The Girl In the Blue Coat is a perfect example of how to write historical fiction. The way Monica Hesse crafts these characters and this story line was simply captivating. The plot twist (which you will encounter if you’re smart enough to read this book) through me for a loop, and had me retracing everything that I had read prior in the book. Hanneke’s wit and street smarts help her to navigate the Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and the heartache she deals with through the time of war. The perspective Hesse creates in this book is important to read, and is just intense enough to portray the seriousness & devastation of war, but also articulate underlying lessons about friendship, family, and loyalty. Throughout the novel, Hanneke (or “Hannie” as her father lovingly calls her & how I read her name in my head) is not only facing the hardships of war and rationing, but also the heartbreak she is experiencing through the loss of her boyfriend, Bas, who died at the beginning of the war. There are instances throughout the book where we are able to read letters between Bas and Hannie, but there are lots of things left unsaid between these two, so what better way to do my alternative book project this week than to write the words through a letter exchange I wish they would have had the opportunity to say to each other?
Below is pictured the letter I believe Bas would have written Hannie (that she ripped up and refused to read):
My version of Hannie’s letter to Bas:
Let me take you back several years ago to when I came home from 7th grade world history class complaining about all of the dates I had to memorize because (*insert bratty eye roll here*) who even cares about all of this stuff that happened a hundred years ago? Little did I know that I was asking for a life lesson from my dad. He simply explained the importance of history is knowing history – in and out – because if we do not remember the mistakes of past generations, how do we know to not repeat them? How can we know ways to move forward and not backyard? What signs can we look for as indicators of dictators or oppressive circumstances? I remember this conversation completely transforming my perspective on studying history. Instead, it sparked my interest and the stories of those who lived history. Therefore, I believe that we must articulate the importance history, and consequently, historical fiction is in our classrooms. Although we must emphasize the “fiction” part of historical fiction because can’t have students thinking the individual’s stories are historical fat, it is an awesome way to provide students with perspective. By setting the scene during a particular time in history, for example, Nazi-occupied Holland like in The Girl In The Blue Coat, the reader is provided with a perspective and a new sense of empathy for a historical period.
Throughout the timeline of historical fiction, you are able to pinpoint different patterns of themes that occur, and I noticed the recurring interest in stories written about royalty and Medieval times. We see this pattern again in television as well as literature in shows like The Tudors. Although the content of The Tudors would not be appropriate to view in a classroom setting, I think that the hype surrounding these shows based in historical settings should help the cultural appeal to books that are historically focused. Historical fiction most definitely has a place in the bookshelves any classroom because we should promote literature that can impact students’ world views and historical fiction provides opportunities to grant perspective to our students. This genre also grants a space to work with other subjects and collaborate with the history department in your school. How great would it be to create a more well-rounded curriculum for students where they can learn about WWII in history class then jump over to literature class and read a novel from the perspective of a person in a Nazi-occupied region? Learning the facts with added perspective with an engaging book can only help students learn and keep them interested in the material.
After reading The Girl In The Blue Coat, I can see historical fiction as an opportunity to engage students in history and not just for nerdy readers like me. The importance of history has never been lost on me, but the ability for fiction to tell the untold stories of history grants so much room for growth in our students’ literary and academic lives.
This assignment was made for me. I am constantly being nosey and eavesdropping into people’s conversation as is, so this assignment just was me doing my usual thing only thing time I was taking notes. Today, I went to Ashley Park, a local shopping area that has a variety of stores from Barnes & Noble (a personal, book nerd favorite) to Belk (gotta use those coupons Mom gave me), so there is a large variety of clientel and no end to what you might overhear.
I spend more time (& money) than I should at the local Chick-fil-A, the promised land, so naturally for this assignment a “trip to the grocery store” just was not going to cut it. In order to accurately record my thoughts while driving, I used the recorder on my phone to take note of everything I did and saw on my routine route to Chick-fil-A. Taking time to notice the unique things about my drive from my house to Chick-fil-A that I do not usually stop to recognize was interesting to me. This exercise was fun for me because it helped me get into the mindset of a writer depicting my day. I’ve always wondered how writers can portray scenes with such random detail, but today I realized the aspects that I noticed really make up background of my life.
- My habits
- Walk out the front door, lock it behind me
- Fight a bee to get in my car
- Get in my car (Tina to those who know her best)
- Turn the car on, radio on, & sunglasses on — head out to town
- As I’m on my way out of the neighborhood I hear the faint sounds of the lawnmowers
- Notice that my dad cut our grass this morning and it looks really good – my brother usually does this task on Saturday mornings, but he left for college this week & I’m sure my dad is missing him right about now.
- There isn’t the smell of ant traps in my car, which is good because I’ve been battling those little monsters lately because they try to escape the rain in my car, but they are gone.
- I notice the homes in the neighborhood as I drive by, which used to belong to all of my childhood friends. Many of the families I grew up with have since moved because the parents have become empty-nesters.
- All of the garage doors are slightly opened for cats/dogs to come in and out to escape this Georgia heat.
- I can see the lake through the trees.
- People are fishing.
- I pass a neighbor, they wave.
- I wave back.
- More dads cutting the lawn on the first day without rain in a while.
- Grass clippings cover the roads at every turn
- There’s another neighbor with an American flag shirt & a weed whacker, he waves too
- My cousin is visiting a friend in our neighborhood.
- I pass a “for sale” sign in the yard of a house directly across the street from a brand new house. It makes me wonder why people choose to built a house in a neighborhood where so many great houses are for sale.
- I think about how buying a house would help a family & be a lot less time consuming instead of building..
- Some trees in neighborhood were cut down & you can see directly into someone’s backyard and in their pool
- Approach a stop sign.
- More dads cutting the grass.
- Tow truck comes through the neighborhood toting an old Dodge Power Wagon in a seafoam/minty color that looks newly restored.
- I wonder whose house it is going to
- Yard maintenance service cutting the grass at the entrance to the neighborhood.
- All the stop signs in the neighborhood are white picket stop signs.
- I notice all of the stop signs now look worn with chipped paint, but I never have seen that before because I drive by them so quickly now and they were brand new when I was little, so that is how they have always been in my mind.
- Approach the 4-way leaving my neighborhood.
- I go down Blandenburg Road towards Chick-fil-A.
- I pass giant water tanks that I always thought were so cool when I was little and I wanted to sneak in and swim in them (for some reason?).
- I pass the house that usually has a ton of cars parked in the yard – it looks almost like a junkyard – today, they have a SUV & an old motor home there this time.
- Slow car pulled out in front of me, of course.
- I turn on my blinker.
- I turn onto Central High Spur, which I found out recently is a road that my dad lobbied to have built in order to reroute big trucks pulling into the plants at Southwire (a local wire production company) away from the local county high school in hopes to have a safer environment for the students.
- I never knew that my dad was involved in getting this road built until last week, and I have driven down it my whole life (probably daily because of Chick-fil-A).
- I notice the oil spots in the road where the trucks drive all the time.
- I notice the bigger oil spots where the trucks are allowed to park for the truckers to rest in the temporary truck parking lane.
- Oddly no trucks are parked there today
- I pass the Southwire Building Wire plant & Rod Mills.
- I see hundreds of spools – I realize that they must use that building still to make the spools because I see brand new ones – I always just passed it and thought it was an old warehouse.
- I go over the railroad tracks. I can hear the trains from my house at night as they make their routes and deliveries to Southwire. It’s funny because I don’t think about how much of a “small town” thing that is to have a train run near your house.
- I can see through the power lines to another road,
- 25mph “school zone” speed limit sign, but it isn’t flashing & I truthfully have never thought about the speed limit there soooo I’ll probably still go 40mph.
- I pass the county school.
- Some land has been cleared next to Chick-fil-A — I wonder what they’ll build there.
- There’s a sign advertising the rodeo in front of Chick-fil-A because there is a rodeo in town tonight – that probably makes me sound like a redneck, but oh well, welcome to Carroll County.
- I turn right into Chick-fil-A & notice a cute, little family catching up in the parking lot.
- Our Chick-fil-A has been expanded & updated, so now there are two drive-thru lanes & little cow topiaries all over the property. There are also signed with cows on them that say “5 days until you dress like me!” for the cow dress up day coming up soon.
- I pull into the drive thru & I order a Kids 6-count nugget meal with a large sweet tea.
And there we have it. All of the minutely wonderful things about my drive to home sweet Chick-fil-A.
My book of the week was The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I came away from this book with lots of thoughts still zooming around in my head. Charlie, the main character, suffers from mental illness triggered by stress and, eventually, the realization of his past sufferings. The book is written in a letter format, which adds to the intimacy you will experience between Charlie’s mind and your own. Stephen Chbosky does an excellent job portraying mental illness through a lens of empathy and authenticity. I put this book down and took some time to reflect on my own perceptions about mental illness and how these perceptions can affect the relationships I have with friends and loved ones as well as with my future students.
From Kia Jane Richmond’s article, Using Literature to Confront the Stigma of Mental Illness, Teach Empathy, and Break Stereotypes, her commentary on mental illness in the classroom noted, “In order for students to achieve at their greatest potential they must be educated in a safe and emotionally healthy environment,” (19). Providing a welcoming environment for students is an essential aspect of cultivating a community in the classroom. In The Perks of Being A Wallflower, we see Charlie experiencing social tensions as he enters high school with hopes of finding friends, which is a common stress for all teenagers, but especially those who live with mental illnesses adding tension to already stressful situations. Books like this, allow students to put themselves in the shoes of a character living a seemingly normal life while trying to cope with the symptoms of mental illness, which demands students’ attentions regarding sensitive topics such as this in society. Charlie is a lovable character learning the ropes of high school, experiencing his first parties and first love, and, throughout the book, hinting at his rocky past trips to the hospital. The enticement of a love story and a happy ending for Charlie helped me zoom through the book, but we eventually learn the reason behind his emotional and social issues that reminds us not everyone always has the happy past we hope for, but should promote our empathy and desire to take action in standing up for those who suffer and live with mental illnesses.
Initiating conversation about mental illness will help extinguish the stigma surrounding the notably sensitive topic in our culture. No person, let alone a student, should ever feel as if they have to take on a difficult time on his or her own. If there is a student who may struggle with mental illness, there should be a community waiting to back him or her up with support and resources to reach a state of stability and prosperity. As we see and know of heartbreaking stories every single day where someone has fallen victim to the clutches of mental illness, our society should be waking up and realizing that this is something we should be dealing with and working through together rather than letting those who suffer, fall alone. Although The Perks of Being A Wallflower had several instances very mature content that may be difficult to encounter in a classroom setting, it is a way to open up conversation about mental illness, and is a book I would put on a reading list as optional for students, and if I did a book talk to introduce this book on a reading list, I would be sure to warn about this content. I think The Perks of Being A Wallflower still ends with hope for Charlie because he has a support system of people around him, and that is the message we should be sending to those who struggle with mental illness and by creating an ending that still puts value on a support group is essential to setting up a positive example for society at large and for our students.