Pine-Richland students break down novel from 'A' to 'Z'

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

Freshmen at Pine-Richland High School made an alphabet game of studying “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Everyone got an assigned letter — such as “G” for guillotine — to use as the starting point for an exhibit tied to the European history and culture revisited in Charles Dickens' novel.

Matt Turconi, 14, of Pine, cut eye slits in a big box, covered the box with black paper and then crawled inside to illustrate “C” for confinement, as in the solitary confinement experienced by several characters in “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Other students focused on the art, architecture, food and fashions of 18th- century Europe.

“As they read the book, they would look out for themes or characters or places that could be expanded upon, using the letter of the alphabet they were given,” said English teacher Leticia Harshman.

Harshman's students presented their displays to fellow students on Feb. 6, 7 and 8 at the high school as “The A to Z's of ‘A Tale of Two Cities' Museum Exhibit.”

“It's the first of its kind,” Harshman said about the show. “If this is successful enough, then we'll market it to the community next year.”

Serena Stedeford, 15, of Pine, rented a queen's costume to portray Marie Antoinette as part of her “Q is for Queen” exhibit on the ill-fated French royal who “loved partying and extravagant fashions,” according to Serena's tabletop display.

Grace Roller, 14, of Pine offered coloring book-style illustrations of five 18th-century revolutionaries, including Napoleon Bonaparte, as part of her “R is for Revolutionaries” exhibit.

Serena and Grace both liked “A Tale of Two Cities.”

“It was hard reading the first 200 pages, but it was very exciting at the end,” Serena said.

Grace described the book as a difficult but rewarding read.

“The beginning of the book was hard to get through, because it was slow,” Grace said. “As the book progresses, it got more exciting. The end was very good. It was all worth it.”

Approximately 60 freshmen tackled “A Tale of Two Cities” as part of Harshman's “Advanced Genre Analysis” course, a ninth-grade English class.

They began reading the novel in September — serial style — and covered a couple of chapters per week.

“That's how it was originally released, in two- and three-chapter installments ... in a weekly journal, or newspaper,” Harshman said. “That way, it was cheaper for audience members to purchase.”

That approach also allowed Dickens to reach a larger audience, according to Harshman. “He was sort of the inventor of serialized soap operas and TV shows,” she said.

“It didn't occur to me until this year that this is how it should be taught to students — that it should be read in a serial way — because the book is so dense and complicated,” Harshman said. “I think it really helped the students to read it in this way.

“What helped even more was the fact that at the end of the reading, they would be publicizing their interpretation of the book to everyone in the community through the museum exhibit,” Harshman said.

“It's definitely been the best of times.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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