Thinking about Text Sets: Considering Time and Place
by: Kerrigan Mahoney
If you ever dutifully memorized the definition of the setting of a novel as the time and place where the story happens, and never much thought about it again, well … you have much to look forward to! Setting is the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, the eerie chirps of crickets at twilight, the sensation of a pat on the back for a job well done; the sound of hope, the smell of fear, the chills of desperation. Time and place shape identity, experiences, and social and cultural norms: both for our students and in our books. Considering how time and place impact identity and shape actions can be a powerful bridge between students’ own lives and experiences and those of the characters in a book. Centuries can become seconds when you can stand next to your character and empathize with her.
These three books put time and place, front and center:
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, the Michael Printz Award winning novel for excellence in young adult literature, links together seven vignettes that unfold on the same Scandinavian island over the course of millennia. The sensory experience of the island itself, along with the mythology and peoples tied to this place bring together each vignette in captivating and visceral storytelling. This genre-defying book will provoke discussion on the nature of time and the congruency of the human experience among students and adults alike.
“Open Mike Fridays” in Mr. Ward’s English class bring together the students of Bronx Masquerade, Nikki Grimes much beloved Coretta Scott King Award winning novel. The first year copies of this book showed up in my classroom shelves I heard: when can I read that book? Hey, that looks like a book I actually want to read! My internal celebratory dance and accompanying whisper/shouting was immense, but I played it cool – and my students certainly took the bait. Each chapter in this story is told from the point of view of a different student in Mr. Ward’s English class along with accompanying poem shared at “Open Mike Friday.” The importance of classroom space itself and its power to help students learn through shared experiences in a positive and supportive environment cannot be undersold – in this book or your classroom.
“Where the best and brightest strive and shine and stairways lead right to cloud nine.” Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie is a celebratory picture book for all ages. The reader can dance, sing, stroll, study, and play through the masterful use of language and compelling illustrations that take us on a journey in Sugar Hill. An excellent book to think about how literary devices and figurative language can help to captivate readers; it also could be an excellent mentor text for students to write about their own neighborhood, school, classroom, time, or place that is important to them.
Questions to consider when thinking about setting:
- How does the setting impact the plot, characters, or conflict?
- In what ways does the setting evoke a sensory response?
- How does a change in setting (or lack thereof) help to propel the story?
- How does the combination of words and images shape your experience of the story?
- How does the setting in this story relate to places you have been or settings you have experienced in other stories? How does this impact your understanding of the setting in this story?