Defining Literature

What makes a book a good book? What is good? How about great? How do we define literature? And how do we separate, categorize, and qualify writers deemed as decent, good, great, influential, visionary? Should we? Whose job is that anyway? Why should you care?

For the past two years, SMHS AP Lit students have explored the qualifications of literary merit. They have considered what makes a book good, what makes a written work literature, and why we are in the business of studying such works.

I’ve been aiming to save this assignment for our discussions early in the year, but as I see the summer blog posts rolling in and an awful lot of, “yeah, yeah we all expect required reading to be terrible”, I thought — let’s get the literary merit ball rolling.

Check out this super cool survey below, and throw in your two cents (or 20 characters). Ready, go!



21 Things You May or May Not Want to Know About Your Teacher

1. I once separated the top half of my ear from my face/head in a freak slippery-new-tap-shoe accident.

2. West Virginia University is my alma mater. I earned both my B.A. in English and my M.A. in Secondary Education there, and I’m proud to be an alumna. I had an incredible, intellectual, and transformative experience at WVU.

3. I’m #obsessed with fresh mangoes.

4. Speaking of obsessed, Hamilton. That is all.

5. This will be my 4th year teaching in WV and in Berkeley County, but my 12th in the classroom. You could say I’m a senior just like you! (Like, super super duper senior.)

6. I taught at South Hagerstown High School and Smithsburg High School in Maryland before finding my home at Spring Mills.

7. Sometimes I enjoy eating entire bags of potato chips for dinner, specifically and preferably Dill Pickle Chips or Tostito’s Hint-of-Lime Chips.

8. I unabashedly love Game of Thrones and I don’t care how annoying it is.

9. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers is the first book that changed my life. It scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had.

10. Where the Red Fern Grows is the first book that made me cry. I was a little kid when I read it. I remember holing myself up in my playroom while my parents watched TV (I was an only child for 11 years, ok, give me a break), and crying a big wet spot on the rust orange carpet in there.

11. John Steinbeck is my favorite writer of all time and Of Mice and Men and East of Eden are my favorite books of all time. Both are beautiful and masterfully told.

12. I’ve had this meal at David Chang’s restaurant in NYC and I’ve made this meal from scratch in my own kitchen. It’s SO easy, and you should totally make it, too.

13. Confession: I’m not really into travel.

14. Confession 2: I’m one of those freaks without pets. (But soon to change if my kids have anything to do with it.)

15. Speaking of, I have two little daughters, Addy and Lily. They are the absolute apples of my eye, and even though they are only now showing up on this list, they are and will forever be number one in one million ways.

16. I believe in making your own happiness, creating your own contentedness, and living mindfully in the present.

17. My favorite word used to be disingenuous, and then it was plum, and now it is remarkable. Please don’t psychoanalyze that.

18. For my least favorite word, please consult the 2015 SMHS yearbook. Hint: it’s a colloquilism for potato. Ugh, I’m gagging just thinking of it.

19. Here are a few of my favorite ladies-man lines from Shakespeare:
“Madam, you have bereft me of all words.
Only my blood speaks to you in my veins.”

20. Students say either Zooey Deschanel or Tina Fey would play me in a movie. What does this mean?

21. Sometimes – I play rap music really loud on my way to school, I harmonize with the last few notes of Happy Birthday, I’m still required to recite the names of the Beatles for my dad (an important skill from my childhood), I shamelessly dance to Justin Beiber with my kids, and I still jam out to CDs I had in high school.

The Summer Assignment


Your task: Read deeply for meaning and complexity, and create a mature, sustained conversation about some aspect of the texts in the form of blogging.


Your two assigned novels this summer are:

MUDBOUND by Hillary Jordan

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (You’ll definitely want your own copy for the AWIR event at MHS!)

What makes this year’s summer reading unique is that you’ll have a chance to engage in conversations with BOTH authors. I am beyond excited about this important and meaningful opportunity. I will provide you with more details fall, but please know that I have chosen these novels purposefully.

*I recommend ordering both of these books from Amazon, but Books-a-Million will work for a few more dollars.


This summer you will begin your very own AP Lit blog. Your blog will be an off-shoot of my (brand new) Edublog. Edublogs is a platform serviced by WordPress, so not only is it user-friendly and completely legit, but it uses all of the major elements of WordPress, which is a really good thing to know as you continue to advance your education.

You will be responsible for THREE POSTS.

Continue reading The Summer Assignment

#APLit17 on Twitter

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Confession: I love Twitter.

I actively use it to extend my professional learning opportunities, stay up-to-date, check in on a celebrity or two, belly laugh at King Henry tweets, and most importantly, connect with other educators. I shamelessly brag on my students, share what’s happening in my classroom, and participate in the weekly and beloved #aplitchat.

You are IN NO WAY obligated or required to create an account and “be on Twitter.” But if you are, feel free to follow me. To keep it professional and less-weird, I won’t follow you back until you graduate — an AP Lit rite of passage. 🙂

  • My handle is @karlahilliard, and I will Tweet all AP Lit related announcements, ideas, articles, photos, and reflections to #APLit17.
  • I encourage you to share your own thoughts and reactions and questions to your reading using #APLit17.

I thought I’d make this official and share my intent. I hope you’ll join in on the conversation and extend our classroom experience into the Twittersphere. Happy Tweeting!

Welcome #APLit17!

Dear Future AP Lit Students,

If you’re reading this letter it’s most likely because you’ve signed up for a rigorous, challenging, intellectually transformative class – Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition, which is a long, fanciful name for a course that requires a strong, get-your-hands-dirty work ethic. As I’m sure you already know, the work-load of AP Literature will challenge you, sure, but what I think is more important to tell you is the work you do will be rewarding.

If you have an eager and curious mind, and I know you do or you wouldn’t be here reading this, this course will help you to develop some heavy-duty literary skills. And by skills, I mean a systematic, utilitarian way of reading deeply and analytically, the ability to produce clear, elegant, and creative written responses to literature, and a cultural awareness of some of the greatest and most famous Literature-with-a-capital-L ever written. You will have the opportunity to grow intellectually and emotionally, and you will probably be able to answer a few Jeopardy questions along the way, too. It goes without saying that I am beyond excited to be teaching this course next year.

But before we get too rapt with excitement and possibility, let’s start with The College Board’s vision of AP Lit, yes? Here is an excerpt from the course description. You will, of course, get more specific and tailored information on your syllabus in the fall. Continue reading Welcome #APLit17!