Tag Archive for House on Mango Street

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

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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.

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



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