Où on va, papa? by Jean-Louis Fournier
This is another book I discovered here: http://www.talkinfrench.com/great-french-novel-learn/ (sorry I didn’t give credit sooner! I couldn’t remember where I had found the list in the first place). I hadn’t heard of Fournier before this and while I was a little mislead by the original description, it was certainly an interesting read. This autobiographical work is a memoir/letter to the author’s two handicapped sons. This short text is certainly accessible to French students and in small doses might be acceptable for lower level classes. For AP French and French 5, I will use the short chapters sparingly, for not many of the themes are addressed and many passages are sadder than I would wish to present to my students. I completely understand that life is sad and that is worth discussing, but I’m not the teacher to do it! I cry enough reading Le Petit Prince, so I know better than to bring up topics in class that are too close to my own heart and fears.
The chapters aren’t numbered, so we’ll use page numbers 🙂
Page 41 (if you number your chapters like me, it’s 22): This chapter is just a page long and rather sad, but the author talks about his sons and Christmas, how he never had to lie to them about Santa and how there was no need to decorate. Christmas was a day for them just like any other. Students will be able to share their own family traditions, great for AP prep, and we can discuss the more serious aspect of this chapter: how different people are able to understand different holidays. How does one talk about religion with children? I’m interested to hear what my students have to say!
Page 59 (Chapter 34): In this chapter, the author describes his sons’ corsets to us. Both children are hunchbacked and need this extra metal support to stand up straighter. Upon reflection, this is a rather depressing read, but when I read it the first time, I enjoyed the author’s imaginative descriptions and I then wondered when my students felt that their imaginations were most active. This may or may not lead to an exercise in guided mediation. We tried a few as a class last year (guided meditations that I found in French on youtube) and my students genuinely enjoyed the experience. (Side note: my supposedly weak students scored a 3 and a 4 on the AP exam! I haven’t heard about the 3rd one yet, but I’m hoping for a 5!!).
Page 64 (Chapter 36): the author frequently talks about classical music and his favorite composers. This is the first chapter I noted that could lead to an esthetics discussion with students, because the author laments not being able to share his love of music with his sons. While it’s true that they would not appreciate the music in the same way, I wonder why he didn’t try to expose his sons to the world of classical music. Perhaps he would have been too disappointed when the introduction did not go as well as he had hoped. Students could share their love of music and their favorite artists after reading this chapter.
Page 65 (Chapter 37): this is another esthetics passage, but this time it’s painting instead of music that the author wishes his could share with his sons. Students could talk about beauty and what they would want most to share with their own children/friends/family.
Page 72 (Chapter 41): This chapter is about love and how the author wishes that his sons could experience love the way that he had over the course of his life. I would ask students to share their ideas and experiences of love and to imagine what others would say if asked the same question.
Page 98 (Chapter 59): This passage deals with the word “handicappé” and what it means to the author. I think that this would work well with the quest for self theme in the AP world. This could also be a good time to discuss tolerance and how words can affect others.
Page 119 (Chapter 71): The author talks about his children’s happiness and what part he plays in the their perception of the world. I would ask students to share what makes them happy and what we can do to increase the happiness of others.
This is nothing like a book that I would choose to read in English for my own enjoyment, but I’m happy that I read it and I think that my students will appreciate the passages that I have selected. I would not recommend reading the whole book with your students, but rather on your own. As I write about my experiences with this text, I wonder why so many of the books I’ve read for this blog this summer are depressing, what that says about my tastes, and what that says about book I share with my students. I just asked my mom what reading she most appreciated in French class and she said, “The bishop’s candlesticks” from Les Misérables. Hm. Perhaps that will be first on my reading list for next summer! But first, I shall see what comes of all the work I’m doing this summer before charting a new course. Now on to La Nuit by Elie Wiesel recommended by my dear colleague, Debbie 🙂