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One Read for Racial Justice Guide: Dear America

A guide to our One Read title, "Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen" by Jose Antonio Vargas

How to Discuss a Book

If you've never led a book club, it might be daunting to start one - even if you're passionate about the book! If you want to lead your own One Read event to discuss Dear America or related texts, here are some helpful tips:

How to Read Critically

1.  Learn about the authorDoing some research on the author can help you find new insight into the book they've written. Sometimes authors' own lives make their way into their work, or their experiences might give them different perspectives on certain topics and situations. 

2. Identify the author's style. Reading up on an author can also help you find out what their writing is like before you start reading. Understanding an author's style will give you information about what they are doing with the language itself. Knowing if a book you are reading is written in stream of consciousness, in verse, or in a minimalist style can give you clues to an author's intentions and place their work into a literary movement.

3. Take notes while reading. Make note of interesting passages, your thoughts about events in the book or the writing itself, or questions you had while reading. These are all great things to talk about when discussing the book later with others!

4. Pay close attention to anything that repeats. If something repeats in a story - no matter how small it might be - take note of it, because it is probably an important symbol. What might the author be trying to communicate through the symbol? Does it remind you of anything you have seen or read before? 

5. We aware and wary of the narrator. Early on, try to identify who the narrator of the story is and what they are interested in when it comes to the story. Even in third-person narratives, the narrator is important. Sometimes narrators leave out details or don't tell the truth - also called an unreliable narrator - and other times narrators share a lot of the same perspectives as the author themselves.

6. Take time with difficult passages. If a paragraph or page is really difficult for you to grasp, go through it even slower and ask yourself what it is about that passage that is making it so hard. Is there a character you don't remember? Are there some words whose definitions you don't know? It can be useful to take notes on difficult sections - like word definitions, or questions that arise while you read them - to help you later on in your reading.

7. Research the time and place. To get a better idea of the setting of the story you're reading, you can research the time period and the place. It can be especially helpful to look at pictures, read a little about the history of somewhere, or even look at what that place looks like today. 

8. Everything is in the book (or not) for a reason. Although some parts of a book might seem boring or useless, the author (and editor) have included each sentence for a reason. What seems random at first might come back later in the story, giving more details than you thought it would. Likewise, sometimes authors leave out details on purpose to keep a reader guessing throughout the book - or to keep you hooked for a sequel.

(Adapted from How to Read Critically)

Reading & Teaching Guides

Want to get a conversation started about Dear America? Take a look at these reading and teaching guides put together by HarperCollins and Define American! 

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