January was a time to set the stage for the new year, a fresh start at the semester, and to delve into my favorite genres to teach: drama and poetry! I loved guiding my kids through difficult texts–and I always love a good excuse to say Don John the Bastard or gush about Lady Macbeth!
Day 54: “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye
What It’s About: This is a poem about burning the minutiae of the previous year and holding on to the few things that last.
What It’s About: My favorite Shakespeare play! I’ve already summarized it, I believe, so here’s an explanation of this line: Lady Macbeth is coaching Macbeth to commit evil acts by looking sweet, but being venomous. Gah. Love that woman.
Day 56: You Can’t Take It With You
What It’s About: This is a depression-era play that is a basic meet-the-parents dilemma with a rich, conservative family and a tax-evading family of misfits. Think “The Birdcage,” but for the Depression. The lesson? You can’t take “it” (money, fame, glory) with you, so you might as well enjoy the little things and avoid taxes. A good story for those struggling with money.
Day 57: Much Ado About Nothing
What It’s About: Don John the Bastard’s first speech. I love thinking of Keanu Reeves performing this in the Kenneth Branagh version — he is such an emo Don John!
Day 58: Twelfth Night
What It’s About: One of the big themes in Twelfth Night is a question: how much do we really know the people we fall in love with? In this excerpt, Olivia hints at her love for Cesario (Viola disguised as a man), and Viola hints back that Olivia is barking up the wrong tree.
Day 59: “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What It’s About: OK, this isn’t a book or a poem, but Adichie is a writer so I’m counting it as literary. In this TED talk, she speaks of a “single story”–when people go by the one-sided narrative that they have been fed about a people, instead of understanding their complexity as human beings.
We closed this semester with The Odyssey and world epics, then began transitioning into plays. And of course I had to throw in A Christmas Carol for the holidays! No read online links this time–I’ll provide them for my next round of whiteboards!
Day 40: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
What It’s About: A teenager searches for the truth behind his grandfather’s death, and finds out a secret about his family and a hidden community of children.
Day 41: The Odyssey
What It’s About: Following the Trojan War, Odysseus is lost at sea for 20 years. This epic poem from Ancient Greece tells of his adventures as well as the trials facing his wife and son at home.
Day 42: The Hobbit
What It’s About: The first story in Tolkien’s amazing Middle-Earth series, this book follows Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves who are out to reclaim a mountain from a dragon.
Day 43: The Epic of Gilgamesh
What It’s About: The original bromance, this ancient text is about Gilgamesh and his buddy Enkidu, and the lengths to which one would go to save his best friend.
Day 44: The Journey to the West // The Monkey and The Monk
What It’s About: If you’re interested in Chinese or Buddhist culture, you must read this story of Monkey and his journey to retrieve ancient Buddhist texts. Reading this gave me a much better understanding of Chinese stories, because it is such an essential part of their storytelling, much in the same way that the Bible is essential to Western storytelling. The original story is called The Journey to the West, but the translation I read in grad school is called The Monkey and The Monk. This translation is lauded as the most accessible translation-abridgment of the epic poem.
Day 45: The Epic of Sundiata
What It’s About: It seems that many epics are about good leaderships and societies. In this one, crown prince Sundiata is exiled from his homeland, learns about his subjects while he is in exile, then returns to take his rightful place as king.
Day 46: One Thousand and One Nights
What It’s About: This is a collection of short stories, and you will find different versions of this collection at every bookstore. Regardless, you will always find the same frame story: A sultan went mad after his wife’s infidelity and went on a vengeful killing spree against women by marrying a virgin every night, then killing her in the morning before she, too, could cheat on him. Scheherazade requested to be his wife, then set about a plan where she tells a story every night, then stops right in the middle of a cliffhanger at dawn. The sultan, hungry to hear the rest of the story, would extend her death sentence to the next night, when she would repeat the same thing. She continued this for 1001 nights, at the end of which the sultan’s mind was healed and he didn’t kill her after all! It’s an amazing tale of the power of stories!
Day 47: A Christmas Carol
What It’s About: This isn’t just a cheesy story about the meaning of Christmas. Charles Dickens was passionate about the welfare of the disadvantaged people of London, and incensed with the insensitivity he saw in the rich around him. Although set in Christmastime, this is more about caring for the needy in the coldest, starkest time of year.
Day 48: King Lear
What It’s About: An aging king attempts to divide up his kingdom amongst his three daughters, basing the lot sizes on who loves him the most. What follows is a tragic story of betrayal, madness, and aging as the daughters, sons, fathers, and siblings find each other as opponents.
Day 49: Oedipus Rex
What It’s About: Thebes is in trouble–the gods are punishing the people for an atrocious sin. Oedipus goes in search of the truth behind the sin, and finds out a terrible truth about himself.
Day 50: Antigone
What It’s About: The sequel to Oedipus Rex, this play is about his children. When his sons kill each other in the battlefield, his daughter wants to give them proper burial rites. However, the new king of Thebes denies one his rites because he died a traitor. Antigone and Creon go head to head in a philosophical battle over whose law is greater and deserves more deference: the law of the gods, or the law of man.
Day 51: Much Ado About Nothing
What It’s About: Claudio and Hero love each other, but their best friends hate each other. What better way to fix this than by ‘shipping them? This is a classic high school story of friends trying to set each other up, with one villain who’s trying his darndest to mess everything up.
Day 52: Twelfth Night
What It’s About: This story’s so confusing. Viola shipwrecks in a foreign land, and disguises herself as a boy to survive. When she is employed by the Duke of Orsino, he asks her to woo his crush for him. And his crush falls for Viola, because she’s dressed as a boy! Lots of confusion, lots of comedy. Watch She’s the Man to get a better idea of the story!
Day 53: Romeo and Juliet
What It’s About: I doubt this story needs explaining. However, if your understanding of this story is similar to Taylor Swift’s–THIS IS NOT AN IDEAL LOVE STORY. EVERYBODY DIES AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO NOT BE LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET!
Over these weeks, I was transitioning from American regional works to embracing October and giving book talks about famous spooky stories. Stay tuned for weeks 9-10 for some fun books and stories for Halloween!
Day 25: All the Pretty Horses
This is still the only Cormac McCarthy book I have read, and I was surprised by it. After watching No Country for Old Men and The Road, I expected to read a sordid tale of cowboys. Instead, I found a romance written in a style reminiscent of Faulkner.
Day 26: All the Light We Cannot See
The physics teacher had some qualms with this quote, but I still think it’s lovely. Although neither American nor horror, I suggested this work because many of my learners expressed an interest in WW2 and historical fiction.
Day 27: Rip Van Winkle
I don’t think I would have known about this story if it weren’t for Wishbone. That adorable dog taught me a lot about major literary works, and unfortunately there’s no equivalent for kids today (that I know of). Hence, why I’m doing daily book talks.
Day 28: Joy Luck Club
I hate that I had to rush this one. I love this line.
Day 29: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Yes, I recycled the “Washington Irving” lettering from two days ago… I’m a busy teacher! Lettering takes time!
Day 30: Frankenstein
Did you know that Mary Shelley created this story as part of a spooky storytelling contest among her friends?