Monday, March 25, 2013

Go Ask Alice

 Anonymous. (1998). Go ask Alice. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks.

(I realize that Alice is already posted on this blog, but Shurree Clouse's reflection adds so much to what is already there. Thanks, Shurree!)

I know that this post is early, and that Informational Texts aren’t due for several weeks yet. I wanted to write this entry now, however, because I have Go Ask Alice fresh in my mind. We are coming to the end of the year, and I have done all the required texts with my juniors and so they are itching to get to choose their own reading selections. As a class they choose Alice and as a group (it’s a small class) they have devoured the book and finished it within just a few days of checking it out from the library. 
If you have never read Go Ask Alice, I highly recommend it. The narrative is told through diary entries of a young girl as she enters high school for the first time. Over the summer, the speaker stays with her grandparents and is invited to a party. At the party her new friends play “Button, Button, Who’s got the Button?” and slip LSD into her Coke. Quickly the speaker slips into a world of drugs and addiction. Her struggle to overcome addiction, insecurities, and various other trials throughout the book will keep kids and adults hooked.  I have had several students who are extremely reluctant readers come up to me in the hallway and say “Ms. Clouse, I love this book!” The positive reaction to this novel has been so welcome and validating. I am thrilled that they are enjoying it so much.
With a book like this, it can be difficult to walk the delicate line between the right and wrong way to teach it. You don’t want to run the risk of spending your class time doing little more than answering questions about drugs and their various street names.  After an exhaustive internet search, I did not find very much in the way of useful lesson plans. Since I am still working on this unit and the kids are going through it so quickly, I think it would be best to be used an a very short section in your informational text readings. Here are some of the things I am working on in my class:
Historical Context: Students know little to nothing about the time period that Go Ask Alice is set in. The 1960s is little more than a decade of the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, and Hippies in their mind. (And that is if they even know that much about it.) I find it important to teach historical context in most cases where students haven’t had the opportunity to learn about a specific time period in their history or social studies classes. Here we talked about the differences in expectations of kids, slang/jargon of the time period, and the beginning of a drug culture in America. We even watched an episode of Dragnet (LSD story/Blue Boy) and listened to the song White Rabbit to introduce them to period. (Believe me; they had no idea what Dragnet was! As someone who grew up watching it on Nick-At-Night, it was a little shocking.)
Jefferson Airplane.
Banned Book List: As you can imagine, this book is often banned and is (from all the information I could find online) rarely taught as a part of the classroom. Our school library had a classroom set, but when I asked around, none of the other English teachers in the building said that they have ever taught it. Since students seem to love this book so much, it would be great to use as a part of teaching persuasion. Students could write an essay defending using the inclusion of Alice in school libraries and media center, or the opposite thereof. They could compare this book to other novels and the list and study what makes them controversial. 
Who’s Responsible Here: Go Ask Alice is published as an anonymous diary of a 15 year old girl. However it is found in the library in the fiction section By doing a little research you can find that the diary was written and/or edited by a woman named Beatrice Sparks. Ms. Sparks is also responsible for other cautionary tales such as It Happened to Nancy (about AIDS) and Annie’s Baby (teen pregnancy). We could spend some time talking about authorship and whether or not who wrote the book makes a difference in its meaning and effect on the reader. 
I was bewildered to find so little good information or plans for teaching Go Ask Alice available. I just wanted to write this entry so that if anyone wanted to incorporate this into their curriculum, they would have some possible options of where to go with the book.

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