Interview with VOYA Press Author Daria Plumb
VOYA Press Presents: Commando Classics: A Field Guide for Helping Students Understand (and Maybe Even Enjoy) Classic Literature
An Interview with Author Daria Plumb
VP: What is your book about?
DP: Commando Classics: A Field Guide for Helping Students Understand (and Maybe Even Enjoy) Classic Literature provides teachers and librarians with concrete and specific (and sometimes untraditional, hence the term “commando”) ways to introduce teens to classic literature. The premise of the book is that, if we can provide teens with a positive and well-rounded experience with the classics, then they will start to see and appreciate not only how these works relate to one another, but also to their own lives.
VP: What is your interest/expertise in this topic?
DP: I have taught English to at-risk teens in an alternative high school setting since 1994. When I first started teaching, I taught classic literature in much the same way I was taught in high school; however, I quickly found that it wasn’t an effective approach for my students. Fortunately, working in an alternative setting provided me with the freedom and opportunity to experiment and, over the course of a ten-year period, I began to develop what I call the “commando approach”. The idea is that I will use any means necessary—graphic novels, films, summaries, picture books, YouTube videos, artwork, songs, etc.—to make the basic plot of classic works accessible and to help my students draw connections between these works and their own lives. When I began talking about this approach at professional conferences, I found that many other English teachers (including those in more traditional settings) were looking for new ways to help their students connect to classic literature, so I began to develop and refine the idea.
VP: What are the best features about your book that sets it apart from other titles on this topic?
DP: First, my students virtually demand that I make every day’s classroom content relevant to them and, if I fail to do so, they very quickly let me know, so the ideas included in the book are hands-on, practical, and have been “field tested” on a population that most teachers find very difficult to target. Second, this book has a wealth of resources (online links, book lists, text sets, reproducible handouts, etc.) which makes it immediately useful for classroom teachers and librarians. Third, this book is written for an audience of both teachers and librarians with the goal of finding ways to enable those two groups to work together towards the common goal of helping teens connect with literature.
VP: How did you develop/research your topic?
DP: It was while teaching The Scarlet Letter that I realized that, though my students found the plot of the book interesting, they could not access it when I presented it in a traditional way. I thought it was important to expose my students to classic literature so that they could appreciate the universality of the plots, characters, and themes, but I needed a different way to do this. I also wanted to enable them to draw connections between classic lit and the stories being told through television, film, and books today, and to show them the frequency with which these stories are referenced in our popular culture. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” or “Big Brother is watching,” but where do these phrases come from and what do they really mean? I began to realize that if I could draw a line from Hamlet to Disney’s The Lion King to South Park or from 1984 to The Giver (which many of my students read in middle school) to The Hunger Games, I could help students see that classic stories are still very much alive today, which would hopefully provide them with the motivation to study stories that are 100, 400, or even 1,000 years old.
VP: Have you thought about your next project?
DP: Each year, I run into more and more students who tell me that they’ve never read and/or liked an entire book before . . . and many of these kids are 18 and 19 years old. This breaks my heart and seems almost inconceivable to me, considering the fact that more high-quality young adult literature is available today than ever before. My true passion is finding “the book” (generally it is a YA book) that will turn each of these students into readers. I’d really like to tell the stories of some of my students who have undergone the transformation from reluctant readers to ravenous readers.
Commando Classics: A Field Guide for Helping Students Understand (and Maybe Even Enjoy) Classic Literature. VOYA Press, 2012. 300p. $50. Trade pb. 978-1-61751-008-3.