Kathy Anderson’s Wilson High School students are lucky. Not only do they get to take a literature class called “The 60’s,” but they read WITS writer Joanna Rose’s book Little Miss Strange, followed by a visit from the writer herself.  Joanna began her talk this morning by noting that she didn’t write Little Miss Strange with teen readers in mind.  Following the coming-of-age of a young girl in a counter-culture Denver neighborhood of late sixties, early seventies, the book naturally discusses drugs and sexuality. Joanna said she couldn’t imagined having reading a book like that in her high school English class.

She expressed her excitement, though, because, as a WITS writer of 14 years (since the very beginning!), she finds young people to be some of the most insightful readers, a claim that this morning’s discussion proved 100 % true. After Joanna talked about the interesting evolution of the book throughout her four-year writing process, the students were not shy to share their own impressions. They asked Joanna about the story’s bird imagery, how the author was able to write from the perspective of a five-year-old, and why she chose certain characters to develop and certain to leave on the edges. They wondered about their own conclusions of the ambiguous ending, the narrative’s style of short sentences and paragraphs, and their perspectives on the characters’ relationships. They were  interested in what Joanna misses about the Sixties (the music and the colors), and what she reads her spare time, some students nodding vigorously in agreement with her responses, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy (she re-reads it every couple of years) and William Gibson’s cyberspace sci-fi.

When the bell rang, the students presented Joanna with a thank you note and a gift bag that fittingly contained a box of fancy incense. Mrs. Anderson said again how perfect Joanna’s book was in discussing such a colorful, yet complicated era. She said Little Miss Strange lead the class to analyze the poetry of song lyrics (Joanna agrees that there are layers and layers of music in the book), debate drug laws, and talk about children’s experiences of counter-culture.

On his way out the door, one student stopped to say that he loved Little Miss Strange even though he usually isn’t much of a reader. That is the sign of a truly good book. Thanks Joanna!

Even looks like the perfect book to read in a class called “The Sixties”

-Kelly