Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Monstrous Preoccupation

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for the opportunity to participate in Slice of Life today!

I have been planning a "monsters" unit for my 10th grade students this fall. After a four-year hiatus from teaching this grade, I am eager to return to its standard texts--Frankenstein, Macbeth, Beowulf, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm--but I also want to incorporate contemporary and young adult literature into each unit: I hope to open the floodgates to more diverse, immediately relevant, for-pleasure reading. Possible questions include:

  • How do we define the monstrous?--what or whom do we label as monsters, and why?
  • How do monsters reflect a society's values, anxieties, or biases?
Dr. Cialtron/Flickr: "From_Hell n 006"

I had envisioned "monsters" as the focus of Frankenstein and possibly Beowulf, but quickly realized that the topic touches all of the curricular texts: Macbeth's monstrous ambition, Animal Farm's communist and Lord of the Flies' anarchist monstrosities...it seems that to be monstrous is to be human.

While experience counsels against a year-long thematic investigation ("are we still talking about this?"), finding the "monstrous" in human experience seems at least a worthwhile motif to follow.

In the interest of drawing a wider array of student interests into this topic, I have gathered a preliminary list of contemporary and young adult books that explore some aspect of the monstrous:

-Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
-A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness

Protagonists in the following books are more "outsiders" or "freaks" than monsters--or they seem monstrous only in their own eyes:

-Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
-Kissing Doorknobs, by Terry Spencer Hesser
-I Will Save You, by Matt de la Pena
-Mexican White Boy, by Matt de la Pena (along with other novels by this author)
-Purple Heart, by Patricia McCormick

What titles (anything--novels, stories, movies) are missing from this list?


  1. This sounds like a great unit! I would love to be a student in your class! Have you considered any Neil Gaiman? I'm not sure his work would fit exactly into what you're doing. The Graveyard Book is actually supposed to be for younger readers, though I would not suggest it to my 4th graders. It's modeled on The Jungle Book, but the orphaned boy is brought up by ghosts in a graveyard. All of the Gaiman I have read is quirky and sometimes creepy.

    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I have taught one of his short stories before, and I entirely agree that his writing would be appropriate. I am glad you reminded me of this author!

  2. I will read some of your book list this summer!
    Any chance you could fit in Pixar's "Monsters, Inc." into your unit?

    1. This is a great idea; I will watch this film and see how it can work in the unit. Thank you - I would not have thought of this!

  3. What about bringing in current news, such as ISIS. I think their actions are monstrous. Should be an interesting year.

    1. I agree; thank you for pointing this out! It is unfortunate that there are so many connections to make with current events.