Introducing Students to Vonnegut for the First Time

[Vonnegut Library guest blogger Josie Raymond discusses how she shares her love of reading Vonnegut with her students.]

Do you remember your first time? Me, I was 16 and feebly working my way through one of those lists of the 100 greatest novels ever written. AP English gave me Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Crime and Punishment, but Slaughterhouse-Five I had to find on my own. The process of discovery went like this:

Setting: used bookstore in Louisville, Ky., now shuttered

“Oh, Slaughterhouse-Five, that’s on the list. I’ll get it for $2, along with this copy of The Grapes of Wrath.”

That copy of The Grapes of Wrath is still unread.

“Vonnegut, hmm, looks like Mark Twain. I hate Mark Twain.”

I did not yet know that Vonnegut loved Mark Twain.

“This is weird.”

Well, weird turned into transformative and Slaughterhouse-Five changed the way I read and thought about reading.

Fast forward a decade-plus and the time has come to go on my Vonnegut mission, to proselytize his genius in new and uncivilized lands, namely my middle school classroom.

I teach 7th and 8th grade reading at Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy, which was just called Shortridge High School when Kurt Vonnegut graduated in 1940. He loved it there. You can see why I feel a solemn duty.

Billy Pilgrim might seem as alien to my students (born in the late ‘90s) as a Tralfamadorian. And I really don’t feel like sending home a permission slip that mentions Montana Wildhack.

So we’re starting small. We’re starting with Harrison Bergeron, which I told my students is “one of the greatest short stories every written, you guys! Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.” Legal note: this is free, compulsory education and no money has changed hands.

Along the way, we’re going to handicap Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare, discuss the Bill of Rights, watch the short dramatization 2081, and even have kids hop around the room on one foot in the name of literary analysis. Anything to make sure they don’t forget their first time. I’ll let you know how it goes.

[Please share Josie’s post with your social networks.]

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  1. Pingback: Kurt Vonnegut Creates a Report Card for His Novels, Ranking Them From A+ to D | Golden Gate Daily

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