As the north winds of late November begin to roar, EDSITEment heralds three lions of American literature whose birthdays are celebrated this week. Stave off the winter cold with close readings of their classic tales while meeting the requirements of the Common Core.These authors and their novels top the list of CCSS Grade 6–8 exemplars under the category “Stories”: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women; Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time; Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Appendix B.)
EDSITEment and the National Endowment for the Humanities have developed resources to support Common Core teaching applications for each of these literary masters and their masterworks and offer teacher opportunities to apply the following Anchor Reading standard: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Louisa May Alcott
"Little Woman," a feature article from Humanities magazine, offers a fresh perspective on the beloved author of that old chestnut, Little Women. Teachers as well as students may be surprised to learn there were many sides to Louisa May Alcott. She was quite the “devilish dutiful daughter” who acted the part of an irrepressible tomboy in her youth. Louisa May “never liked girls or [had] many” girlfriends other than her three siblings. As a young writer, she could hardly imagine how much their family experiences would resonate with the world at large.
A host of teaching resources for this author are available on the website of the NEH-funded documentary, The Woman behind Little Women, which offers secondary lesson plans and other background materials on Louisa May’s life and work. Further engage students with Louisa's intellectual world by accessing EDSITEment’s interactive introduction to Thoreau’s Circle, in which students can draw interconnections among members of this small group of American literati. Students can chart the influence of Henry David Thoreau on Louisa May and uncover events that brought her fiction to life! CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.3 Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).
In her Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech, Madeleine L’Engle pinpoints her connection to Alcott, “in boarding school I grabbed Invincible Louisa the moment it came into the library because Louisa May Alcott had the same birthday I have, and the same ambitions.” EDSITEment’s lesson on L’Engle’s Newbery Award winning novel, A Wrinkle in Time, examines a young heroine, Meg Murry, who undergoes a series of coming-of-age trials. The lesson invites students to re-experience her archetypal journey through space and time in the form of a board game where, as in the novel itself, Meg's progress is either thwarted or advanced by aspects of her emotional responses to situations. By tracking the heroine's changing sense of self, students render the physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges she experiences through her mythic rite of passage into elements of the game they design themselves! CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.2 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.
Twain opens his classic tale, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with a tongue-in-cheek warning: “PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot!” Never mind. Critics have spent 130 years examining every literary device within this “Great American Novel” since its publication in 1885. EDSITEment offers students their own opportunity to flout Twain’s admonition with Critical Ways of Seeing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Context. In this lesson, students compare and contrast the ideas presented in two published critiques of the novel. They examine two critical voices from two different eras and juxtapose their own 21st-century reading of the novel against them. Contemporary events and social mores in effect during the critics’ lives are used to determine the influence of cultural context on their reviews. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.9 Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.
EDSITEment provides students with a different means of delving further into this great American bard by investigating Mark Twain and American Literary Humor. This lesson offers a close reading of his story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and an opportunity to trace its literary predecessors. They discover how Twain masterfully combined the vibrant, storytelling tradition rooted in folk tale, fable, and gossip with the calculated literary devices of satire, irony, and wit. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.6 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.
Literary legends are big game to be tracked anew by each generation of readers of American literature. EDSITEment resources offer teachers a way to evaluate their texts in light of the new Standards and provide vehicles to safari students through traditional close readings of their timeless tales.
ABOUT THE IMAGE
From "The North Wind and the Sun," in The Æsop for Children, by Æsop, illustrated by Milo Winter. Wikimedia Commons.