|EN 3041/51: Novel Study Assignment (A)
Submitted By: Marco Frattarelli
Submitted To: Alyson van Beinum
Date: November 15, 2010
Novel Choice: In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Culleton Mosionier
Beatrice Culleton Mosionier’s In Search of April Raintree is a novel that will certainly hurl you onto a rollercoaster of emotions. As a story that deals with adolescents’ “search” for identity and the ramifications of a difficult childhood – and a text that is even readable to young adults – In Search of April Raintree is a great novel choice for junior English classes.
The novel is a story of two Métis sisters growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, who are, at a young age, taken away from their home because of their parents’ abusive alcohol addiction. The two girls eventually find themselves being separated from each other, ending up in various different foster homes over the next few years. Aside from the pain of being separated from each other, both girls also undergo various difficulties with some of the foster parents. Because they are Métis, some of those new homes exploit the girls (especially April, the protagonist and narrator), forcing them to work, eat and sleep in shabby conditions. Racism is prevalent. While April receives ill-treatment at home, Cheryl, who is the darker and more Native-looking sister, is ridiculed at school. Despite the hardships and the long periods of time apart, the girls build a bond through their letters and monthly visits like never before. This bond, however, seems to go a little sour as they grow older. It isn’t that the sisters grow to dislike each other; it is just that the sisters seem to be growing in two very different directions – a product, most definitely, of their different upbringings and experiences. For example, Cheryl, being ridiculed for her Native heritage, seeks to rectify the image and stereotypes circulating her people by working with them in a community centre. She becomes fixated on Native history and adamant on spreading the beauty of her culture and the injustices it has served. April, on the other hand, has more of a difficult time handling and holding her Native tradition and identity. In fact, she seeks to completely ignore and discard it. For example, there are moments in the book where April would meet Cheryl at a location away from her school so as to not have her friends see that she had a “dark” and “Native” sister. Once the girls are old enough to move out of their foster homes, the prospect of their reunion in a household is short-lived. April, for example, quickly meets a wealthy white boy from Toronto and, fixated with being associated with “whiteness” and wealth, marries him within months. Cheryl chooses to remain in Winnipeg to continue school and pursue her dreams of revolutionizing the world’s views on the Native culture and people. This great distance in location begins to mark in the novel a distancing in their character. April eventually discovers that her husband is having an affair and divorces him with a large settlement in her favour. With pockets full of money, a heart full of sorrow and a mind full of self-uncertainty, April seeks to reconnect with her sister in Winnipeg. Upon arrival, however, April comes to discover that she has come to reconnect with a different Cheryl; a character that no longer resembles the sister she knew. Cheryl has now dropped out of school, become an alcoholic, and taken up prostitution. A pivotal point of the story then unfolds when April is confused for Cheryl and is raped by a gang of men – a moment that illustrates the importance of identity in the story. Soon after, Cheryl commits suicide – mirroring the actions of her mother – and April soon discovers that Cheryl had left a newborn child behind. The book then ends with April’s commitment to raise Cheryl’s son with the pride and honour that her sister once had. April essentially learns to embrace her culture and identity. By the end of the novel, the “search” for April Raintree is over.
In what grade level/course would you teach this text?
This text would be perfect for any junior (Grade 9 or 10) English class – regardless of whether it is Academic or Applied. How so? Well, the story is actually a fairly easy-read. Being readable to even the applied junior student, this story will work wonders in illuminating the difficulties that growing adolescents encounter with self-identity – an issue, quite frankly, that is pertinent to their time. Despite being just over 200 pages, this novel would not require more than the usual time allotted for the ‘Novel Study’ unit. Moreover, this novel would work well in incorporating more important themes that may be threaded throughout the entire term (and especially in a Catholic school, where certain morals and issues are required to be incorporated into lessons throughout the year) and will also help lead a teacher into other units, like ‘Media’, that deal with ‘images’ and misrepresentations. A text like such may also be incorporated into other courses like History, World Issues, and/or Religion. The length of the text, however, may require too much time in these courses to be able to cover all of their already required expectations. Religion may be the only other course outside of English that may be able to fully engage with the book properly and effectively. A novel like such may really help a religion teacher to elucidate the injustices in our world through violence and racism, and our need, as Catholics, to help in the process of rectifying them.
What are the main ideas/issues/teaching points which you would emphasize when teaching the text?
As far as themes go, the central one is pretty much outlined in the title: In Search of April Raintree. The story essentially speaks to the idea of searching for belonging and identity. While the central nature of this story is highly racially- and ethno-culturally-based, there is still much that can be grasped by the non- Métis student. The story speaks well to those in the adolescent developmental stage because it actually depicts adolescents encountering issues of self-identity, discrimination, and moral development. In teaching this text then, a teacher should emphasize on these core issues by elaborating on them to make them relevant to their reality. A teacher should, aside from talking about plot development, form, and other literary devices and techniques, discuss how issues of racism and discrimination, alcohol abuse, suicide, and child abuse are displayed – and more importantly, how they are morally wrong and unjust. While this text may be used to discuss things like proper formats – there are a lot of ‘letters’ written within the text that could be emulated – there is a greater need to teach from the moral angle. This is why this text will work well with the junior levels. Bullying, discrimination, and the experimentation with the dangerous world of drugs and violence are all a part of an early adolescent’s journey. In teaching such a text, a teacher properly addresses these issues, illuminating the dangers involved while simultaneously teaching and aiming for a more glorious pathway. This text will help – or at least, should help – teens realize the importance of accepting their identity.
Some other knowledgeable possibilities:
A text like In Search of April Raintree will help students witness the injustices in society that they sometimes neglect to see. This novel aids in unveiling the social realities of racial and cultural discrimination.
This novel will, in the topical sense, aid students to realize how two orphaned Métis sisters struggle to find meaning and identity in a world full of discrimination and violence. Essentially, it will help illuminate the realities of discrimination, stereotypes, and the on-going search for identity.
This novel will help to elucidate the discriminatory realities that First Nations peoples have encountered in our own country, and the many stereotypes that have unjustly fallen on them. A text like such also serves as a great mini-history lesson on the Métis peoples, their history, and their real political, environmental, and social struggles. Throughout the text, Cheryl’s rants and essays on her people’s history – like one which detailed Louis Riel’s resistances – will help to make for some historical knowledge.
Just like any other novel, this text would serve well in teaching plot development, theme, narration, characterization (dynamic vs. static), and other literary devices and tools (allusion, imagery, foreshadowing, etc). In reading this text, students can also explore the genre and how it may be used as a social commentary. The various ‘letters’ written within the text may also help students learn how to appropriately write correspondence.
What are the issues/challenges you might encounter in teaching the text?
One of the challenges that a teacher may encounter in teaching this text is probably dealing with some of its disturbing material. The book not only deals with the disheartening issues of child abuse and abandonment, alcohol abuse, and discrimination, but it was holds a rather disturbing rape scene. As a teacher, in teaching this text, you need to ensure that your class is comfortable reading the material, and more importantly, that they are mature enough to take those issues seriously. The only other issue/challenge in teaching this text is its length. Being just over 200 pages, some students (especially juniors) may give up on the book before even starting. At the same time, I think if the text is given a chance, it will go a long way – its content, pace, and ultimate shock-value may help them to keep glued to the pages.
Some possible assignments and how they connect to the curriculum expectations
Aside from the usual culminating comparative essay in the Novel Study unit, the following are some smaller assignment ideas particular to this novel:
Assignment 1: Adapted from Pat Adamson and Lauree Kopetsky. 2008 Portage & Main Press
Graphic Timeline Plot Assignment
Construct and distribute a blank timeline handout.
Have the students select key events (5-8) in the novel and write short descriptions of them for the two main characters, April and Cheryl.
Have the students then rate each event as either a “highlight” or “hardship” and plot each event accordingly (a highlight will fall above the central line, a hardship will fall below). Have the students then connect them with a line (colours should differentiate the characters)
Purpose: Helps students visualize plot development and how certain events lead to character development (the “dynamic” character).
This novel deals with issues of Métis and First Nations discrimination and the hardships that come with being type-casted. Have students seek pictures, articles, or written pieces that illustrate a stereotype or subjugated minority group in society today.
Have the students then write/create either a reflective poem, comic strip (bitstripsforschool.com), short piece of prose, or letter dealing the issue (this is a form of differentiated instruction!). The creative pieces should be about creating awareness of the issue, all the while explaining how it is important to eradicate such injustices.
Once all is collected, put together a collage that may be put up on the wall in the classroom.
Purpose: to help students become aware of the various social injustices that plaque our minority groups even today.
This novel and these corresponding assignments will help to achieve some of the basic curriculum expectations such as:
Reading and Literature Studies:
Reading for Meaning: read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, informational, and graphic texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning
Understanding Form and Style: recognize a variety of text forms, text features, and stylistic elements and demonstrate and understanding of how they help communicate meaning;
Reading with Fluency: use knowledge of words and cueing systems to read fluently;
Reflecting on Skills and Strategies: reflect on and identify their strengths as readers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most helpful before, during, and after reading
Developing and Organizing Content: generate, gather, and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience;
Using Knowledge of form and style: draft and revise writing, using a variety of literary, informational, and graphic forms and stylistic elements;
Applying Knowledge of Conventions: use editing, proofreading, and publishing skills and strategies, and knowledge of language conventions, to correct errors, refine expression, and present their work effectively;