Category Archives: English

Bilbo Baggins Is a Girl: Slate


Martin Freeman and Graham McTavish in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Until children’s books catch up to our daughters, rewrite them.

By ,

My 5-year-old insists that Bilbo Baggins is a girl.


The first time she made this claim, I protested. Part of the fun of reading to your kids, after all, is in sharing the stories you loved as a child. And in the story I knew, Bilbo was a boy. A boy hobbit. (Whatever that entails.)


But my daughter was determined. She liked the story pretty well so far, but Bilbo was definitely a girl. So would I please start reading the book the right way?



Wuthering Heights: Before Reading 3 — YouTube!


I went to the internet to help me, as Kelly Gallagher explains, activate prior knowledge about the text and frame the text and put the book in a context with which I am already familiar.

Here is what I found:

“Many people, generally those who have never read the book, consider Wuthering Heights to be a straightforward, if intense, love story — Romeo and Juliet on the Yorkshire Moors. But this is a mistake. Really the story is one of revenge. It follows the life of Heathcliff, a mysterious gypsy-like person, from childhood (about seven years old) to his death in his late thirties. Heathcliff rises in his adopted family and then is reduced to the status of a servant,  running away when the young woman he loves decides to marry another. He returns later, rich and educated, and sets about gaining his revenge on the two families that he believed ruined his life.”

This loss of status and mistreatment at the hands of one’s new family reminded me of the story of Cinderella.

Why Should I Care? 

Concerned that you won’t like Wuthering Heights? Think you’ll get bored reading a book that’s over 150 years old? Before you give up on Emily Brontë’s one and only novel, ask yourself a couple questions:

  • Do you like creepy stories about haunted houses?
  • How about stories with elaborate revenge schemes?
  • Are you a fan of Edward Cullen, from Twilight? (Because before there was Edward, there was Heathcliff.)
  • Do you believe in soul mates?
  • Are you sick of reading stories where the girl ends up with a Prince Charming or a Romeo?

If you said yes to any of these questions, we’re willing to bet that once you pick up Wuthering Heights, you won’t be able to put it down. It’s a real page-turner, full of ghoulish behavior, ghosts, passionate love, and revenge. Maybe you’ve even heard of the main character, Heathcliff, as a dark, brooding, obsessive romantic idol. This guy is definitely no Prince Charming. Emily Brontë changed the tone of the whole romantic hero thing and made Heathcliff nasty and cruel and, in spite of all that, sexy and sympathetic. One hundred and fifty years later, pop culture is still obsessed with Heathcliff-like characters (Edward Cullen, anyone?).

YouTube also has a lot of useful videos that can help frame a text, such as this summary by

Some other facts and notes that I found out about the book:

  • From “Victorian readers found the book shocking and inappropriate in its depiction of passionate, ungoverned love and cruelty.”
  • From To Heathcliff, whoever controls the house has the power, so even though he seeks revenge for all of his mistreatment, he does so by acquiring real estate.
  • From Shmoop.comWith her violently romantic plot line and passionate characters, Emily Brontë has no problem drawing the reader into the book. And once you get through the first two chapters, you are definitely hooked. Heathcliff seems like such a jerk, yet he is one of the most famous romantic protagonists ever.

Up next: Setting a Purpose for Reading

Wuthering Heights 1: This is going to be rough…


I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of Gothic Literature. In fact, I deliberately avoided taking courses involving Jane Eyre and books of that ilk when in university. I have dabbled in reading them… and, heretofore, those books don’t ‘do it’ for me.

But… in the short time I have bee in my new position as Learning Coordinator for Literacy & English and Student Success, I have had the amazing opportunity to learn by reading, by attending workshops, by having amazing conversations, by observing powerful presenters and teachers. And I have been exposed to ideas I haven’t really considered before.

In particular, the idea that explicit reading and comprehension instruction should, according to some authors I have read, continue throughout high school gives me pause.  And these are ideas propounded by high school teachers — albeit American high school teachers — but they still have elements in them that have gotten me… pondering.

So, since I am the type of person who can only learn when I actually do something — as opposed to simply reading about it or watching it — , I thought I would put some of this reading theory to the test — on myself.

After reading two texts each of  Cris Tovani and Kelly Gallagher , here are some of their ideas that are fueling my ‘thesis’ or my hypothesis or simply my plan:

  • “Reading is hard — and hard is good” says Kelly Gallagher, and from this I take that we can’t altogether jettison the so-called classics outright simply because the language, context, story or ideas are ‘too hard’. There is value in facing and conquering a difficult text — even if we don’t like it. Gallagher goes on to say “There is a difference between liking a text and valuing a text.”
  • There are behaviours or habits that successful readers perform when reading, often without being aware of them, as outlined in Tovani’s book, I Read It But I Don’t Get It. But I want to hold out hope that these behaviours can be modelled, explicit taught, learned and ultimately internalized by struggling or reluctant learners.
  • In addition, there are strategies successful readers use when they run into trouble while reading (“when meaning breaks down”). And again, these strategies can be learned by our students.
  • Lastly, as a teacher, there are activities that I can and really must employ to increase the chances that most of my learners will get through a difficult text.

So, my plan is to try to read a text that, from this vantage point, I don’t want to read / I am not intrinsically drawn to. But I am going to try to read this text following the ideas and frameworks of these two reading instruction gurus to see if it has some merit. And I am going to attempt to chronicle this reading excursion here….

Here goes.

University debate: Shakespeare’s identity?

Amid controversy, two Canadian universities financially back debate over Shakespeare’s ‘true identity’

The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Oct. 16 2013, 5:00 PM EDT

Could Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, have been the real author of William Shakespeare’s plays and poetry?

The short answer is: No, there’s no evidence whatsoever. And ever since a fellow named J. Thomas Looney first proposed the idea in 1920, academics in English and Theatre departments around the world have taught their students exactly that – even as the so-called Oxfordian theory has been persistently pursued by a mix of cranks and celebrities and even made into a Hollywood movie.

This week, however, two major Canadian universities are for the first time putting their names and money behind a conference being held by the two largest North American organizations devoted to proving that de Vere was Shakespeare.

Shakespeare and the Living Theatre, organized by York University theatre professor and self-proclaimed “reasonable doubter” Don Rubin on behalf of the Shakespeare Oxford Society and the Shakespeare Fellowship, runs from Thursday to Saturday at the Metropolitan Hotel in downtown Toronto…



Useful Site? Teaching Literature to Adolescents

Teaching Literature

I stumbled upon this site in Google. The site has what appear to be chapters (from a book of the same title) that contain ideas and activities. In addition, there are pages that contain links for such topics as Poetry, Shakespeare and Multicultural / Women’s / World Literature, as well as Lesson ideas.

Might this be a useful site for English teachers?



Literary Devices!

For the English teacher in me. :)


Is spelling that important?

Dear English Teacher...