Friday, February 03, 2006

Multi-Cultural Book

The Messenger of Spring
Written and Illustrated by C.J Taylor

This story is a retelling of the Chippewa legend "Ice Man and the Messenger of Springtime", about how winter turns to spring. Ice man is old and tired of making snow and ice when he is visited by a young New Dawn who melts the snow and ice as he walks. When he sings the earth becomes warmer and brighter and when he dances the animals wake from their winter sleep.

The author, as stated clearly on the back of the book, is a Mohawk author and artist who is renowned for her interpretations of Native legends in her books and paintings. I mentioned in my multi-cultural book assignment that to me this qualifies her to deal with the subject and I thought gave the book more credibility than if she was not First Nations herself.

The story is a legend and the people are depicted in a traditional or historic content in what they wear (the men are illustrated with long flowing hair, bare chested, wearing tanned leather, and moccasins), and in thier roles (men are hunters and women are gatherers). Although this fits with the story there is a danger of marginalizing First Nations people as "savages" or "uncivilized".

I would definitely use this book in my classroom as an accurate example of a First Nations legend, but I would be sure to balance it out with books that give examples of First Nations people in a contemporary setting, so my students don't always see them in a traditional or historic role

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Recommended Books #2

Mama, Do You Love Me?
by Barbara M. Joosse
iluustrated by Barbara Lavallee

General Description: This is an Inuit folktale that is really nice story that will make you feel warm and fuzzy all over. It is beautifully illustrated and depicts a young girl attempts to find the limits of her mother's love. She repeatedly asks throughout the story, "Mama, do you love me?" and comes up with many intriguing and playful reasons why her mother might be persuaded to say no, such as putting salmon in her parka or an ermine in her muluks. The message is simple, no matter what we do our mother's will always love us.

Grade Level Suitability: K-2

Links to BC Curriculum: Grade 2-3 Social studies-demonstrating an awareness of British Columbia's and Canada's diverse heritage and describing how physical environment influences human activities. Also, the Personal Planning curriculum- mental well being section talking about feelings and emotions. This book is a good way to personalize different cultures and show that even far away people have the same feelings and experience the same emotions as you.

The Mitten
by Jan Brett

General Description: This is another folktale, this time from the Ukraine. The story is about a boy named Nicki, who begs his grandmother to knit him a pair of white mittens. In spite of her warnings that he will lose them and that they will be hard to find in the snow, he insists and she finally does so. Grandmothers, however, are usually right and it isn't long before we notice, although he does not, that he has dropped a mitten. A mole is the first to discover the mitten lying on the snow and crawls inside, followed by a snowshoe rabbit, a hedgehog, an owl, a badger, a fox, a bear and, finally a mouse. Each time the inhabitants protest that there's not enough room for the newcomer, but to no avail and grandmother's skillful knitting holds fast as the mitten stretches beyond belief.

Grade Level Suitability: K-2

Links to BC Curriculum: Language Arts- Engagement and Personal Response. This book could also very easily be integrated into Visual Arts. The author Jan Brett has an awesome webpage where you can download a mitten and the animals from the story to colour, cut out, and glue them to the mitten (as well as tonnes of other great activities)

Harriet the Spy
by Louise Fitzhugh

General Description: An absolute classic that has a strong female heroine but appeals to boys just as much as it does to girls. Harriet is a character that we can all identify with. She is a curious and intelligent girl who is fascinated with the lives of the people around her so she spies on them and writes down all her observations in her secret notebook. When her classmates find her notebook and read her painfully blunt comments about them, Harriet finds herself a lonely outcast. As old as the book is (first published in 1977) the writing is very real and kids today can still relate to the peer struggles that go on between 5th and 7th grade.

Grade Level Suitability: Grade 5-7

Links to BC Curriculum: Language Arts- Engagement and Personal Response.

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

General Description: A great adventure story of three animals-a young Labrador Retriever, an aging Bull Terrier, and a fiesty Siamese cat who take on a dangerous journey through the Canadian wilderness in search of their family home. Together they go through all kinds of trials, get seperated at times, but through it all the friendship and teamwork of the three companions holds strong. A very touching and emotional story (especially for animal lovers).

Grade Level Suitability: 5-6

Links to BC Curriculum: Language Arts (a great book for a novel study).

Social Justice Article

I have been reading other people's blogs and I think too many of us are living in an idylic world where nothing bad happens to children and we never have to deal with the issues brought up by the article. However, sadly, as many of us who have done practicums at inner city schools such as Ron Brent or Carney Hill, or work with troubled youth know, bad things sometimes do happen to children. As teachers it is our responsibility to be prepared for this and to give voice to these children to discuss such things. Talking about it is how some children deal with these issues and we cannot dismiss them because they make us feel uncomfortable.

One more uplifting aspect I really liked about the article was its emphasis on how reading and literature can work to bring about positive social change. All throughout history the power of the written word as been illustrated in sayings such as "knowledge is power" or "the pen is mightier than the sword". Slaves and many peasants were forbidden from reading to keep them down because those in authority realized the power of reading and its ability to change the status quo.

If you believe the goal of schooling is to help children become responsible and contributing members of society then it is imperative that they learn about the meaning social justice. The article really gets across the message that social justice starts in your own community. Involving children in community-based projects such as visiting a retirement home, cleaning the school yard or playground, planting trees, or programs like Meals on Wheels are ways that we as teachers can show children that they can make a difference in their community and in their world.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Recommended Books #1

Watership Down
by Richard Adams

General Description: This is a great book about a rabbit named Fiver who has a vision about their happy warren being destroyed by a tractor, so he persuades his brother and a small group of rabbits to leave and begin a long, perilous journey in search of a new warren. When a serious problem arises (they are all male and have no doe's to procreate), they set off in search of females and stumble upon a very different warren run by a dictator named General Woundwort.

Grade Level Suitability: 6-7

Links to BC Curriculum: This book would fit in very well to grade six and seven social studies "Politics and Law". Analyzing this book could lead to discussions on different types of government (comparing different warrens with different forms of government like democracy, totalitarian regimes, and communist or utopian sociteies), society in general, law, rules, and the meaning of freedom.

The Sign of the Beaver
by Elizabeth George Speare

General Description: This book is about a 13 year old boy left alone to fend for himself at the newly built family home deep in the Maine wilderness, while his father returns east to collect the rest of the family. The story takes place in the 18th century and is a great survival story, but it is also a story of friendship and clashing cultures. When Matt is rescued by a First Nations chief he agrees to teach the chief's grandson, Attean to read. At first, the two are wary of each other but they become friends and learn from each other. As Matt teaches Attean to read, Attean teaches Matt about his culture and how to survive in the wilderness.

Grade Level Suitability: 3-5

Links to BC Curriculum: This book would fit in very well to the Grade 4 social studies curriculum "Society and Culture" describing how people's basic needs are met in a variety of cultures, and demonstrating an awareness and appreciation of various Aboriginal cultures.

Where the Red Fern Grows
by Wilson Rawls

General Description: A definite classic and favorite of mine growing up. This book is about a young boy growing up with his family in the Ozark Mountains during the Great Depression. Like most young boys, Billy has a passion for dogs and asks his parents to buy him one. Of course they are in no position to do this, so after Billy sees an ad in an old magazine selling Coon Hounds for $50 he begins working to save up enough money to buy them. Finally he earns enough money to send away for two puppies. Billy and his dogs have all kinds of adventures together as he moves from boyhood to adulthood. This book probably will appeal more to boys than girls, but it is heartwarming tale that I think anyone can relate to (especially dog lovers).

Grade Level Suitability: 5-7

Links to BC Curriculum: Language Arts (Engagement and Personal Response), a great book for a literature circle.

by Roald Dahl

General Description: This is a great book that I was just exposed to in our last practicum. The book is about a little girl named Sophie who is taken from her bed at the orphanage by the Big Friendly Giant and brought to Giant Land, where the two become fast friends. Sophie also learns about the evil human eating BloodBottlers who plan to invade England and the World to eat children. It is up to Sophie and the BFG to stop them.

Grade Level Suitability: 4-5. I read this book as a read aloud to Grade 3's and they absolutely loved it and laughed out loud. Kids of all ages could enjoy this book, but if they are going to read it themselves I think grade 4-5 would be good.

Links to BC Curriculum: Language Arts-Engagement and Personal Response, Comprehension. Like I said, an awesome book for a read aloud.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Anti-Disney Movie

As I have been composing my literature biography to post books I would recommend to others for use in thier classrooms I find myself thinking about the eye-opening documentary we watched in class about how Disney movies are polluting the minds of our children. OK, maybe polluting is a little harsh, I know how many people love Disney in our class and I don't want to offend anybody. But I find myself being alot more critical when I am selecting books now, I don't want to propogate any of the negative stereotypes of minorities or the traditional "damsel in distress" portrayal of women that are so prevalent in these movies that children enjoy so much.

I of course also grew up watching Disney movies and I can remember even from a young age thinking how stereotypical and offensive some of the characters such as the chihuahua or the siamese cats were. After seeing them again I can see why they made me so uncomfortable back then.

Furthermore, there are very few strong women portrayed in Disney movies. Usually they are seen as needing a man to save them, perpertrating the traditional female archetypes such as mother, wife, seductress, witch. It never really occured to me how sexual some of the portrayals of women are, through thier skimpy clothing and actions (Jasmine, Ariel and Pochahontos to name a few). What message does this send to young girls? That they need to act demure and provactive for thier prince charming to come and rescue them? Or that they need to be rescued at all? There are enough of these messages in the media already. Girls need strong female characters that break these traditional moulds that they can identify with.

I would be very careful using Disney movies in my class. I really liked on the documentary when it asked children to talk about these negative portrayals and think critically about issues such as there not being any black heroes in Disney movies. I would use Disney movies in this way with older children in a study of racial and gender stereotypes in the mass media (what is more mass media than Disney?)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Night John

I have to admit I was a little disappointed last week when we ran out of time to do our book talk on Night John. I was really interested to hear what people thought of it and how they would integrate it into thier class. I liked the book alot and would definitely use it my classroom, despite the "sensitive issues" it raises. I agree with Maki that that these issues need to be raised. We can't just show children the world through rose colored glasses pretending everything is perfect and sweep dark chapters in history like slavery under the rug becuase it happened in the past. Does that mean we should avoid discussing topics in our own history such as the internment of Japanese-Canadians in WWII, residential schools, the horrible mistreatment of Chinese labourers on the railway, the exclusion of Sikhs on the Komagata Maru in Vancouver harbour, to name a few "sensitive issues" that happened in our own province. How does the saying go, "those who forget about history are doomed to repeat it".
Children need to be taught this and it doesn't matter if you feel abit uncomfortable. I agree that the graphic descriptions of violence and degredation against slaves in Night John is shocking, but it should be. It should be shocking to children too, but why would we read books about slavery and glaze over the parts that might offend some people. I think Night John is an accurate and realistic portrayal of the life which many slaves sadly faced and should be discussed with kids. I wouldn't use this book in the primary grades but I think that it would be a good fit in grades 5,6,7 on a unit on the underground railway or on human rights and freedoms.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"The Bear" Read Aloud

Yesterday I did my read aloud for my group and I have to admit at first I felt a little stupid reading a book to my friends the way I read to children with inflection in my voice and different tones and so on. Nevertheless I went ahead (despite afew management problems, ha, ha) and it started to feel alot more natural. It really doesn't matter how old you are, people just enjoy being read to. I know I do when Cathy reads the Giver every class. It's really nice just to put your head down and listen to someone tell a good story.

This exercise also made me realize that reading a book aloud is a skill. Sure anyone who can read can pick up a book and read what is written to a group of children, but it takes a certain skill to use changes in your voice, pacing to bring anticipation and suspense, movement of the book, facial expressions, and so on to really tell a story and get the audience involved.

The book I chose for my read aloud is called "The Bear" by John Schoenherr which is a beautifully illustrated narrative non-fiction account of a young bear doing his best to survive on his own in the harsh wilderness once his mother left. It appealed to me personally for the amazing watercolour illustrations of the bear and the stark northern landscape as well as the real-life survival story, and I really think it is important to include a collection of non-fiction in the classroom as Cathy said they appeal more to boys and of course we want to have books that are interesting to all children. Yet I think most classes focus much more on fiction books. We need to make sure we have a balance.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

I really enjoyed the library search activity we did last week. It is interesting how much children's literature has changed since I was a child. Yet some books are timeless and have endured. One of my favorite books from my childhood was one that was read to my father when he was a boy and in turn was read to me. The book is called, "At the Back of the Northwind"by George MacDonald and was first published in 1871.

It is the magical story of a poor stable boy named Diamond who lives in a hayloft in Victorian London. One night he is visited by a beautiful, etheral woman known as the Northwind through his window. Every night she would magically whisk him away on incredible journeys teaching him about herself. Later she would take him to the beautiful, serene country that lies on the back of the Northwind.

I remember lying in bed listening to my Dad read this book to me every night and imagining flying to strange and distant lands. It wasn't until I read this book again years later in a first year children's literature class in university that I realized what it was really about. The book deals with child death in a way that avoids somberness. George MacDonald was a church minister and the book is clearly has religious overtones. Through the eyes of an innocent child MacDonald moved me by his account of dying as a process of learning and death as a journey to a better place. A conversation l near the end of the book when Diamond falls ill and agrees to go to the land at the back of the Northwind still sticks with me whenever I hear horrible stories of children dying on the news,

"Well, please, Northwind, you are so beautiful, I am quite ready to go with you."

To which she replies, "You must not be so ready to go with everything beautiful all at once, Diamond

"But what's beautiful can't be bad. You're not bad Northwind?"

"No, I'm not bad. But sometimes beautiful things grow bad by doing bad, and it takes some time to spoil thier beauty. So little boys may be mistaken if they go after things because they are beautiful".

"Well, I will go with you because you are beautiful and good too".

"Ah, but there's another thing Diamond. What if I should look ugly without being bad-- look ugly myself because I am making ugly things beautiful? What then?"

"I don't quite understand you, North Wind. You tell me what then."

"Well, I will tell you. If you see me with my face all black, don't be frightened. If you see me flapping wings like a bat's, as big as the whole sky, don't be frightened. If you hear me raging ten times worse than Mrs Bill, the blacksmith's wife--you must believe that I am doing my work. Nay, Diamond, if I change into a serpent or a tiger, you must not let go your hold on me, for my hand will never change in yours if you keep a good hold. If you keep a hold, you will know who I am all the time, even when you look at me and can't see me the least like the North Wind. I may look something awful. Do you understand?"

"Quite well," said little Diamond.

"Come along, then," said North Wind, and disappeared behind the mountain of hay.

Diamond crept out of bed and followed her.