In the following guest post (originally written around Thanksgiving), Garcia McCall shares insights into how she thinks her book can be powerful for adolescents. I noticed how her statements, such as a focus on reading like writers and writing like readers closely aligning with workshop philosophy. Enjoy!
"Looking at Books through the Eyes of a Writer"
—Dreaming Up Teaching Ideas for Summer of the Mariposas as the Turkey Roasts in the Oven—by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
There are so many critical thinking skills a teacher can develop in her students using a novel, especially one dealing with a different culture. One skill that I think students need to develop as readers is to look at text through the writer's lens and explore the what, how, and why of the choices the author made as an expert writer. As both an English (writing) teacher and an author, this is something I think about a lot. Reading and writing are wedded. They are connected in a way that is natural and organic and therefore should be taught together, as two sides of the same coin. Students should read as writers and write as readers.
One interesting element of Summer of the Mariposas that students can explore in this context is plot. The plot structure of Summer of the Mariposas is based on The Hero's Journey, the ancient form used by the Greeks to develop the plots of such fantastical stories as "The Odyssey" and "Jason and The Argonauts." First, I would ask students to research The Hero's Journey and outline the form and structure of that basic plot in a graphic organizer of their own design. How does the plot of "The Odyssey" or "Jason and The Argonauts" fit into that basic structure? How does the plot of Summer of the Mariposas fit?
Next, I would have students think about why the author of Summer of the Mariposas would use such an archaic plotting device to create a contemporary novel. Here are some questions to help guide discussion:
• Did the author change the structure, play with it, move pieces around, or reformat it in any way? If she did change or play with the structural components, why do you think she did it?
• What Greek supernatural elements were replaced with something in the author's culture? Can you correlate characters from "The Odyssey" to characters in Summer of the Mariposas based on their names, descriptions, or actions?
• In your opinion, which structural pieces from The Hero's Journey were well suited for the plot development of this novel? Which pieces didn't fit as well? Research other plot forms and structures. Would any of them have served the author's purpose of developing the story of the Garza girls? Which one? Why? How?
I hope these ideas help educators teach students to think critically about books and help them grow not only as readers but also as writers. There is so much more I could say here, but the Thanksgiving turkey is almost done, and my family is stirring awake. Have a blessed Holiday Season!