The Novels of Maria Testa
Becoming Joe DiMaggio
About the book:
It is the summer of 1936. The Yankees have a new center fielder whose name sounds like music and Papa-Angelo has a new grandson. The birth of Joseph Paul holds the promise of a better life and a brighter future for the family of an old many from Italy. Young Joseph Paul grows up, his ear to the radio, listening for the magical sound of a Joe DiMaggio hit, and learning the rules of the game at his grandfather’s knee. He learns how to run fast and how to make life’s difficult plays. He also learns how to dram: maybe someday he’ll grow up to be a hero like “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio. Maybe someday he’ll even make his grandfather’s “broken heart soar.”
Maria Testa’s tender verse novel tells a story about family love that is as hopeful and ageless as the American dream.
An American Library Association Notable book for Children
A Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book
A Booklist Best Sports Book of 2002
Winner of the Lupine Award, presented by The Maine State Library Association
An IRA Children’s Choices Award Winner
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2002
“With ineffable tenderness and absolute clarity, Testa tells a tale in blank verse about a boy named Joseph Paul after the great DiMaggio…Powerfully moving.” – Booklist (starred review)
“ A powerful, glowing, unforgettable achievement.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Becoming Joe DiMaggio is wondrous in its heart-felt, sparse, home-run, free verse tribute to botha family’s love of baseball and one of the game’s greatest players.” - Lee Bennett Hopkins
If you could grow up to be anyone, who would it be? What skills and abilities does this person have that you admire? Why do we dream about becoming someone else?
- What changed for Papa-Angelo in the summer of 1936? Why wasn’t the boy named after his father? Who inspired his name? What is the story of your own naming?
- How does Joseph get along with his sisters? What were the expectations for girls during this time period? What clues do you have about their relationship? What one detail would you choose to describe your own sibling relationships?
- Who do you think is speaking in the poem “The Conversation?” What does this conversation reveal about the family? Do you ever listen in on conversations?
- What word changes its meaning with Joe DiMaggio’s appearance in baseball? Are their worlds that needle you as a person too? How do words gain their power? Are there words you use that you know you shouldn’t?
- Have you ever wanted to be someone else? Who? What can you learn about someone by knowing their heroes? What do yours say about you?
- How would you describe the setting of this novel? How are settings conveyed by writers? Do you think it is different for novels in verse or is it the same? What makes you think so?
- Compare holidays at Joseph’s house to holidays in your own. How are they similar, what are the differences? What is your most memorable holiday? What will Joseph always remember?
- In “The Streak” the author says, “Hits were the same as/hope/that summer.” What do you think this means? What means hope to you? Is there anything special that you share with your own grandparents?
- How did the war change what happened that summer at home and across the seas? Why weren’t people cheering in Hiroshima? How did Joseph’s father avoid service? What was Papa-Angelou trying to do for his people in Italy?
- In the poem “My Father, Running- 1945” Joseph says, “everybody else’s/daddies/ would be coming home/like heroes/ mine would be/ going away/ again.” What is Joseph’s father’s story? How does this affect Joe’s childhood? How does he grow up to be such a good person despite his father? Why do some kids rise above their situations while it destroys others?
- How do Joseph’s dreams change over the course of the book? What does he discover about himself? DiMaggio made his parents, “Look how he has made/their broken hearts soar” How does Joseph do the same thing for his own family, especially his Papa Angelou? How will you?
- Which poem is your favorite? Why? What did you learn about the construction of poetry from reading this book? What can you apply to your own writing?
About the book:
The young narrator must watch her father march off to Vietnam, where he’ll serve a year in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. A year is a long time when you’re waiting for letters, waiting for word. A year becomes endless when you don’t know where your father is anymore. A year feels like forever when you’re wondering…and forgetting.
A Book Sense 76 Selection
A New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing Selection
A Chicago Public Library Best Book
A Bank Street College Best Book of the Year
A Voice of Youth Advocates Poetry Pick
“The language is gorgeously spare…Rapt readers don’t need to know anything about Vietnam to understand love, loss, fear, and waiting. A tour de force.” – Kirkus Reviews, (starred review)
Have you ever been separated by a parent or loved one for a long time? What was it like? Did you worry for them? Have you ever known someone to go away to war? What was the hardest part for the family?
- Why doesn’t the family finish decorating the Christmas tree in 1967? Have you ever had a moment that just changed everything for your family? What were you doing before?
- How is “seven/was everything/six was not” true for a young child? Why do you think time seems so slow for kids and so fast for adults? What is the difference between one school year and the next? Can you imagine not seeing one of your parents for an entire year?
- What doesn’t change much for the narrator after her father leaves? What things does her mom do to keep them happy? What suddenly becomes very important that the narrator once ignored?
- Do you think the mother and her children are both hoping for the same things as they listen to and watch Mr. Mudd on TV every evening? What would you want to see? How do they stay in contact with each other? How do soldiers and their families stay in contact now?
- Why do you think the narrator wants her father to know about their weather, their dinner, and what they are doing? What would be the most difficult thing about not having one of your parents for an entire year? What could you do to make it easier for someone who is going through this right now?
- What lie does Mama tell at the post office? Why is it important? What could it mean? How do parents try to keep information from their children? In the long run does it make it easier or more difficult?
- Compare the prayers of the narrator to her brothers. How are they similar? How are they different? How can you remember things about someone you love when you aren’t with them for a long while?
- What does the narrator say wrong during Christmas? Have you ever regretted something you said? What did you do? Can anything she say make it better?
- How does the narrator learn her father is missing? Why doesn’t she suddenly car e about playing at recess? How do they finally learn what has happened? How would you feel?
- In the poem “The Wedding” the narrator shows that her mother had a wonderful time. Does this poem also reveal how lonely her mother must be? How? Do you think the narrator considers how much her mother must miss her father too?
- What is the meaning of the title of the novel? How does the narrator change from the beginning of the story to the end? Do you think she will be close to her father despite his long absence? What makes you think so or not?
- Which poem is your favorite in the collection? Why? What did you learn about writing that you can apply to your next piece?
Something About America
It has been ten years since her family fled the fires of ethnic hatred in Kosova, Yugoslavia- long enough for the narrator to have learned how to hide the scars of war and transform herself into a typical American school girl. Her parents, however, continue to feel like foreigners, and she grows impatient with what she perceives as their refusal to assimilate. Then an ugly incident in a nearby town changes everything, stirring the passions of an entire community and forcing each member of this refugee family to consider what being an American truly means. Inspired by actual events in her home state of Maine the author has crafted a nuanced, provocative, and very modern American drama.
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
"Testa's distilled poetry never seems forced, and her stirring words enhance a sense of the characters' experiences and emotions, particularly those of a young person caught between cultures." – Booklist
"Testa writes stories told in poems of surpassing beauty, fragility, and depth. . . . Riveting -- and tender." _ Kirkus Reviews
Why do people continue to immigrate to America? What do they hope to find within its borders that they cannot find in their own countries? How did your family become American?
- What is the narrator’s earliest memory? What does it tell you a bout her relationship with her father? What is your earliest memory?
- What did the war change for this family? Has war ever touched your own family? If so, how? Who do wars hurt the most? The narrator’s family is from Kosova (which is the Albanian spelling of Kosovo, a region of the Balkans). From this one letter difference in spelling we know the family are probably ethnic Albanians and were expelled by the Serbs. What clues about your own heritage are revealed in pronunciations, spellings or even in your diet?
- What opportunities and possessions do you have if you are considered “lucky” in America? Contrast that to what it meant to be lucky if you were in Kosova? How can these disparate views of lucky exist in the same world? How can we change the meaning of lucky for all people?
- Describe Ms. Lee’s class. Compare it to your own classroom. Why does the narrator say, “we could be a slice of pizza.” (p. 14) What do we gain by knowing people of diverse backgrounds?
- Why are scarves so important to the narrator? What do you think it would be like to carry scars (both literal and figurative) from your old life to America? How has this affected her relationship with her father? In the end how does she herself differently?
- What does the narrator love about America? Why does she believe she might be more American than anything else? What does it mean to be American? What do you love about America?
- Do you agree with the narrator’s mother that work is important to a man? What does she say is important to a woman? Is there a difference? Why? Do you agree?
- Why is the narrator’s mother ready to explode? Who is she trying to please? “I know this because/she’s my mother,/ I’m her daughter,/and when I stare at her/ I notice something, /recognize something.” Can you read one of your parents or caregivers better than another? Why?
- The poem “A Dream Divided” is a literary allusion of the poem “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes. Compare the two poems. How are they similar, how different? Whose dream do you most identify with? Why? Which poem would your parents most identify? What makes you think so?
- What happened in Lewiston that suddenly made this town visible? How does this activate the narrator’s father? What does he do with his anger? How had her father become disillusioned with America over time? How does this event restore his purpose and his humor?
- Reread the poem “Close Enough” on p. 68. What does the narrator believe should be true about America and Americans? How do we disappoint her? Why is it ironic that some people believe that immigration should stop? In your opinion, what should America mean?
- Which poem was your favorite? How does Maria Testa often surprise her readers at the end of poems? How can you apply this to your own writing?
Create a PowerPoint, website, poster or pamphlet about one of the following topics from the novel:
Lewiston, Maine (letter to immigrants)
Try to tell the story of one of your own grandparents in a novel-in-verse format. Find scenes that represent their story well and sculpt them into portraits of your family.
Create a collage based on one of the novels of Maria Testa. Use images, words and materials from newspapers, magazines, the internet, or create your own. Consider not just the elements of color, shape, and texture but also the shape and object you might use for your creation (like a box). Explain your choices in a brief journal.
Social Studies/ History
Find maps that relate directly to each of the stories in Maria Testa’s novels. Identify where the setting takes place and also any connections to any additional geography that the parents or grandparents may have. Be able to locate these places on a world map and globe. Print out the maps and answer the following questions:
- Who are the political neighbors of this location?
- How does the location affect the outcome of the novel?
- What wars and conflicts has this region been affected by in the last 75 years?