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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Catcher in the Rye

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In this guide you will find

  • an activity asking if today’s teens can still relate to Holden Caulfield.
  • a glossary of terms so students can acquaint themselves with key terms in this provocative novel without feeling ignorant
  • modern articles on The Catcher’s legacy and its pesky tendency to get itself banned.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
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Instructions for You

Of course we all know that we're not supposed to judge books by their covers, but ... we do, right? And so did J.D. Salinger. In fact, he was so displeased with one of the first covers for Catcher in the Rye that according to Marc Jaffe, who was an editor at New American Library at the time, Salinger said "he would be much happier if the book had no illustrated cover at all. In fact, he would be happier if the book was distributed in mimeographed form (source)." 

  • Uh, mimeographed form? Somehow, we don't see that going over as well as a neatly packaged novel, but it does make us think that that J. D. Salinger might like e-books, which tend toward more simplified cover art, if they have any at all. Anyway...

In this activity, your students will study an early Catcher cover and see what they think of the art. Next, they'll find out what J. D. Salinger thought of it and what his preferences were for the cover of the next edition. Finally, they'll have the option of finishing up by either analyzing another cover or creating one of their own. Either way, they'll analyze this cover (their own or a previously designed one), present it to the class, and then decide (as a class) which of the covers they've seen best represents the novel.  

Length of Lesson: 2 class periods

Materials Needed: 

  • Access to various covers for The Catcher in the Rye. You can either print them out and distribute them, or have your students view them online in class and at home. Here's a sampling:

Step 1: As homework, have your students check out this vintage Catcher book cover and answer the following questions (in writing) in preparation for a class discussion:

  1. How would you describe the cover? Make a list of adjectives if it helps. What kind of tone does the cover art set for the novel?
  2. Discuss the setting portrayed in the cover art. Does it depict a particular passage/moment from the book? Which one?
  3. Why do you think the artist chose that particular book passage to illustrate for the cover?
  4. What's the significance of the carousel? Who is the young girl running toward it?
  5. What's the effect of the young girl looking back over her shoulder? Who or what is she looking at?
  6. Who is the young man in the red hat? What is the effect of placing him on the side of the page with his back to us (the viewer)?
  7. How would you describe the young man's mood or attitude? How does the artist achieve this?
  8. What's the overall effect of the artist's use of color? What colors (and images) stand out?
  9. How does the cover art speak to the novel's major themes and/or central issues?
  10. What kind of audience do you think this cover art is meant to attract?

Step 2: In class, discuss your students' answers to these questions. 

Step 3: Time to find out what J.D. Salinger thought about the early covers for Catcher.  Have your students read this piece from Kenneth Davis of the Don't Know Much About book series. (Alternately, you could read the article aloud with your students.)

Step 3: Uh, mimeographed form? Somehow, we don't see that going over as well as a neatly packaged novel, but it does make us that that J. D. Salinger might be a fan of e-books, which tend toward more simplified cover art, if they have any at all. Anyway...

Now that everyone knows what Salinger thought, take a moment to look at his preferred cover, the one Bantam published at his request and take some time to go over of those questions again—this time in a class discussion. Here they are, slightly adapted:

  1. How would you describe the cover? Make a list of adjectives if it helps. What kind of tone does the cover art set for the novel?
  2. Why do you think J.D. Salinger preferred this cover to the earlier covers which featured illustrations?
  3. What's the significance of the font? What about the color of the lettering and the cover itself? Why do you think J.D. Salinger chose these colors and fonts?
  4. Does this cover speak to any of the novel's major themes and/or central issues?
  5. What kind of audience do you think this cover is meant to attract?

Step 4: Now that your students have analyzed an early cover as well as Salinger's preferred cover, it's time for them to really hone their cover-judging skills. Have them choose one of the following activities to complete on their own. 

  • Design and illustrate a new The Catcher in the Rye book cover for today's reader. Anything goes, as long as the cover speaks to one of the novel's major themes or central ideas. 

OR

Whichever option they choose (designing their own cover or checking out another existing one), they should be prepared to offer their close analysis of this cover to the class. In fact, if they really want to be prepared, they should probably revisit those questions one more time.  Here they are, adapted for this final phase of the program.

  1. How would you describe the cover? Make a list of adjectives if it helps. What kind of tone does the cover art set for the novel?
  2. Discuss the setting portrayed in the cover art. Does it depict a particular passage/moment from the book? Which one?
  3. Why do you think the artist chose that particular book passage to illustrate for the cover? (If you're the artist, this one should be easy.)
  4. What's the significance of the various items depicted on this cover and their placement?
  5. What's the overall effect of the artist's use of color? What colors (and images) stand out?
  6. How does the cover art speak to the novel's major themes and/or central issues?
  7. What kind of audience do you think this cover art is meant to attract?

Step 5: Give students class time to present their chosen covers (their original illustrations or an existing book cover) to the class and offer their interpretations. If your class is large, you'll either need to use an extra day for presentations or divide your students into small groups and have them present their work in those forums. 

Step 6: As a class, discuss which covers best fit the novel and why? And finally, ask your students what they think J.D. Salinger would think of their selections?

(Lesson aligned with CA ELA 9th & 10th grade reading standards 3.7, 3.8, 3.11, 3.12; writing 2.2, 2.3; listening & speaking 1.7, 1.8, 2.2, 2.4, 2.6; 11th & 12th grade reading standards 3.2, 3.3, 3.9; writing 2.2, 2.3; listening & speaking 1.3, 2.1, 2.3)

Instructions for Your Students

Believe it or not, authors have very little control over the cover art for their novels. 

It seems wrong, since they're the ones writing the books, but the truth is that unless they're self-publishing (or unless they've achieved such great name recognition that their books will sell no matter what's on the cover), they're pretty much at the mercy of their publishers. 

And what do publishers look for in a book cover? Yep. You guessed it: something that will sell. 

Unfortunately, the covers that are designed based on that criteria don't always please authors, and J. D. Salinger? Was greatly displeased. 

But should he have been? Was his preferred cover design, which was used for subsequent editions, a big improvement? Or is the best cover for The Catcher in the Rye yet to be created?

That's what we're going to find out as we break a cardinal rule and judge a book by its cover.

Step 1: First, check out this vintage Catcher book cover and answer the following questions (in writing) in preparation for a class discussion:

  1. How would you describe the cover? Make a list of adjectives if it helps. What kind of tone does the cover art set for the novel?
  2. Discuss the setting portrayed in the cover art. Does it depict a particular passage/moment from the book? Which one?
  3. Why do you think the artist chose that particular book passage to illustrate for the cover?
  4. What's the significance of the carousel? Who is the young girl running toward it?
  5. What's the effect of the young girl looking back over her shoulder? Who or what is she looking at?
  6. Who is the young man in the red hat? What is the effect of placing him on the side of the page with his back to us (the viewer)?
  7. How would you describe the young man's mood or attitude? How does the artist achieve this?
  8. What's the overall effect of the artist's use of color? What colors (and images) stand out?
  9. How does the cover art speak to the novel's major themes and/or central issues?
  10. What kind of audience do you think this cover art is meant to attract?

Step 2: In class, talk about your answers to these questions during a class discussion. 

Step 3: Ready to find out what J.D. Salinger thought about the early covers for Catcher? In class, read this piece from Kenneth Davis of the Don't Know Much About book series and see if you agree with Salinger's views.

Step 3: Now that you know what Salinger thought, take a look at his preferred cover, the one Bantam published at his request and answer some of those questions again—this time as part of a class discussion. Here they are:

  1. How would you describe the cover? Make a list of adjectives if it helps. What kind of tone does the cover art set for the novel?
  2. Why do you think J.D. Salinger preferred this cover to the earlier covers which featured illustrations?
  3. What's the significance of the font? What about the color of the lettering and the cover itself? Why do you think J.D. Salinger chose these colors and fonts?
  4. Does this cover speak to any of the novel's major themes and/or central issues?
  5. What kind of audience do you think this cover is meant to attract?

Step 4: All right. You've analyzed an early cover for Catcher as well as Salinger's preferred cover. Now choose one of the following activities to really hone your cover-judging skills. 

  • Design and illustrate a new The Catcher in the Rye book cover for today's reader. Anything goes, as long as the cover speaks to one of the novel's major themes or central ideas. 

OR

Whichever option you choose (designing your own cover or checking out another existing one), be prepared to offer your close analysis of this cover to your class. Hint: a great way to prepare would be to answer those questions again. Here they are, one more time, adapted for this portion of the program.

  1. How would you describe the cover? Make a list of adjectives if it helps. What kind of tone does the cover art set for the novel?
  2. Discuss the setting portrayed in the cover art. Does it depict a particular passage/moment from the book? Which one?
  3. Why do you think the artist chose that particular book passage to illustrate for the cover? (If you're the artist, this one should be easy.)
  4. What's the significance of the various items depicted on this cover and their placement?
  5. What's the overall effect of the artist's use of color? What colors (and images) stand out?
  6. How does the cover art speak to the novel's major themes and/or central issues?
  7. What kind of audience do you think this cover art is meant to attract?

Step 5: Present your chosen cover (your original illustration or an existing book cover) to the class and offer your interpretation. 

Step 6: As a class, discuss the overall favorite covers. Which ones seem to best fit the novel and why? And finally, what would J.D. Salinger think of your class's selections?

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.1.2

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