Why The Catcher in the Rye is the Perfect Book to Start With

I talk a lot of smack about Holden Caulfied and The Catcher in the Rye, I have to admit (although not in front of my students). I may tend to let a few words like "whiner," "entitled," "mediocre prose," and "excessive angst" come out of my mouth while reading, which I actually find incredibly ironic since I probably tend to bond with kids who are more like Holden than, say, Sally (read it if you don't understand that reference). More than anything, I think Holden and I have just spent way too much time together over the pas two decades- I teach this book every other year and have read it a few times prior to teaching as well (I think this is my sixth time). 

But, here's the thing: it's a great book to start our two-year IB stretch off with. Once I'm in the classroom teaching it I'm totally and completely on board with Holden and Salinger, and gone are my complaints. I will have the students who just entered my class for two years, and we will explore and analyze countless books together. The Catcher in the Rye is the perfect start. Here's why: 

1. It's a perfect jumping off point for reviewing (or for some of the kids, an initial teaching of) important concepts like symbols, themes, and narrative structure. All of these are so easily identifiable and discussible that they get the process and feel successful. 

2. The language is fun to examine and helps facilitate discussions on such concepts like syntax and diction. The style isn't archaic or too challenging, so the kids feel comfortable talking and writing about Salinger's choices.

3. The students always have strong opinions about Holden, which means they're much more likely to participate than they may be otherwise. Some kids are naturally talkative and ready to go, but I do see many that are a little more hesitant early in the year, since they don't know me (yet) or all of their peers. There's something about Holden that makes kinds want to talk.

4. Speaking of that, there's something identifiable for most students in this text. Maybe they have family issues, are insecure, have a rebellious streak, are struggling with depression, are lonely, want to impress those of the opposite sex, etc... 

5. There are a lot of great creative projects that can be done with this text. One of my favorite that I created when I first started is called "Diagnosing Holden," where they pretend they are his psychiatrist and put together his medical file. Over the summer they had choices that included a poster map of the spots he visited, letters to Holden written in the voices of the other characters, or a scrapbook. 

So, yes, while Holden is a bit of a pain sometimes, he really is my favorite way to start off junior year. 

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