Teaching Your Own Novel - A Risk Well Worth it!
It was a risky chance. This year I decided to read my novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, with my 11th graders. Teaching my own book to my students has been both surreal and rewarding.
First, the opportunity to see my characters and story through the eyes of my students has been incredibly illuminating. Obviously I am intimately acquainted with my work, but I have never looked at it through the lens of the classroom and curriculum. Second, and much to my delight, the feedback I have received from my students has helped me to see that the construction of the story and the development of the characters are indeed successful. It is so gratifying to hear students make observations about imagery, characterization, and motif-comments that an author only dreams about experiencing. And what a rush it was for me to learn that so many of the girls in my class loved the book too – many finished it in just three days!!
The value in this process for students lies in the unusual opportunity to “ask the author” what he/she was thinking or attempting to accomplish throughout a novel. How many times has a teacher heard the question, “Mrs. Jones, how do you know that the author meant to use the flower as a symbol of life?” So many of these young folks are incredulous and unwilling to accept the idea that author’s pay attention to craft as much as they do the actual story that they are unfolding. Teaching your own novel takes care of that! This atypical engagement between reader and author is so helpful with regard to demonstrating writer’s craft and also becomes fodder for so many wonderful discussions.
And the questions are so endearing...despite the fact that it is still “just a book” and that reading remains fairly low on most adolescent’s things to do…they are all amazed that their teacher actually wrote the book they are reading and discussing in class. It reminds me that there is hope and that teenagers even today can still appreciate books and creativity.
The most humorous question exchange thus far...
Student: “Mr. Nappi, are you famous now?”
Teacher: “Famous? No, I wouldn’t say that.”
Student: “But your book is a movie, and you just wrote another one too.”
Teacher: “Yes, that’s true. But I’m not exactly in the same league as F. Scott Fitzgerald yet.”
Student: “But people know who you are, right? Like if you died, would your picture be in the newspaper?”
Teacher: “I’m not so sure - possibly - but let’s not test it, okay? I’m not ready to find that out just yet.”