural-based and would work well with similar-focused novels like House on Mango Street and Song of Solomon, the interpretation deduced from these articles could be used in conjunction with the above texts as well.

Non-Fiction to Pair with Coming of Age: Conflict

Ugh…junior high.  Even though I interviewed for a high school position, the first job offer I received was for 6th grade.  It was also the first job I rejected.  People told me I was a dumb naïve 22-year-old (which I very well might have been), but I remembered too vividly how horrible junior high and the early years of high school were.  We were all on a quest to understand ourselves and in the process created insecurities and anxieties, all of which came about because of envy.  While I’ve worked through (most of) my deep-seeded insecurities, I’m still surrounded by them through my students.  There is something about adolescence that perpetuates this sense of envy and usually serves as the largest source of conflict in high school.  Even though the students might not realize it, so many of their disputes and problems come from a type of envy they feel toward another.  The same is true of the literature that reflects this growth and initiation into adulthood.  When studying the conflict that arises in coming-of-age novels, students need to consider the root of it:  envy.  The below examples of non-fiction pair nicely with fiction because they pose questions about the nature and effects of envy and fighting. 

Excerpt from The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer, Arthur Schopenhauer.  A more challenging piece of non-fiction, Schopenhauer delineates the different types of envy and the cause of them.  Have students identify the various types of envy described by Schopenhauer and argue which type best correlates with characters from the fiction they are reading.  Natural connections with fiction can be found with Lord of the Flies, Hamlet, House on Mango Street, the Harry Potter series, and Atonement.

Excerpt from On Duties, Cicero.  Another challenging essay, Cicero evaluates the nature of fighting as it is born out of envy.  He ascertains that the way in which we treat others during battle reveals a lot about the character of the individual.  Even though this text deals primarily with war, this could be explored in a more figurative sense with the conflict between two characters.  Again, provide the essay and have students determine how Cicero would describe the moral fiber of the characters based on their knowledge of both the non-fiction and fiction pieces.  Consider pairing this with The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Hamlet, and Lord of the Flies.

Non-Fiction to Pair with Coming of Age: Examine the Teenager

Image from Vivian Chen

Teenagers love themselves and all are, to some degree, self absorbed.  Seriously.  If I had a $5 Arby’s gift card for every time a student made some self-important comment I’d be rolling in Beef ‘N Cheddars.

But I don’t fault them.  That is the perk of being a teenager, right?  Living without consequence or fear or responsibility.  Yet, because of their narcissistic view, they often struggle to see the big picture because they struggle to see outside of their immediate lives.  This certainly causes a problem for interpretation.  As a teacher of teenagers, I feel it is my duty to make them more self-aware and ask them to evaluate who they are and what they believe and where these values came from, which will allow them to better evaluate a text.

Coming-of-age novels are typically brought into the classroom for students to relate to and learn from.  Reading a novel in this genre allows students the opportunity to place themselves in the situations and scenarios and consider how they would respond if they were the main character.  Yet, it is important for us to not just keep the self-exploration limited to the text itself.  For some students, it is impossible to connect to a character from the 19th century, regardless of the similar traits they possess.  Therefore, providing contemporary essays and articles about their generation as a supplement to the coming-of-age novel allows students a great opportunity to examine themselves and their values in the guise of fiction.

Below are a series of essays/articles that explore the current nature of the teenager and would serve as nice supplements to pieces of literature.

  • A Generations vanity NYTarticle by John Tierney-NYT: This article examines the lyrics of songs popular with contemporary teenagers and deduces that the narcissicism encourages a sense of isolation and loneliness.  This article might be a nice supplement to a song/text comparison, which allows students to discuss how music becomes an indicator of a group’s mentality.  Even though this article addresses the narcissistic nature of teenagers, due to its discussion of depression it can be appropriately be connected to pieces like Hamlet,  Catcher in the Rye, The Chocolate War, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
  • Demon Denim,” op-ed by George Will from The Washington Post:  This conversationally constructed opinion piece is a fascinating look at the moral degeneration of today’s teenagers and their inability to “grow up.”  Ask students to study the root of Will’s argument and evaluate the extent to which it is true today.  While it might not always align with the main character, consider pairing this op-ed with many of the pieces stated above as well as This Side of Paradise, Lord of the Flies, and A Separate Peace.
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death Postman,” excerpt from Neil Postman book:  Critic Neil Postman is known for his clear and often biting opinions.  In this piece he critiques the way in which culture has created an ill-informed society that has a difficult time thinking for oneself.  While this piece is centered around media, it can be used as a study of how teenagers are ultimately shaped by their environment and the manner in which they bend to fit into various cultures.  Ask students to examine the consequences of Postman’s argument and then compare and contrast it with the fictionalized characters in pieces like Never Let Me Go, Atonement, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Coming of Age Non-Fiction Pairings: Overview

 

     Like most 18-year-olds, I entered college having no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I had narrowed down the search and decided to take a class in each of the majors hoping it would produce an existential moment of clarity: I was destined to be a ________. As a result, I took an English class on Shakespeare. The course description said we would read and study a variety of Shakespearean plays and I knew from my in-depth study of Shakespeare in high school (which is code for Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet) that I love, love, loved Shakespeare. Then I got the syllabus and saw we were reading 14 plays in 16 weeks. I suddenly became terrified. To me, this was like running a marathon. Intense, vigorous, and entirely unnecessary. Yet, I committed to the cause. By the end of the semester, my puerile ponderings were correct: I was in love with Shakespeare except now I could justify my infatuation with a variety of histories, tragedies, and comedies. During that semester I realized that I would never be a writer. However, I knew I wanted reading to be a prevalent part of my career: hence the decision to pursue English education.

     With the implementation of the Common Core standards, many teachers, myself included, are nervous about what will happen to our beloved literature, the pieces that we connected with so deeply that we were willing to enter into a professional marriage just to be able to read the same play every year and have a fresh experience through our students’ first reading. With the emphasis on non-fiction in the Common Core (because on-the-job reading rarely requires reciting Tennyson) is it possible to still teach the canon?

     The answer is a resounding yes. However, the way in which we teach the classics will (and should) change. The key is to use solid non-fiction to supplement the core pieces of fiction found in the book rooms of most high schools. In the coming weeks we are going to provide suggestions of companion texts to major types/themes of fiction. This week we will be exploring non-fiction pieces to supplement a variety of coming-of-age novels, with titles ranging from The House on Mango Street to Hamlet

 

 

Photo from marie-II