Though Julie Cracco studied television and radio production as a New Paltz undergraduate, she realized that the language and culture of her beloved France spoke to her with greater urgency.
This insight came while reading the French novel Les Jours Heureux at the behest of a film director exploring a potential screen adaptation. When she stumbled over a few unfamiliar words, Cracco felt heartsick.
After a tearful call to her mother, during which she expressed her fear of losing her native language, Cracco made a bold decision to leave her work as a production coordinator and reinvent herself. She returned to New Paltz and completed a second degree program, adolescence education with a concentration in French, in 2005.
A journey that began with a French novel whose plot Cracco no longer remembers ends happily with a French book that’s a source of great pride, not sorrow.
While at New Paltz, Cracco found an enduring mentor in Associate Professor Mary Christensen, and together, they co-authored the French Tutor Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook, published in October 2017.
Cracco, a French teacher at Fox Lane High School in Westchester for the last 13 years, moonlighted as a a development editor for the UK publishing company Hodder and Stoughton’s century-old “Teach Yourself” languages series.
The company approached Cracco to author the series’ French grammar and vocabulary workbook, which targets advanced-beginner to upper-intermediate French speakers. Cracco asked the project manager if she could bring Christensen on as co-author.
Since serving as Cracco’s mentor and advisor during her second degree program at New Paltz, Christensen helped Cracco navigate the job market, wrote letters of recommendation and became a trusted friend.
“She brought this to my lap,” said Christensen. “I felt very honored that she would do that.”
Together, Cracco and Christensen worked feverishly from August 2016 to May 2017, divvying up the task of writing and editing the book’s 20 chapters. Because all of the books in the series followed a similar format, they used the Spanish, Swedish, German and Japanese editions as models.
The workbook provides vocabulary lessons, grammar explanations, reading and writing exercises. An answer key allows readers to check their language progress.
Christensen, who earned a Ph.D. in French literature from the University of Michigan, has stayed abreast of current pedagogical methods and assessment on a national level by attending trainings through the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages. She played a key role in developing the workbook’s progression.
The book begins with simple exercises and vocabulary that focus on the self and culminates with more sophisticated readings and writing exercises that explore topics like the French cinema. The publisher admired the book’s progression so much that they plan to use it as a model for subsequent language books in the series.
Though the project marked a departure from Christensen’s research, which focuses on seventeenth-century French literature, with an emphasis on gender, autobiography and the novel, she found the work extremely gratifying.
“It gave me a lot of confidence because I was able to work with Julie and get this together and finished fairly quickly,” said Christensen. “And it invigorated my scholarly research because I felt, ‘I can do this.’”
For Cracco, the experience resembled a French language master class. “It was an experience that I really value, because I learned so much through the process,” she said. “I found this new passion and drive to explore these other aspects of language and language acquisition.”
Cracco gave special credit to her mentor, whom she praised for her professionalism, language mastery and attention to detail. “Her level of excitement and expertise is something that I look up to. I strive to be more like her as a professional,” she said.
Since completing the workbook, Christensen has partnered with French colleague Mercedes Rooney on another title in the publisher’s language learning series, entitled Enjoy French. The book will be published in November 2018.