Any suggestions for approach would be much appreciated!
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I have not taught the book, but have read it. I teach special ed, and have a lot of students on the autism spectrum. If your students do not know much about the book, it might be interesting to have them write a brief blurb about what they think is going on with Christopher after each section of the book. His autism is not spelled out in so many words, right away. If your students DO know the general premise of the book, having them write out what they think a person with autism might be like before they read, and to update their thoughts as they learn more. If they are old enough, pairing this book with Born on a Blue Day, or one of Temple Grandin's books would be a good comparison/contrast. You might want to bring out the major thought that those of us who work with children on the spectrum keep in mind--"If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." The variations between those on the spectrum are as great as those of the general population. I'm glad to hear of people teaching this book, as, unfortunately, a lot of people think only of "Rainman" when they think of autism.
I haven't taught this book, either, but I did read it. It was a great book, and I bet it will go over well with students. Here are a few things I've thought about that you may want to cover:
1. The reliable/unreliable narrator. Christopher tells us many times that he has a mind like film, so he considers himself to be very reliable. He is, however, still a kid; and a kid with autism at that, which gives him a unique perspective on things. Though he seems to be very aware of how his own mind works, he is ignorant about much of the "real world."
2. The challenges of coming-of-age, and how they are heightened for Christopher.
3. Family relationships, Christopher's relations with other characters in and out of his family (parents, teacher, dog).
I have used it in lessons when teaching English to non-native speakers all all ages. Because of the main characters very literal and linear inner-voice, the narrative is comparitively easy for non-native speakers to understand. Many of my students have read the whole thing but have been unable to read other complete texts.
It is very 'comprehensible' for readers who may not be great at reading. It is also a fabulous books for generating discussion about 'disability', 'special needs', 'difference', 'other people's point of view' and 'how we see the world'. It is a book that was originally intended for young adults, so I think you'll find it very suitable.
Thanks to all who replied. You have given me some wonderful suggestions!!!
To add to the other excellent suggestions raised above, I would say that this novel allows great opportunity for discussion about special needs students and in particular how they are accommodated within both the education system and society at large. It could spark really interesting discussions about alienation, stereotyping, what is "normal" and society's openness or not to those who are "different" in one way or another. It is also an amazing book that has more to say about the messy world of the adult characters than the confused world of the narrator.
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