Housekeeping: Wrapping up The Moon Is Down

I finished the book!


John Steinbeck's poem plague near the City Lig...
John Steinbeck’s poem plaque near the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco Chinatown’s Jack Kerouac Alley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


First, it’s good that we did not read the introduction first, or I think that is the lens that we would be looking through as we read the story. We would know that people did not consider the work to be a stellar piece of writing, or even one of Steinbeck’s best efforts. We would not know how it affected the people of the occupied areas, either, nor how it inspired those fighting the Nazis to continue their fight. We would not know about how it was printed clandestinely, sometimes by typists reproducing the novel over and over, throughout Europe. We would not know that Steinbeck was awarded medals for his work. Finally, we would not know that Steinbeck produced the novel to be a piece of propaganda, not just a work of fiction.


That being said, I found the novel to be inspiring because I knew that it was an attempt to capture the experiences of occupied people and the soldiers who kept watch over them. I was happy to see that the soldiers were also given humanity; too often, the German soldiers in World War II are portrayed as machines. Just because the leadership was irrational, insane, and evil, that doesn’t mean that we need to condemn the people as well. I have struggled with that issue for many years, simply trying to understand how an entire population could follow he-who-must-not-be-named.


Perhaps my students would have been able to make some connections on their own and discover the humanity embedded into the characters who were soldiers. I hope so. I also hope they would see that those under siege were brave until the end and that the collective intelligence of the community demonstrated their bonds to one another, forged long before the soldiers arrived.


The book leaves us with questions about those who died, and whether they deserved to die, too. I’m still trying to answer those questions in my mind, but they would make great questions for an essay.


In conclusion, then, I do believe that teaching the novel without all the fanfare in the beginning is a good idea. The introduction would later illuminate for us parts of the novel that might have been confusing or that we had forgotten, as it did for me. I also believe it could generate a great deal of discussion about perception, opinion, and understanding (comprehension). If you’re looking for a new novel to teach, you might want to consider this one.






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The Moon Is Down, Day Three



As students enter the classroom on Day Three, they would find a discussion prompt on the whiteboard:


What were you thinking yesterday while we read?  Be honest and share it with your neighbor.



After five minutes, I would open the floor so students could share their discussion.  In my classroom, I would like to encourage students to be honest and forthright about their thoughts and develop metacognitive strategies that, in the end, will tell them much about their learning styles, interests, and thought processes.  Therefore, I think this discussion question would be a good one.  I would allow for about 10 minutes of group talk.


I suspect we would hear answers such as:


  • I was bored and thinking about the party this weekend.
  • I was thinking that these characters are flat (or stupid, in for a lot of trouble soon, sad, etc.)
  • I was wondering what was going to happen next and feeling bad for the characters.
  • I could not follow what was happening and ended up zoning out.
  • I thought Steinbeck did a good job integrating character description with the story.
  • I could see certain characters, but not others.


After the discussion, in which we could offer one another advice or try to address any challenges, we would again read for about fifteen minutes and try to come up with questions.  I’ll live blog my questions after I finish reading like I did last time.

Finally, they would have homework, which would include reading to a certain page in the book on their own and generating two questions to discuss the next day.




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Teaching the Novel – Post # 1

Teachers: Have you ever tried to teach a novel without reading it first? Well, I’m going to try to, but since I’m not teaching at the moment, I will have to pretend. Visualization exercises are always good for lesson planning, right?


Cover of "The Moon Is Down (Thorndike Pre...
Cover via Amazon


The Novel


The novel I have chosen is The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck. I heard about this novel as I was listening to the audio version of the biography of Winston Churchill called The Last Lion (Manchester & Reid, 2012). Apparently, Churchill was quite pleased with the novel and found it inspirational. I have this quote that is similar to what Manchester and Reid said about the book in their work.


While some American critics faulted the novel for its sympathetic portrayals of Nazi soldiers, the book was widely popular in Europe. The Moon is Down was reprinted in French and distributed by the resistance fighters of the Maquis. These were books printed under the very noses of the Gestapo. It was also banned in Italy, where the penalty for reading the book was death.

Yet its message resonated. The plot device of the Mayor’s request for explosives to be air dropped so that the townsfolk can wreck the mine and the railroad — a sabotage campaign that he understands in advance will lead to his death — was noticed by Winston Churchill himself. After reading The Moon Is Down, Churchill ordered the Special Operations Executive to explore this idea and it became the basis of Operation Braddock, a British sabotage and propaganda campaign. Not bad for a mere work of fiction, turned out by a man who had never lived through the events he described (Dutchman6, 2009).


Because it inspired Churchill, I think this novel is a great complement to any studies of World War II in history classes. I would (if I were teaching) coordinate the teaching of the novel with the time in which the students are studying WWII. I would not read it beforehand, however. I’ve been chomping at the bit, as they say, since I first got the book, but wanted to read it as I write these posts so that my lesson is more authentic.


Why Do This?


I believe that a big part of teaching is modeling the behavior and practices that we think will best serve our students as they embark on adult life. Therefore, I would like to model what I do when I read a novel for the first time. For instance, I’d like to be able to authentically state why I think this novel is going to be good (I almost wrote “killer”) and what prompted me to order it. Then, I would like to explore this novel with the class without the benefit of reading it first, so we can discover its beauty together. I think the conversations that come out of that reading would be terrific. Sure, I would make mistakes, make bad predictions, all that kind of stuff. But isn’t that all part of reading and learning to read well?


So, in the next post, I will put a lesson plan into place that introduces the novel and its context. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I think I will enjoy writing them.





Dutchman6. (2009, February 3). Sipsey Street Irregulars: The Moon Is Down. Sipsey Street Irregulars. Retrieved from


Manchester, W., & Reid, P. (2012). The last lion: Winston Spencer Churchill. Little Brown/Nov.


Steinbeck, J. (1995). The moon is down. New York: Penguin Books.




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