Mountains of Literature

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Using Literacy to Create Social Justice Classrooms

This article was the catalyst I needed to light a flame of ideas in my head. I was amazed at the topics that students brought up that they personally related to such as fire, death etc. These type of discussions open up a window into the child's like you may never have seen before or even suspected existed. As I am entering the teaching profession one of my major worries it teaching the 'tough issues' that arise in the classroom. This article made me realize that literature can be used to initiate discussions on the type of issues I might be nervous about bringing up. Issues such as death, abuse, hardship, poverty, family life could be introduced using literature. As the teacher it will be my responsibility to find appropriate resources and stories in which the students are able to relate to. Although it is impossible to be prepared for every situation or topic that may arise, previewing materials prior to use and brainstorming a list of topics and questions would help me to prepare for one of those 'tough teachable moments' that may occur.

Mickey Mouse Monopoly

Sadly it is only with wishfull thinking I post this smiling face of Mickey Mouse. The Mickey Mouse Monopoly I am going to talk about, clouds my happy memories of Disney Movies as a funnel cloud looming before a tornado hits. As an unassuming child I loved to watch Disney Movies for what I believe they were intended to be, an evening of entertainment, enchantment, magic and fun. I enjoyed these movies purely for entertainment value never for an instant looking for a deep hidden meaning or subliminal message that would turn me against minority or aboriginal populations. Even as a teenager when friends informed me if you played a certain scene in "The Lion King" in slow moting you would find a hidden message in the clouds I refused to believe the enchanted world I loved so much was corrupt. I still feel children will watch Disney movies for pure enjoyment of the colorful animated characters and their future world views will not be corrupt.

However, that said, as an educator it is important to look behind the image of innocence that lies on the surface. If I am choosing to use a book or a movie in my classroom as a teaching resource I need to be aware of the type of message it may be sending to students. When previewing materials it is important to put myself into the shoes of someone else, a minority population for example and ask myself the question, "How would I feel about this book/movie if I was an immigrant? Does it portray a realistic account of what happened? Is it demeaning or derogatory in any way?" If as a teacher I choose to show a controversial Disney movie, such as Pocahontas, in the classroom it would be important to use this as a teachable moment to help demolish inaccurate stereotypes and portrayal of lifestyles.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Review of Class Novels & Teaching Tips

The River by Gary Paulsen is a sequel to The Hatchet in which Brian is asked to return to the woods to teach Derek, a government psychologist, survival techniques. But when Derek is struck by lightning, Brian's survival skills are further tested as he must find a way to get the seriously injured Derek out of the woods.

I have to admit I was a little disappointed with this book. I was looking forward to discussing it in class to see why Cathy picked it to be one of the novels we read in literacy class. Since we never got the chance I will do my best to identify the positives and negatives I saw in this book.

This book is a high interest low vocab. book. I could see students connecting with the main character and becoming devoted readers of the series. I can see how boys in particular would take interest in a story like this. Students from country schools might be able to relate to the setting, and students from the city might find it interesting to learn and imagine what it might be like to live in the wilderness. I could see this book being integrated in other subject areas such as science (nature) and personal planning (survival skills).

I read this book without previously reading The Hatchet, the Prequal to The River. I thought Paulsen took far to long explaining what had happened in the first book. It took nearly to the half way point in the book to explain what had happened in the first book. As a reader, I was eager for the excitement to begin, to find out what was going to happen in this new book, not dwell on the events in the past. Perhaps if I had read the first book, become captivated by the story and felt I had a connection to Brian I would have received the second book differently. Instead of feeling bored when the adventures of The Hatchet were relived, I may have been excited by the memory and happy to connect with the character again. After reading the summary of The Hatchet in the first half of The River, I can imagine it was an excellent book. For example, the excitement of discovering how to make fire for the first time would have sent the adrenaline running through my veins! I did not get that same feeling in reading the summary in the second book.

by Rachna Gilmore

Being a visible minority is a mixed blessing for Mina, who wonders whether she is popular for herself or for her family's all-out annual Holi party. The conflict arises when beautiful blond Ashley mocks Mina's grandfather, tapping into Mina's own fears that her Nanaji is unlike her friends' western grandpas. It's a simple tale, told quickly and well, and Mina's strong voice guides us through her anger, self-recrimination, and revenge, even as the conflicts leading up to the final Holi showdown with Ashley seems forced. Mina almost loses the sympathies of her best friend (as well as those of the reader), but when the festival of colours finally dawns, Gilmore ties the strands into a most satisfying conclusion.
- The Georgia Straight, Vancouver

This is a great easy to read novel that will stimulate many important issues in classroom discussion. As an extension from reading this novel students could research cultural celebrations important to their family and share them with the class. Elders and family members from the community could be invited into the classroom as guest speakers to enrich this unit.

Another important issue addressed by this book which ties into the Personal Planning currrelationshipsationships with others. Through discussing the actions of characters in this book students could discuss issues such as inclusioninclusinon/exclusion, racism, relationships with family members and friendship.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Recommended Books

by Eric Walters
Based on the true story of Terry Fox, this fictional children's novel follows the journey of Terry and his friend Doug as they travel across Canada during the Marathon of Hope. Walters tells this story through the eyes of a young boy who's father is a reporter following the story of Terry as he runs across Canada. This story will make you laugh and cry.

I think this novel would be ideal for a grade 4/5 novel study. It is an entertaining story about a true Canadian hero.

For more books on Terry Fox go to:

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

In this story a mischievous little boy creates his own world, a forest inhabited with wild creatures who crown Max as their ruler. This story lets your imagination run wild and could be used in a primary class as a story starter where students are encouraged to create their own world in a story. The sky is the limit when the imagination over!

Cornelia Funke

Author of The Thief Lord, Inkheart and More!!

Cornelia Funke is one of the top 3 best selling children's authors in the world (next to JK Rowling and RL Stine). Her stories have a way of sticking into a readers minds and staying with you long after you finish the book. Her ideas are unique and questions intriguing as she explores alternate worlds and fantasy's. I would recommend her books as a possible read aloud, independent novel study or as an author students might find interesting enough to instigate a love for reading as a pastime!

Favorite Books

Your Time, My Time by Ann Walsh
I was having a hard time remembering my favorite children's book so I asked my parents for help. My mom brought me a HUGE box of books and told me she couldn't remember one in particular, but these were some of my favorites! Finally, searching through some of my old things, I came across something I wrote in Grade 10 describing my favorite book as "Your Time My Time" by Ann Walsh. As soon as I read the title a wave of the emotions I felt when I read this book flooded over me.

The setting of this book is close to home, in Wells BC. A young girl is separated from her father, and faces a long, boring, lonely summer. Barkerville is just a bike ride away, where Elizabeth finds a ring that takes her into the Barkerville of the 1870s and finds a romance there. This time-travel fantasy is historically quite accurate and the plot captivates the reader. I recommend this book to all young girls, even if you think you're not a romantic, you will be drawn in by Walsh's writing!

The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The majority of the weight in the HUGE box of favorite books my mom brought came from the entire series of the"Berenstain Bears!" Looking at them brings back warm memories of sitting on the couch with my feet tucked underneath my mom or dad, and hearing these stories over and over! I think this series discusses topics that every child can relate to. Some examples include, "Trouble at School," "Too Much Junk Food," "The Messy Room," The Trouble with Friends," and the list goes on and on. These stories could be used to stimulate discussion around topics that are relevant to students.

I was sad to learn while looking for pictures of this series that one of the authors, Stan Berenstain passed away last year.

Visit the Berenstain Bears official website for some fun interactive children's activities!

Bridge to Terabithia

by Katherine Paterson

I had forgotten about this book until Cathy brought it to class. This is definitely one of my all time favorites. A story of unexpected friendship, secrets and courage. This story would make an excellent read aloud for an intermediate class or a novel for grade 6 or 7. This novel would help to stimulate interesting discussions such as friendship, outcasts, male/female relationships and loss. These topics would tie into the personal planning/family life curriculum for grades 5-7.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Multicultural Literature

Bring Back the Deer Written by Jeffrey Prusski
Editorial Review From Publishers Weekly
This intriguing coming-of-age story centers on a boy's search for identity. In winter, scarcity of food causes the large clans to break into small family bands. The boy's family stays in one place while the father goes to hunt deer. But when he does not return, the boy, following the wisdom of his grandfather's words, seeks to "to walk as the deer walks" and to find his father's path. He faces a wolf without fear and chases the deer; ultimately, the chase leads him home where he realizes that the wolf was really his father and the regal deer his grandfather. Prusski has written an engrossing tale of self-discovery in the tradition of many primitive myths. The rhythm of life is beautifully portrayed and Waldman's illustrations have a lyrical quality that is haunting. Primitive drawings and animal images are harmoniously included in the pictures, making this a splendid debut for both author and illustrator.

Ages 3-8. Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Maizie's Review & Teaching Implications

“Bring back the Deer” is a recipient of the “Parents’ Choice Honors.” I can see this book being useful in the classroom during a unit on Aboriginal legends. It is an interesting story with very imaginative, colorful, eye-catching illustrations. A story like this could be retold using various oral story telling methods such as shadow stories, skits, or a campfire story. This book also does a good job of representing family values, faith, as well as the importance and respect for animals and the land. If looked at from the point of view of a historical legend this is a good captivating story. Students of aboriginal decent may be able to related to stories like this one that have been passed down from their elders. As an addition to the unit possibly an elder could come in to tell some traditional legends hat have been passed down in their family. Perhaps a story such as this could help to inspire students to write their own legend and present it to the class.
When using a story like this it would be important for the teacher to discuss with the class how the lifestyles of the characters in this story differ from the lifestyles of aboriginal people today. Students could discuss how the style of living changes as time passes. Encourage students talk to their parents and grandparents about how life was for them when they were children and the changes that have occurred in their lifetime. Relating this topic to their own lives would help students to realize that everyone’s lifestyle changes over time regardless of ethnicity or country of origin.
My initial reaction to this book is that it was an interesting and captivating story readers of all ages would enjoy. It is good for me to be challenged to think critically about stories such as this and recognize that although entertainment value may be good, a story such as this can unintentionally reinforce stereotypes. As a future educator it is important for me to think critically and recognize how students may relate to multicultural stories and the assumptions they may draw from them if no discussion or debrief is held after reading a book.

Read Aloud

I chose "Stop Drop and Roll" by Margery Cuyler as my Read Aloud for Language and Literacy. "Stop Drop and Roll" is a children's picture book about Fire Safety. It has detailed colourful illustrations to capture the imagination of the child. The story is written from the point of view of a young girl who is learning about Fire Safety at school and worries her family does not have a plan. Margery Cuyler uses a unique style in her writing. She captures the readers interest by telling a captivating, yet humorous story, while addressing some important Fire Safety issues. This book would be ideal for a primary or early intermediate class as in introduction to a Fire Safety unit. Culyer's book will help to stimulate some good conversation on important Fire Safety issues in your classroom.