Teaching the Novel – Post # 1

Teachers: Have you ever tried to teach a novel without reading it first? Well, I’m going to try to, but since I’m not teaching at the moment, I will have to pretend. Visualization exercises are always good for lesson planning, right?

Cover of "The Moon Is Down (Thorndike Pre...
Cover via Amazon

The Novel

The novel I have chosen is The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck. I heard about this novel as I was listening to the audio version of the biography of Winston Churchill called The Last Lion (Manchester & Reid, 2012). Apparently, Churchill was quite pleased with the novel and found it inspirational. I have this quote that is similar to what Manchester and Reid said about the book in their work.

While some American critics faulted the novel for its sympathetic portrayals of Nazi soldiers, the book was widely popular in Europe. The Moon is Down was reprinted in French and distributed by the resistance fighters of the Maquis. These were books printed under the very noses of the Gestapo. It was also banned in Italy, where the penalty for reading the book was death.

Yet its message resonated. The plot device of the Mayor’s request for explosives to be air dropped so that the townsfolk can wreck the mine and the railroad — a sabotage campaign that he understands in advance will lead to his death — was noticed by Winston Churchill himself. After reading The Moon Is Down, Churchill ordered the Special Operations Executive to explore this idea and it became the basis of Operation Braddock, a British sabotage and propaganda campaign. Not bad for a mere work of fiction, turned out by a man who had never lived through the events he described (Dutchman6, 2009).

Because it inspired Churchill, I think this novel is a great complement to any studies of World War II in history classes. I would (if I were teaching) coordinate the teaching of the novel with the time in which the students are studying WWII. I would not read it beforehand, however. I’ve been chomping at the bit, as they say, since I first got the book, but wanted to read it as I write these posts so that my lesson is more authentic.

Why Do This?

I believe that a big part of teaching is modeling the behavior and practices that we think will best serve our students as they embark on adult life. Therefore, I would like to model what I do when I read a novel for the first time. For instance, I’d like to be able to authentically state why I think this novel is going to be good (I almost wrote “killer”) and what prompted me to order it. Then, I would like to explore this novel with the class without the benefit of reading it first, so we can discover its beauty together. I think the conversations that come out of that reading would be terrific. Sure, I would make mistakes, make bad predictions, all that kind of stuff. But isn’t that all part of reading and learning to read well?

So, in the next post, I will put a lesson plan into place that introduces the novel and its context. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I think I will enjoy writing them.

References

Dutchman6. (2009, February 3). Sipsey Street Irregulars: The Moon Is Down. Sipsey Street Irregulars. Retrieved from http://sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com/2009/02/moon-is-down.html
Manchester, W., & Reid, P. (2012). The last lion: Winston Spencer Churchill. Little Brown/Nov.
Steinbeck, J. (1995). The moon is down. New York: Penguin Books.
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