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.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Welcome to my literature blog.