Vol. 4. No. 3 R-2 May 2000
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Bookmarks: A Companion Text for Kindred
Janet Giannotti (1999)
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. xv + 117
ISBN 0-472-08552-2 (paper)
US $16.95


According to the back-cover blurb and the information on The University of Michigan Press website (http:www.press.umich.edu/titles/08552.html), Bookmarks: A Companion Text for Kindred "provide[s] teachers with creative exercises to supplement the teaching of a novel." Kindred, the 1998 novel by the American writer Octavia Butler, uses devices from science fiction writing, such as time travel, to describe life in 19th century America, as well as to reveal issues concerning the civil rights movement of the 20th century.

This text has been designed based on the theory of multiple intelligences identified by Howard Gardner (1993). The seven types of intelligence are briefly described in the introduction to the teacher (pp. xii-xiii) as linguistic, logical-mathematical, kinesthetic, spatial, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. The various types of activities offered in the book are meant to address the different styles that students bring to the learning experience. Besides invoking various intelligences, this book aims to make students' reading experiences richer, and, from a practical point of view, cuts down on teacher preparation time.

Finally, with its varied activities, A Companion Text for Kindred is meant to be used as an integrated reading-writing skills textbook.

Content and Organization

A Companion Text for Kindred contains six units plus an introductory unit called "Before You Begin." Each of the units, with the exception of the introduction, has the same format:

As an example, unit 5 (pp. 70-86) opens with the Looking Ahead section, in which the part of the novel to be studied is very briefly described. The students are then offered three choices in the Freewriting section that follows: to write about a time when they were ill; to write about someone who has changed; or to write about their first experiences coming to the United States or to another country. While these seem at first to be valid topics, I would hope that by the fifth unit of their study of the novel, the students would be encouraged to comment on a somewhat more literary aspect of their reading.

The unit continues with the Test Yourself section, in this case on the subject of generalizations and examples. True and false questions are included, as well as an exercise asking the students to complete the sentences with information from the story. This section ends with short answer questions.

Vocabulary exercises of various types appear in the next section; students are asked to circle the correct form of a word or to choose definitions. Other chapters use a variety of vocabulary exercises, including matching and asking the students to add to their personal vocabulary journal. Since many of the words tested have Latin roots, some vocabulary exercises would not be of great value to students whose first language is a Romance language (for example, words such as those practiced in unit 4 (p. 58): information, patient, comfortable, important, silence, difference). However, the vocabulary exercises provided in unit 2 (p. 26) are particularly useful and interesting in that they help the students to understand the specific vocabulary of slavery. I would have liked to see a vocabulary list (perhaps 500 new words or idioms) provided in the back of the book, however. [-2-]

The Summarizing exercises in unit 5 (pp. 76-78) are interesting in that they incorporate specific grammar points. The students are to transform direct speech (in this case commands) into indirect speech, and modify the grammar accordingly. Other exercises that complete the chapter are more open-ended, perhaps in reference to the multiple forms of intelligence described in the introduction. Students are to write in their response journals, they are provided with topics for discussion, and asked to write a composition on one of two subjects.

The most interesting part of each unit is, for this reviewer at least, the Beyond the Novel section. In these sections are collected various cultural references so that the student can place the novel in its social and historical context. There are brief biographies of slaves and abolitionists, many maps (e.g., the routes of the Underground Railroad, p. 84), even the music and lyrics to a song. A teacher (or student) who is musically oriented could perform this or other songs of the period for the class. The Options section that follows is less organized and not as interesting as the rest of the unit, providing word games, brief suggestions for role-playing, and some suggestions for work outside of class.

The textbook also contains a list of suggested projects (pp. 106-107), some of which I feel my students would find inappropriate for university study (making a shoebox model, preparing some food mentioned in the novel). However, those projects that suggest library research on the author, or on the genre of science-fiction writing, or on the history of African-Americans would certainly be welcomed. An answer key is provided.


Textbooks such as this one are always a welcome addition to a teacher's library. The large variety of exercises addresses the needs of many kinds of learners, and if the class is at an appropriate level, much can be learned from the reading of a novel. I would like to see, however, more attention paid to studying the novel from a literary point of view, perhaps having the students read reviews or critical articles about the author, Octavia Butler, or the subject of science fiction. As is often the case with textbooks such as these, the linguistic level must be kept simple, and so the intellectual level may be too simple for the students. [-3-]

As with most books published in the United States, this textbook seems to assume that the students are immigrants and have arrived from a foreign place to the United States. This year, in my department alone at the University of Montreal, we have over 500 students, the majority of them born in Quebec, who are neither immigrants to the U.S. (or to any other country, for that matter), nor do they plan to be. It is assumptions such as those, made by this textbook, which make me reluctant to adopt it for my classroom use, in spite of the value and variety of the exercises.

Janet Giannotti has also written another text in the Bookmarks series, A Companion Text for Like Water for Chocolate, the fantasy novel by Laura Esquivel. It would be interesting to see if others are in the works, especially if they could be adapted for more advanced students, with exercises of a slightly more challenging nature.

Finally, I would suggest that if teachers elect to study a novel such as Kindred, they might try to compare it to other books: either Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel which also uses science-fiction devices, or any of the novels by Mildred Taylor (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, and The Road to Memphis), all of which deal with the African-American experience.


Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Sorel Friedman
Université de Montréal

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