While most of my students enjoy Cisneros’ writing, I do get a few complaints from male students about her style being confusing, flowery, or “girlie.” Therefore, this unit will also incorporate
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,
by Mark Haddon, to represent a voice that is more typically male, as well as for having a male protagonist. I’ve had an amazing student-response to the novel after teaching it for the first time this year, especially from the boys. When asked to reflect on what they enjoyed so much about this novel, most students comment on Christopher’s unique voice, and his
interesting perspective as a narrator. They also said that all the twists in the plot held their interest more than other books they had read.
The narrator of
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,
Christopher, who is incredibly gifted mathematically, but has other difficulties due to his having Asperger’s Syndrome, tells his story, writes a book, as a way of coping with a world that is chaotic to him, but also as a way to understand the mysteries around him. Mark Haddon creates a very believable and likeable character in Christopher, as my students report having felt as if they understood this quirky kid who is otherwise mistreated and misunderstood by society. Of Christopher, Haddon says “Here is a character whom if you met him in real life you’d never, ever get inside his head. Yet something magical happens when you write a novel about him. You slip inside his head, and it seems like the most natural thing in the world (Haddon, interview, 2005).” In this sense, the novel lends itself well to the study of author’s craft, creating believable characters, and using these characters to explore the issue of living with a condition that others do not understand.
Haddon’s novel also provides another variation on the structure of the circular journey; Christopher too leaves home (literally when he runs away and figuratively as he enters adolescence) and returns, learning much about his world, its mysteries, and himself in between. The journey focuses on the murder-mystery of Wellington, a poodle belonging to Christopher’s neighbor. Christopher loves animals and seems to have an easier time relating to them as he often misreads human emotions; he is horrified by this crime. As he sets out to solve the mystery, he keeps track of his evidence and experience in a book he is writing at the suggestion of his teacher Siobhan. She is the only person who seems to understand Christopher and encourages him to write as a method of coping and communicating. The more he investigates the murder, the more he learns about his parents’ indiscretions. The more he learns about his father, the more frightened he becomes, and sets out on a journey to find his mother. The more he learns about the world, the more he learns about himself. All of this is recursive and evolutionary as a process. Not only is his trip to London a journey, so too is the forbidden mystery-solving venture, and the entire process of writing a book. By the end of the novel Christopher has discovered the power of storytelling when he says “I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything” (221).
The bravery of book-writing that Christopher touts is the third layer for exploration of
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.
At this point in the unit, students will have more experience reading, studying, and writing stories. They’ll be better equipped to reflect metacognitively on the writing process. They’ll use Haddon’s novel (and others we’ve read), to reflect on
we write. Reflection is an important component of their writing process, as the students will need to determine the motive, purpose, and audience for their stories, make choices, revise, and edit. None of which they’d do well without being able to reflect on their writing process. In order to reflect on their writing, the students will periodically be asked to respond to prompts about their stories, fill out reflection sheets (see lesson plans), and react to peer response of their writing. Mark Haddon remarks on the power of writing books as he said of
, “It’s not just a book about disability. Obviously, on some level it is, but on another level...it’s a book about books, about what you can do with words and what it means to communicate with someone in a book (Haddon, interview, 2005).” The students will have to consider what it is they want to do with their words, what they’d like their portfolio writing to communicate to others.
While the formal unit will end after Haddon’s novel and the sharing of their portfolio writing to this point, we will, for the remainder of the year, continue to use the strategies learned, to analyze stories for their structure (circular, or linear), for purpose, meaning, craft, and their ability to connect us with the human experience. We will also return to our portfolios through out the year as we continue to write about our journey, reflect on the writing process, and connect all of this to what we are reading at the time. So in a sense, the unit will continue as long as class does.