My Feminist Winter, Part 3

Expectations can be scary things. Feminism. Small town Texas. An author I already admired. So, yes, my expectations were super high for Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. I was excited enough to buy the hardback as soon as I saw it. But then it set on my shelf for several weeks. Would it measure up?

I was first introduced to Mathieu’s work through volunteering at the North Texas Teen Book Festival. I moderated a panel on “stand alone” books and read Devoted to prepare for my session. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading it: teenager escapes super-conservative, Christian, homeschooling family and sets out on her own? Definitely not at the top of things I wanted to read. But I loved it. From my goodreads review:  “Mathieu treats the Quiverfull movement with respect and really explores the complications of faith, breaking free from family, and growing up. Loved that it wasn’t tied up into a neat package–want to know more about Rachel, but also deeply satisfied with the ending. That’s a tricky line to walk.”

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“One Story at a Time” Me with Adi Alsaid, Marisa Reichardt, Jennifer Mathieu, Maurene Goo, Ally Condie and Julie Buxbaum

While chatting with Jennifer at the festival, she mentioned her next book–girl gets tired of football team running the school (and behaving horribly) and fights back through an underground ‘zine. Umm, yes please! And then I started to wait very, very patiently. Early reviews were good. Lots of people mentioned the best dedication ever:

For all the teenage women fighting the good fight.

And for my twelfth-grade Current Topics teacher for calling me a feminazi in front of the entire class. You insulted me, but you also sparked my interest in feminism, so really,  the joke is on you. Revenge is best served cold, you jerk.

With an opening like that, somehow you just know this book won’t pull any punches. There was no wishy-washy feminism in the pages ahead.

In many ways, Moxie is an book of awakenings. Viv isn’t really a feminist when things get started. But she’s becoming increasingly annoyed at the many sexist traditions in her high school. And then she discovers her mom’s “My Misspent Youth” box, full of mementos from her mom’s Riot Grrrl years. Something snaps, and the book takes off.

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Though Viv’s mom and I are basically the same age (always alarming when you discover you’re the same age as the mother in a YA novel), I didn’t really do the Riot Grrrrl thing. In high school, my musical tastes were very main stream and my politics not so liberal. It never would have crossed my mind to do anything that Viv does. I believed in strong women, but never really thought about feminism, per se. But as an adult who’s tired of fighting the patriarchy, I want to hand this to every young, engaged woman I know so that maybe she’ll find the courage to get involved sooner.

This is certainly a book needed for these tumultuous times. However, I do believe it has staying power. There’s a great cast of characters, and it all just feels real. As someone who had way too much of my high school schedule dictated by football games (I was in marching band), it was so gratifying to see a Texas football team get taken down. And these are just a few of the many, many things I loved.

By the end, I was sobbing.   There’s been real growth and change in so many characters. New friendships are forged. Where I actually lost it was the walkout scene at the end–a walkout where no one is sure that anyone else will be walking.

We keep marching, our feet trampling over Principal Wilson’ threats and our teachers’ warnings. We are marching because those words deserve to be run over. Steamrolled. Flattened to dust. We are marching in our Converse and our candy-colored flip-flops and our kitten heels, too. Our legs are moving, our arms are swinging, our mouths are set in lines so straight and sharp you could cut yourself on them.

Maybe we hope you do.

I wish I had a book like this when I was younger.

 

Christmas Classics

Though it’s not quite the holiday season yet, I’ve spent much of this morning reading Christmas scenes from various children’s books.  For Candlelight (the museum’s biggest event of the year), I decided to create a pre-visit lesson plan for teachers visiting in December.  And what better way to talk about how holidays have changed in the last 150 years than kidlit history?

As I was finishing up, I realized that some of you might be interested in the selections and discussion questions.  What favorite scenes am I missing?

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott  (set in the 1860s, during the Civil War)

Chapter 1: “Playing Pilgrims” and Chapter 2: “A Merry Christmas”

Times are tough during the war.  The four March daughters decide to spend their Christmas money not on themselves, but on gifts for their mother.  After they share their breakfast, they put on a play—and end up having a wonderful party through the generosity of their neighbor.

 Favorite Quote

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

 Discussion Questions

How did the Civil War affect their Christmas?

What kinds of gifts do the sisters want for themselves?

What kind of surprises happen on Christmas?  How do their plans change?

Was it a Christmas without any presents?

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder  (Set in the 1870s.)

“Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus”

Mary and Laura are worried that Santa Claus will be unable to reach them, since there is no snow and they live so far from other families.  Ma and Pa are worried because they are unable to get Christmas presents.  But Mr. Edwards saves the day!

 Favorite Quote

“They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny.  Think of having a whole penny for your very own.  Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.  There had never been such a Christmas.”  p. 250

Discussion Questions

Why is the Ingalls family worried about Christmas?

 How is Santa Claus described?  Is it different than the way we describe Santa Claus today?

 What were the presents that Mary and Laura received?

More Adventures of the Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald (set in the 1890s)

Chapter 1: “The Night the Monster Walked”

Tom Fitzgerald, aka The Great Brain, has reformed and is no longer tricking his friends out of items.  But in the aftermath of Christmas, he’s up to his old tricks.

 Favorite Quote

“It was the first Christmas parents bought presents for their sons, believing my brother wouldn’t try to connive their kids out of them.”  p. 2

 Discussion Questions

Have you ever tried to be a better kid to get what you wanted for Christmas?

 What reasoning does Tom give for his bet with Parley?  What do you think the real reason?

 What do you think of the reaction of the town to the tracks of the “monster”?

 Do you think Tom and John’s punishment was appropriate?

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace (set in the 1900s)

Chapter 10: “Christmas Shopping” and Chapter 11: “Mrs. Poppy’s Party”

Every year, Betsy and Tacy go shopping and this year, they bring a new friend along.  Christmas celebrations last longer this year, with the addition of Mrs. Poppy’s party.

 Favorite Quote

“You see,” Betsy explained to Winona when they invited her, “we usually make our Christmas presents, or else our mothers buy them for us. . . the ones we give away, I mean.”

“Then why do you go shopping?” Winona asked.

“We go shopping to shop,” said Tacy.

 Discussion Questions

What kind of stores do the girls visit?

 Why do the girls choose to buy an ornament every year?

 How does the Ray family celebrate Christmas?

 How do they continue celebrating at Mrs. Poppy’s?

 Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer  (set around 1900 in New York City)

Chapter 6: “Born is the King of Israel”

Lucinda decides to plan a special holiday surprise for her friend, Trinket.  She takes odd jobs around the   neighborhood to earn money for presents.  And all her friends join them for a party—and Trinket’s very first Christmas tree.

 Favorite Quote

 “It’s the nicest tree I ever had, and it will be Trinket’s onliest up to now.  I do hope you’re as excited about it as I am, Miss Nettie.”  Lucinda spread sugary fingers about Miss Nettie’s neck and said something that surprised them both: “I do love you, Miss Nettie.”  p. 112.

Discussion Questions

How do Lucinda’s neighbors help her in throwing the Christmas party?

How is the Christmas tree decorated?

What kind of traditions does Lucinda have to celebrate?  How are some of those shaped by where she lives?

Why do you think this was such a memorable Christmas for everyone?

General Discussion Questions

Of the traditions mentioned in these stories, what traditions do you also use to celebrate?

 How are some of these Christmases from the past different from your Christmas?

If you read more than one selection, what do these celebrations have in common?  How are they different?  What are some reasons for these differences?

If you could pick one Christmas to celebrate with some of the characters mentioned above, which would it be?