When Louise May Alcott published Little Women in 1868, it was after years of publishing and trying to publish material for adults. But in order to support her family, Alcott agreed to her publisher's request that she write a novel for young readers--something she was not entirely interested in doing. But Alcott was a pragmatist and her father, Bronson Alcott, failed transcendentalist, brought in exactly zero money to the household. So, again, at the urging of her publisher, Little Women, which was originally published with that title as Part I, and Part II (originally published as Good Wives) came to be.
A little more history: Since then, Little Women, while largely positioned as children's literature before Young Adult was a thing, has never been out of print. Further, it has been the subject of numerous film adaptations (notably the 1949 version with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, 1994 with Winona Ryder as Jo, and 2019's Greta Gerwig's celebrated--and significantly altered--version with Saoirse Ronan as Jo). The Canadian Opera staged a Little Women opera. And there have been numerous retellings of the novel: The Spring Girls: A Modern-Day Retelling of Little Women by Anna Todd, Littler Women: A Modern Retelling by Laura Schaefer, The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly, The Little Women: A Novel by Katharine Weber, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, a graphic novel version of the story, by Rey Terciero and illustrated by Bre Indigo, and, most recently, Meg and Jo by Virgina Kantra, which will be followed by its sequel, Amy and Beth (Perry and Kantra).
In other words, as a coming-of-age novel, it has had a significant and lasting effect on young readers, primarily young women, for a century and a half.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My own experience as a young reader was greatly shaped by reading Little Women. I did not come from a family of readers, though my mother became one. I had an Aunt who would, in the summer months, take me and my sister to a local library to escape brutal summer heat. And, as is probably a story not unfamiliar to you, I found solace and comfort of another sort in books. I raced through all the Little House books and through all the books about horses, queens, and First Ladies available to me. And then my cousin Susan, who was many years my senior, seemed to notice that I was a reader, and, in a tremendous show of support in a family that did not entirely trust or value books, Sue bought me my copy of Little Women.
Here is a photo of the cover of my copy that I read, every summer, like a pilgrimage, from roughly the time I was 9 years old until I went away to college--and even every once in a while after. You can also see here the book plate with my ridiculous hand-writing and, finally, the inscription from my cousin--I look at her writing and she seemed as young as me, though she was my older, glamorous cousin who had a job and a car and an apartment.
The March girls became touchstones to me, marking different parts of my personality at different points in my life. And, as a text, it challenged me as a reader when I was young and led me to other texts as I grew older--The Brontes, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton. And then on to Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison. And on and on. My cousin Sue died this past year of an aggressive cancer, and I tell you that to commemorate this person who was so important to the person I've become now. For me, it's the books and the people that gave them to me that make me the person you know in class each week.
NOTE: I owe a debt of gratitude to my former honor's thesis student and former 344 student Jess Rinker who wrote her own revisioning of the novel this past summer and whose research on the retellings I rely on here.
WHAT TO POST THIS WEEK: In your Book Club Journals, I've asked you to talk about the text as "young," "adult" and "literature" and to consider the characteristics of YA fiction that we touched on in class (I've posted more about this in each groups book club google.doc). And I've discussed at length the longevity of the story of Little Women and that is for good reason: in so many ways, it is a novel that I a predecessor of a great many of the kinds of stories that populate the YA lexicon. This week I'm challenging the idea of the timeless of the novel. Instead of a teaching discussion post this week, I'm challenging you to re-imagine Little Women for a 21st Century YA reader.
If you were going to update Little Women, how might you do it? In 300 words, provide a synopsis of your 2020 version of the classic Little Women. RESPOND in roughly 100-200 words to at least one of your colleagues by either building on their update idea and/or suggesting why you think, as a reader or a teacher, this would work as an update (or wouldn’t).
USE THIS SPACE TO POST QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS. His folks, a few things, first, in class this evening (9 February 2021) folks noted that they didn't know where to post questions about the syllabus as indicated I was asking for in the syllabus check in assignment. That's on me. I forgot to post this very discussion board in time. I will move any questions that got posted elsewhere to this space, along with answers.
Further, this is a permanent Q&A discussion board. So if you have a question about class, please feel free to post here. I check the discussion board during office hours, which I have everyday except Monday. I will answer any questions I can here.
Of course, if you have a concern that is of a personal nature, feel free to email me directly or come to an open student office hour. However, it's true that a lot of times students have the same question. I will admit to you that I get annoyed at having to answer that same question 25 times. So please use this discussion board for questions that are of a general class nature--if you have that question other people have it too.
For complete details on what to do in this space and how you will be evaluated, please see the complete details for this assignment located on Teaching Discussion page for our class (link is live).
In Brief: Post your initial response, about 300 words. Post a response to your colleagues, 100-200 words. No worries about respondents this week. I will serve as respondent and model what I'm looking for.
THIS WEEK’S SCENARIO: The two short stories included in this weeks reading come from a list of short-stories for middle-schoolers. I have used these two stories with rising 8th and 9th graders.
You are teaching a class of 30 8th graders at Whitman Middle School. Here is a class picture. The class you are teaching is majority white. There are two students who identify as African-American. Just over ½ of the class are young women. None of the students are first generation American, but a few students have grandparents who immigrated, mostly from Ireland. More likely, the majority of students have great-grandparents or great-great grandparents that came from to the US during the great migration in the late 1800s—Italy and Ireland mainly. Your classroom is well-equipped. Students have ipads for use in the classroom and all of the students have internet access at home as well as at school. You maintain a teaching website where parents can check assignments. The parents at Whitman are, more or less, invested in their children’s education and pay attention to what is going on in the classroom. You have 7 students on IEPs ranging from high-functioning spectrum to ADHD mix. Two student are on IEP for cognitive processing problems.
For our first post: It's useful to begin by thinking about the genre as a genre. YA can overlap with a lot of other genre, but it is also it's own thing. Thinking about YA as a genre will help to shape our conversation for the rest of the semester.
To complete this post: First, read the article that your group was assigned. Once you've read your article, have a short discussion about it in your groups. Remember the prompt:
Based on your article, what makes Young Adult Lit a genre unto itself? What are the notable characteristics of the genre? Another way to put it is what makes YA Lit "young," "adult," and "literature" all at the same time?
Once you've had that discussion, post below about what you talked about in your group. You are welcome to add things that you think didn't get talked about in your group but need to be said.
Finally, once everyone has posted, I'll ask you to read what your colleagues had to say and to respond to some of them. Do you see connections across the articles? Do you see points in other people's articles that challenge what you read in your own? Does something that someone wrote help you to understand the genre a little bit better?
HOW TO POST
Click on the "comment" button located at either the top right or bottom left of this post. Fill in the form as required and post your 100-200 words in the dialogue box. You might want to compose in another program so nothing gets lost. Once you've finished, click submit.
NOTE: Occasionally, weekly asks you to identify a series of images in order to submit your post. Sometimes a glitch makes it impossible to see the "submit" button. If this happens, let me know. You can email me your post and I will post it on your behalf. When this happens, I contact weekly and they typically fix the problem.