Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is a text that is used in Memoir, a 12th grade semester elective. The book was first published in 1996 and won the Pulitzer Prize for autobiography. McCourt recounts the story of his impoverished childhood in Limerick, Ireland. He successfully recaptures the perspective of a child watching his mother Angela struggle with his father’s alcoholism and the loss of several of her young children to disease and malnutrition. Surrounded by overwhelming tragedy, McCourt manages to communicate his understanding of the world with great humor and grace.
Initially, students can have some problems reading the dialect of an Irish brogue and many of the colloquial phrases. Students can have problems developing the “voice” of the author as they read any text. For that reason, an audio tape or CD of Angela’s Ashes is imperative. Once the student hears McCourt’s reading the memories of his younger self, young “Frankie”, they have a much better understanding of the humor which makes the book so entertaining. Listen to McCourt read a selection from the text in a clip on YouTube:
There were 40 copies of Angela’s Ashes purchased at full price in the classroom library, so there is little reason to pick up additional copies even though there are always copies available in used book sales. The memoir’s trade paperback edition retails currently for $9.86 at Amazon. I did, however, find a copy of the audio text unabridged for $8.00 which normally retails for $32.87, a savings of $24.87.
I do let students choose memoirs to read, and Angela’s Ashes will be a choice this coming year. Listening to McCourt read a few pages from an audio text is enough to convince students they would enjoy reading this excellent memoir.