Mentor Text Wednesday: Canada Dry Ginger Ale and Lemonade

Mentor Text: ‘Canada Dry Ginger Ale and Lemonade’ by Elaine Szewczyk (PDF / Online)


  • Writing Memoir
  • Writing Review
  • Merging Forms

Background – If you’re visiting Moving Writers, that likely means that like many of us, you’re online, perhaps looking for new ideas for your classroom.

Welcome to Teacher Internet, where there are more ideas than you’ll ever fit into your classroom.

I often let ideas percolate, sitting at the back of the ol’ TeacherBrain, waiting until I have a chance to use them.

That’s where this week’s mentor text comes from. The fountain of great ideas, and former Moving Writers contributor, that is Karla Hilliard planted an idea that I dwelled on for a long time before acting upon. She, and, I’ve discovered, many others, do a Food Writing pursuit. (A semantics note here, I loathe the word unit, because of all the connotations, so I use pursuit instead.) This semester, I have a Lit class, a split of Grade 11 and 12 students, focused on literary study and creative writing that seemed a good fit for this pursuit.

I love the seeming serendipity that sometimes happens when you decide to go ahead with planning something like this. It seemed as if every time I scrolled through Twitter, all corners of my feed were pushing wonderful pieces at me. Though I dropped a couple of books onto my wishlists, and pulled a book of food poetry from my shelf, I almost exclusively used texts I found via Twitter.

via FoodBev Media

One account that seemed to offer up the most pieces was McSweenys. (They’re a wonderful addition to your Twitter feed, if you like that sort of thing.)  As a reader, I’ve long been a fan, but as I’ve begun using mentor texts, I’ve appreciated their work even more. Needless to say, the fact that they were sharing a high volume of food related pieces as I was getting ready to focus on that was wonderful.

This piece by Elaine Szewczyk was one that we really enjoyed. It was a rich piece to discuss, to do some analytical work with, and to write pieces inspired by.

How we might use this text:

Memoir – Most obviously, we felt as if this piece read like a memoir. And it’s a good one. It resonates, and it’s about more than telling a story. There’s a bigger thing at play, the immigrant experience, and the spectre of capitalism.

One of the things about food writing is that it’s easily tied to memoir. There are memoirs of firsts, like her first sip of this drink. Our society, like most, ties family and friends to food, and there’s a rich vein of memoir in that.

Szewczyk’s piece, while ostensibly about the experience of trying this drink for the first time, is actually much larger in scale, admirable in such a brief piece. In telling this story, she’s able to explore the immigrant experience, tying memories of the “old country” to the reality of life in America, using the soda aisle to contrast the past and the present. In tapping into this idea of the old country, she gets to work in some rich language, “black water” and “dark arts elixir” landing very well for my students. Pieces like this, that have a duality, a then and now sort of thing happening give us writers a nice structure to use to play with language like this, language form the past, or another place to use when writing about that time.

This piece is also a nicely contained reminiscence, with the ending suggesting that someone else will try the remaining beverages, that may see the same promise in them.

Writing Review– This piece is also, at its heart, a review. Szewczyk so wonderfully and expressively reviews this beverage, letting the reader know, without a doubt, what she thought of it.

It is the expression, the humour, the language used in reviewing the drink that makes it a great mentor text. As we discussed this piece, and its mentor text potential, it was the visceral nature of the piece that resonated in my class. The language is definite, and creates an impression.

I think this might have been what we enjoyed the most in our work with this text. As I reflect, I realize that often, we encourage our writers, as reviewers to consider a counterpoint, to express positives in our negative reviews, and vice versa. This piece doesn’t do that. In fact, in including the anticipation of the drink, the promise it held only serves to highlight the negative response. And focusing solely, with rich language, on that negative was fun for my writers, and likely yours.

Merging Forms – I really dug this piece because it does more than one thing. Perhaps too often, we assign writing tasks in isolation, although in the “real world” of writing, that might not be the case. A lot of the pieces we read in magazines are not just one thing. Much journalism, be it informative or editorial has a narrative aspect to it, serving as a hook.

Perhaps, this is why the piece works so well. Embedding this review in a memoir serves to make the review much stronger. It gives the review context. Even though the piece opens with an unequivocal statement of dislike, as a reader, we kind of want her to enjoy the piece. It seems like a big deal, getting these drinks. There is such promise, and it so greatly unrealized.

This piece serves as a great model of how two forms of writing can exist in a single piece. It is that establishing of context that makes this work, and neither piece is dominant. It’s not really a memoir with a review in it, nor is it a review with a memoir in it. It is both pieces, working in concert to communicate some big ideas.

This piece was a rich piece to bring into the classroom. There were elements that contributed to a great analytical discussion. It was also a great mentor text to write beside, encouraging expression. Sometimes, when you pull from a source like Mcsweenys, its easy to focus on the humour and satire in the pieces, but this one is something different. It’s a rich piece, with layers and moves to emulate.

What food texts have you got? What’s your source for pieces that seem to arrive just when you need them? 

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!

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