An easy-to-read, fact-filled, fun-filled approach to one of history’s greatest writers!
In composing an annotated addition of Poe, I decided I’d like to see something targeted at middle-school aged kids, who would likely already have some idea of who Poe is, but might not be interested in the challenge of reading Poe’s original works. I decided the book should be in print, so that it could be easily used in classes, but also that it should look and feel more exciting than a standard literature book would.
I wanted to focus on stories that kids would be less familiar with, so that they came in with no expectations for the story and no basic understanding of the plot, like they might with “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Raven.” With a lesser known story, kids would have to focus on reading the book in front of them rather than, say, watching a film adaptation or looking up a summary online. Additionally, a lesser known story would teach kids that there’s more to Poe than they may know, and may get them interested in exploring some of his other works. I chose “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” because it was one of Poe’s works that I found most compelling, and the concepts seemed simple enough that sixth graders could understand and even garner entertainment from them. I chose to use the original manuscript as a base text for my edition because this is the only one we can be sure is entirely Poe’s – later publications featured edits by Poe, but since the manuscript for the edited text has been lost we can’t be certain that all edits are his own. Since the edition is focused on reading Poe without relying on any interpretations, it made sense to annotate the first, unedited text.
Since the intended readers are middle schoolers, I made the text large and sans-serif so that it felt easier to read. I identified words middle schoolers might not know and provided definitions, and I included blurbs with information about subjects they may be unfamiliar with. My basis for including these somewhat tangential annotations consisted of a few reasons. First, a concept (such as, say, a latin phrase or a reference to Cicero) is imbedded in the text and placed there deliberately by Poe, so to get the most out of the story kids would need to know what these references meant in context. Second, I thought that learning some fun facts throughout the story would motivate a school-aged kid to keep reading. Third, I thought that additional information may provide a base for readers to jump from when later assigned to write an essay or interpretation on the work. Finally, I used these contextual annotations to bring up questions I could pose to the readers, urging them to think critically while reading the story and provide help for a teacher leading a class discussion. I made these annotations by highlighting the words or phrases in question, rather than noting them with a superscript, so that they stood out better to kids. (See Figure 1)
I decided against using endnotes for my text because, realistically, I didn’t believe a middle-schooler would take the effort to actually find the corresponding note in the back and read it. I also wanted the kids to be able to read the story in one sitting so that they could better comprehend it. Footnotes, I felt, also interrupted a reading, and I chose against those as well.
It made sense to highlight key concepts and link them directly to notes in the margin, providing visual cues for the students to follow. I included the annotations in colored ‘speech bubbles’ to make them feel less formal, and so that they stood out from the base text. Figure 1 shows an example of this layout.
I knew citations would also be a necessary part of the edition, and I wanted to encourage kids to investigate concepts further by making the citations easy to follow. I used Wikipedia for my informational sources because kids are familiar with it, and would find it much less daunting to read a Wikipedia article when pursuing a topic than a rigorous academic text. My intention was to include easy annotations with simple links for kids in the same fun format as the rest of the edition (Figure 2), with full MLA citations afterwards.
With my edition, I wanted to affect Poe’s legacy by showing young kids that Poe is attainable for them, and that he’s written a much larger and more diverse collection of works than they may know about. Ultimately for me, this edition would be one in a series of his stories, all annotated in the same format. I wanted to make the story as readable and ‘uninterruptable’ as possible without sacrificing the annotations, because it was Poe’s belief that a story should be read, uninterrupted, in one sitting. It’s my belief that creating annotations that distract from the story rather than add to it would be a disservice to Poe’s legacy. I wanted this book to inspire kids – if not in Poe himself, then in some other direction influenced by the annotations, so that in their exploration of some new topic they could mirror Poe’s own interest in learning and writing about so many different concepts and ideas.