NEA Big Read
Into the Beautiful North

Into the Beautiful North

by Luis Alberto Urrea

…I always hopelessly, passionately, root for the underdog.

These activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. Local history: Have students research the history of immigration in their community from the time of its founding until today. Take a trip to the local library, historical society, or museum to conduct research. Ask students to share how the story of immigration in their community intersects with their own family histories. Use artifacts, photographs, and other materials to illustrate these stories of immigration. Students should organize their findings into 3-5 themes or topics and present group reports.
  2. Film screening: Into the Beautiful North pays homage to John Sturges's 1960 film The Magnificent Seven and in turn, The Magnificent Seven is strongly influenced by Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954). Show excerpts of these films (or, time permitting, show both films over the course of the project). Address the following questions: What makes the protagonists in these films heroes? Are they always virtuous from the start? What motivations cause heroes to take action? Why do cultures need (and create) heroes? If possible, invite a local film critic, writer, or literary scholar to talk to the students about narratives and memes in popular art forms.
  3. Welcome Day: If your school is located in a community with a significant immigrant population, plan a special event in which students can learn directly about the lives and experiences of these individuals. Plan a "welcome day" and invite immigrant families, local historians, and community volunteers to share stories about the community. The day might feature a panel discussion on local topics, culturally significant hands-on art projects, performances, and a picnic incorporating food from represented cultures.
  4. Visual road trip: Urrea has stated: "[M]uch of the book is really a love letter to the United States." In the course of Nayeli's and Tacho's trip from San Diego to Kankakee, they experience the sheer joy of traveling in a new land and the frequent disorientations of encountering a new culture. Have students create an illustrated travelogue of Nayeli's and Tacho's cross-country trip. Suggest they use PowerPoint and Internet image resources to create a chronological, captioned slideshow of the journey, and include some of Urrea's captivating descriptions.
  5. Local hero: Have students create a hero narrative about their community. Who or what in their community needs to be saved or helped? Have students work together to create a unique local hero who would be exactly right for this mission. What dangers or obstacles would the hero encounter? What powers would this hero possess? Working together, have the students tell their story from start to finish in an art form of their choice: a handmade video, a song, or a large-scale illustrated comic book that could be put on display at a local library or community center.
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