is an ideal novel to assign along with Romeo and Juliet
. It can deepen students' understanding of genre, point of view, foreshadowing, irony, and other key elements of literature – as well as giving deeper insight into the history of 14th-century Italy, the period when the Middle Ages begins to transform into the Renaissance.
The free Instructor's Guide to Juliet's Nurse
was created for use in high school and college/university classes by Pam B. Cole, Associate Dean and Professor of English Education and Literacy at Kennesaw State University.
Click here to get the Guide
If you're a teacher (or student, or parent of a student), please feel free to use the Guide and adapt it any way you'd like. If you would like to suggest topics, activities, or assignments for future versions of the Instructor's Guide or to send samples of student work, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also email to inquire about having Lois make a "virtual visit" to your classroom via Skype, Google Hangout, or other technology, or an in-person visit if you can cover travel costs.
Here's what folks who've hosted her for classroom visits have to say
"It was an absolute treat for our high schools to host Lois Leveen. Few authors will literally throw themselves on the ground to make for a great event, but she did that and more in the space of a single class period. She pulled off a miniature play, a brilliant lecture infused with energy and insight, and managed to make medieval Italy live and breathe for our students. She is a joy to meet and an asset to any classroom."
Wally Johnston, staff member, Rediscovered Books
"My students greatly appreciated Lois Leveen's talk at Borah in which students compared the experience of writing or reading a play like Romeo and Juliet with writing or reading a novel like Juliet's Nurse. The next day, the kids and I talked about what perspective does to a piece, especially one you think you know pretty well. In fact, I just revised our discussion next week to revolve around the perspectives of individual characters in the next work we're reading, a novel by Toni Morrison. Lois, thank you for the inspiration!"
Pamela Atkins, teacher, Borah High School
"It was great to have author Lois Leveen speak to our class. I never miss an opportunity to hear authors, and Lois is by far the most dynamic. What I loved most was to experience a truly interactive discussion on the text. Most of all, I loved that Ms. Leveen acted out scenes from Shakespeare and her own novel with students, to help kids understand Juliet’s hijinks /drama! Kids were wildly enthused as well. Ms. Leveen really helped kids “see” the story. I’m just sorry only one class got the opportunity to hear her presentation."
Lindy Freeman, teacher, Bishop Kelly High School
"Ms. Leveen is charismatic, enthusiastic, and engaging to the younger demographic of readers. Her ability to create a world of Shakespeare that is accessible to anyone is unparalleled. Ms. Leveen truly is a light amongst her peers.”
Alison Pettyjohn, Amelia Roque and Nic Monarrez, students, Bishop Kelly High School
"Choosing [Leveen's] novel rather than a YA selection means students have had a more rigorous academic experience. The opportunity to meet and talk with Lois Leveen was a highlight for all the students."
Robert Mattson, Skyridge Middle School
The Secrets of Mary Bowser
The Secrets of Mary Bowser
offers college and high school students and teachers a means to explore topics and themes across many subject areas, from history and literary studies to science, math, and visual and performing arts.
The novel is particularly compelling for teachers or schools looking for multicultural content. Because much of the book focuses on Mary's experience leaving her community to seize an education, it's especially relevant for First-Year Experience courses, convocation and commencement programs, senior capstone classes, and other settings that focus on helping students to make a successful transition into a new school, or to prepare students to think about how to apply aspects of their education outside of school.
Download the full Teaching Guide for The Secrets of Mary Bowser
Some Key Themes and Issues for Teaching the Novel:
1. The power of education to change a life
: Because Mary Bowser is educated—when white Southerners do not expect that of a black person—she is a particularly powerful intelligence agent.
2. Overcoming stereotypes
: Throughout the book, African Americans challenge the stereotypes whites have of them, and women of both races challenge the roles and behaviors expected of them. But Mary, Bet Van Lew, Thomas McNiven (an immigrant), and Wilson Bowser also play on stereotypes that keep anyone from suspecting them.
3. Developing personal responsibility and a commitment to act on behalf of the larger community
: Mary—and the reader—see her espionage as a heroic contribution to ending slavery. But making that contribution requires personal sacrifice. She must give up her freedom and her friends to return to the South. During the war, she decides to remain in Richmond rather than bring her own father to freedom. Later, her husband leaves Richmond to join a black Union regiment, putting himself at considerable physical risk.
4. Parental expectations and determining your own path
: Throughout her life, Mary's mother and father insist she is special. In some ways, their certainty helps her seize opportunities, but ultimately she has to come to trust her own judgment and not second-guess her choices, even when the results are upsetting (such as her father's illness, or her own violent encounter with a Confederate soldier).
5. The process of learning to work with those who are different from you
: In both her antislavery work in Philadelphia and her spying in Richmond, Mary interacts with people who are very different from her. She learns to trust Zinnie Moore, Thomas McNiven, and, ultimately, Bet Van Lew. Conversely, each of these white allies learns from her. Mary also grows to understand that even among the African Americans who are active in the anti-slavery movement, there are disagreements about tactics and approaches, despite the shared goal of ending slavery.
6. The way class, opportunity, and values can divide members of a community
: Readers are especially interested in Mary's experience as part of the free black community in Philadelphia. Many blacks there are much poorer than she expected. Some of the more financially secure African Americans in Philadelphia believe economic advancement should be a higher priority than social/political activism, while others are deeply involved in social justice efforts.
7. The importance of understanding how women and people of color shaped American history
: Because Mary Bowser was a real person, studying her story and exploring why her amazing achievements remained relatively unknown can open up discussions about what an "American hero" is.
"The Secrets of Mary Bowser
would be ideal for use as a common reader or in a first year experience program. Lois Leveen is a dynamic and engaging speaker and a natural teacher who can appeal to a wide range of audiences."
— Professor Gloria Hochstein, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and President-Elect, Sigma Tau Delta Board of Directors
Suggest an activity or assignment to be added to the Teaching Guide