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Are You My Mother?: a Comic Drama

Are You My Mother? A Comic DramaAre You My Mother?: A Comic Drama
By: Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: Hardcover, 6 x 9, 240 pages, Black and White, $22.00
ISBN: 978-0-61898-250-9

Review
Seated at what I imagine as an Arthurian round table of graphic novel superheroes Alison Bechdel once again finds herself in good company. Noble in their literary quests and uniquely gifted in writing and illustrating literary-level graphic novels Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Alan Moore, and Alison Bechdel are predestined change agents for graphic novel readership worldwide. Each of these graphic novelists and their unique graphic novel styles have (and continue to) alter the perceived landscape of what has traditionally counted as "literature." They have forever made their mark on what will continue to be a redefining of contemporary, 21st century literature. In Bechdel's case, her contributions, and the informational thought balloon I imagine above her head, reads: Dykes to Watch Out For, Fun Home, and, most recently, Are You My Mother?

Bechdel's Are You My Mother? is both an Oedipal journey and an autobiographical memoir. Oedipal in Bechdel's psychoanalytic attempts to better understand her relationship with her mother (from childhood to today) and autobiographical memoir in its selfless, honest portrayal of their familial history Are You My Mother? is mesmerizingly bold. Drawn into Bechdel's thoughts by her words and images readers find themselves metaphorically sitting on her shoulder. Intimately. Bechdel's bravery is astounding. Similar to her first graphic novel Fun Home, which was Time magazine's No. 1 Book of the Year, Bechdel exposes herself and her mother in literary nakedness. No other graphic novelist, in my opinion, is as open, honest, and selfless as Bechdel.  

As she seeks to better understand her mother and their shared history Are You My Mother? introduces readers to Bechdel's insightful and gifted intelligence. Invited to sit on her shoulder, young adult and adult readers will journey with Bechdel as she searches for answers, connections, clues, and meanings that might shed some light on her relationship with her mother. Why did her mother stop kissing her goodnight when she was seven? Also at age seven, why did her mother stop showing her any physical affection? Why did her mother stay in an unhappy marriage with Bechdel's closeted gay father? How did (and now does) her mother feel about her first graphic novel, Fun Home, which focuses on the intimately private conditions of her marriage to a closeted gay husband?

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Following up on her successful and brilliant graphic novel Fun Home – which focuses on her father's closeted gay lifestyle and running of a funeral at which the family lived, Bechdel explores her relationship with her mother from childhood to adulthood.

Setting / Time Frame: Alison Bechdel's past and present relationship with her mother (from childhood to the present day)

Major Characters: Alison Bechdel, her mother, her father, her brothers, Bob (her mother's boyfriend), Carol, Eloise, Winnicott, Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud

Themes: Identity, Family History, Family Dynamics, Conflict and Resolution, Autobiographical Storytelling/Craft, Reflections

Traditional Literature Pairing Suggestions: Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, Sharon Draper's Tears of a Tiger, Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, Sigmund Freud's & G. Stanley Hall's A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, David Winnicott's The Child, The Family, and the Outside World, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Art Spiegelman's Maus I and Maus II, Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, W.E.B. DuBois' The Souls of Black Folk, Malcom X's The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Some Teaching Recommendations For Middle School & High School English Language Arts

Suggested Alignment to the IRA /NCTE Standard(s):*
- standard #s correspond to the numbers used by IRA/NCTE

1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.  

2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate and appreciate texts.

4. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Suggested High School Level Lesson Plan:

As I thought about writing this lesson plan my mind was deeply enthralled by Bechdel's selfless self-disclosure. Perhaps one of the greatest autobiographies of all-time, what could I possibly recommend to teachers and librarians? What type of lesson plan could dig as deep and as richly as Bechdel's story calls for?  

The answer was more simple than my days and days of worrying about it.  

Focused on both reading and writing with words and with images, I suggest that teachers and librarians first ask their students to live vicariously through Bechdel's work and keep a diary of their own as they read Are You My Mother? Just like Bechdel's graphic novel, encourage students to think of their reflective diary / journal in both words and images.  

Second I recommend that teachers and librarians ask their students to pick something from their own lives – something significant, something happy, something challenging, something important, something silly, something reflective, something unique, et cetera – to write and draw about their own lives. Similar to Bechdel, what do your students want to write and draw about from their own lives?

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.