Thursday, February 02, 2006

Suggestions/Ideas for Teaching with Night John

Although Night John deals with some sensitive issues such as slavery and the mistreatment and abuse of African American people, I feel that it is important to allow students the opportunity to have that conversation. I considered the possibility of Night John not being appropriate for a literature circle type activity, but I decided against it. By using Night John in literature circles you are providing a safe environment for your students to engage in a class discussion about a very sensitive and controversial topic.
The hand out that Cathy gave us in class with the different roles, Insightful Illustrator, Summary Shepherd, Word Watchdog, Passage Patriot, Character Connoisseur, Curious Connector and Question Quilter would also be a great way to assign specific groups or individuals a role through which to explore the text. A great response activity to extend a literature circle would be to have students write a sequel to Night John about what they think happened to Sarny. After doing this students could then read Sarny the sequel to Night John and compare and contrast the two novels. Showing students Night John the movie and comparing and contrasting it with the novel would also be a good activity.

Response to "Using Literacy to Create Social Justice Classrooms"
The course reading Using Literacy to Create Social Justice Classrooms by R. Henkin was inspiring. Although I found this reading very difficult to read as I was saddened by the fact that children had to deal with such issues. What I found inspiring was that teachers found the courage to use their classroom for discussions about such issues. The teachers at the school discussed in the reading took a very negative situation and used it as an opportunity. I think as teachers although at times we may be afraid to discuss issues that upset us, it is so important to have that uncomfortable conversation. As we have discussed throughout this course literacy provides an opportunity for students to relate their own real life experiences to those of characters in a book. As stated in the reading itself, literature creates a path into children's lives (Henkin, 1998). To the children in the article, the issues that we find unimaginable are their life. By using literature to create awareness and discuss such issues is sending the message to these students that the teacher cares and that their lives matter. Although I strongly believe in the power of literature and the positive influence that it can have on a child's life I wonder if I would have the strength to do what the teachers in the article did. They truly are an inspiration.

Response to the Disney Video
Having been a fan of Disney movies from a young age, I was shocked to see what the video had to say about the content of Disney movies. One researcher discussed the movie Beauty and the Beast. She highlighted the fact that Belle is portrayed to be intelligent because she reads, not because she is smart. She discussed how the beast locks up Belle in exchange for her father's freedom and how his impulsiveness and aggressive behaviour sends the message to young girls that it is okay if a man is aggressive and impulsive on the outside because on the inside you will find a prince. The video also discussed cultural representations found in the movies. However, I think one of the biggest stereotypes that is upheld in Disney films is with regards to fairytales. It is also something that was hardly touched on in the video. Although I agree that it is important to be aware of cultural stereotypes, gender stereotypes are just as important. The Disney Princess phenomenon is huge right now and as a result Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, Princess Aurora and Princess Jasmine are idealized by young girls. I cannot help but think of the message that movies such as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Aladdin are sending. The message that I am referring to is if you're good you're beautiful, if you're bad you're ugly and you're nothing until you marry your Prince Charming. The princesses in these movies are skinny, long haired and beautiful which also sends mixed messages about body image to a very young audience. All of these princesses are infatuated with finding their prince and need the help of other people, i.e. a fairy godmother or a genie to solve their problems. As teachers we need to try and break down such stereotypes by using materials that promote a healthy body image and by choosing literature that depicts strong girls in independent roles.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Few of My Personal Favourites

by Ian Falconer
I LOVE this book!! Olivia is an adorable story about an energetic piglet with an amazing sense of imagination. In this story we are introduced to Olivia a piglet who wears her mother out! The beautiful illustrations and familiar situations allow children and adults to place themselves inside the story. Ian Falconer has also written two other Olivia books Olivia Saves the Circus and Olivia and the Missing Toy.

Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut
by Margaret Atwood
Illustrated by Maryann Kovalski

One of Canada's most famous authors, Margaret Atwood presents a charming story about Princess Prunella, "a pompous Princess who lives in a pink palace with her pinheaded parents Princess Patty and Prince Peter, her 3 plump pussycats, Patience, Prue and Pringle and her puppy dog Pug." The story follows the pompous Princess as she learns a lesson about respect and acceptance of others. Children love this story! It's tongue twisting use of the letter P makes it is as much fun to read aloud as it is to listen to.

MathStart Series
by Stuart Murphy

This is a wonderful series of books that integrate math concepts into children's literature. Each story deals with a specific math concept and features colourful illustrations and tips for adults and kids for extension activities. Each book even includes a list of other stories dealing with the same concept.

The following is a link to Stuart Murphy's website:

Queen Bees & Wannabes
by Rosalind Wiseman

Queen Bees & Wannabes was the basis for the popular movie Mean Girls and deals with ways to help girls deal with issues of adolescence such as cliques, gossip and boyfriends. It is a book for both parents and educators that breaks down the "popular girl culture" and offers ways to help young girls overcome it. I think that anyone that works with children and youth should read this book as some of the issues discussed are seen at as early as grade 1. This book completely changed how I viewed working with adolescent girls. Rosalind Wiseman is cofounder of the Empower Program, "a not for profit organization that works to empower girls and boys and to stop violence."

For more information visit the Empower Program website:

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bibliography of Recommended Children's Literature Books
The following is a list of children's literature titles that I recommend.
Each entry has a picture of the cover of the book, a description of the book,
its grade level suitability and links to the BC Curriculum.

A Multicultural Book
Suki's Kimono by Chieri Uegaki, Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
Suki's Kimono is a story about a young Japanese girl named Suki who despite what others think is determined to wear her kimono, a gift from her Obachan (Grandma) on the first day of school. It sends the message that it is okay to be yourself! The beautiful prose of the story is enhanced ever further with its beautiful, vivid watercolour illustrations (as seen on the right), that bring the story to life.
Grade Level Suitability: K- 4
Links to BC Curriculum: This book would tie in great with the grade 2/3 social studies curriculum with regards to creating and demonstrating awareness of British Columbia and Canada's diverse heritage.
A Non-Fiction Anthology
Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul is an anthology of non-fiction, inspirational stories for children. The book is written for kids by kids and provides personal accounts of how children have dealt with some difficult issues. The book is divided into the following sections, On Love, On Friendship, On Family, On Attitude and Perspective, On Death and Dying, Achieving Dreams, Overcoming Obstacles, On Choices, Tough Stuff and Eclectic Wisdom. Each section includes stories or poems on the given topic.
Grade Level Suitability: K-7, It is great to use for read alouds!
Links to BC Curriculum: The stories in this book deal with a variety of topics ranging from friendship to family to drugs and alcohol. This would be a great book to integrate into personal planning as it deals with a lot of the issues raised in the K-7 personal planning curriculum. The stories are also great to use as a basis of discussion on tough issues such as child abuse, gangs, drugs and alcohol and death. What I love about these stories is that they are non-fiction and they are written by kids. I think that these stories provide opportunities for students to really engage and connect with what they read as the fact that it is written by a child makes it that much more relateable.

The following are links to 2 stories from Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul.

The Girl Who Dare to Wish:

Dear God, This is Charles:

An Informational Concept Book

Stella Princess of the Sky by Marie- Louise Gay is a wonderful story about a little girl named Stella and her little brother Sam. This story is one in a series of four books in which Stella and Sam explore the natural world. In these stories Marie-Louise Gay tells the story through the eyes of Sam and Stella and presents a very realistic and true representation of how a child makes sense of their world. The result is a charming, sometimes comical story in which I found myself laughing, as so much of what Sam and Stella say are things that I have heard children say. The story has beautiful , rich illustrations that enhance it even more. The following is an excerpt from Stella Princess of the Sky. In this part of the story Sam and Stella are seeing a sunset, although they don't know that it is actually a sunset.

"Stella!" cried Sam. "Stella! Look! The sky is on

"No it isn't, Sam," said Stella. "The sun is just going to sleep."
"Why is it so red?" asked Sam.
"Can't you see? It's wearing red pajamas."
"Pajamas?" said Sam. "Like mine?"
"Of course," said Stella, "and when the moon rises, it wraps the sun up in a big starry blanket."

Other stories in this series include Stella Fairy of the Forest, Stella Queen of the Snow and Stella Star of the Sea.

Grade Level Suitability: K-2
Links to BC Curriculum: This story is a great basis of class discussion and could be easily integrated into the science or social studies curriculum. It would be a great way to introduce a unit as the story promotes inquiry as it discusses the way a child makes sense of what they see. The unit itself could then explain what those things really are. For example, using the excerpt from above you could have a discussion about what the students think Sam and Stella are seeing and what it really is.

A Book of Poetry
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein is a book of drawings and poems and is a great for introducing children to poetry. It would also be great to use as a read aloud. The book includes rhymes, songs, poems and riddles and awakens a child's imagination. This book is one of many poetry books by Shel Silverstein, others include A Light in the Attic and Runny Babbit.
Grade Level Suitability: K-7, I think children of all ages enjoy this book.
Links to BC Curriculum: The poems in this book could be easily integrated into language arts, used in a unit about poetry or transferred into a Reader's Theatre script. The poems in this book also make great read alouds and leave your students thinking about what the author is talking about. Here is one of my personal favourites from Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Sandra's seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins' gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.

By Shel Silverstein

A Novel
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a wonderful story about two brothers Damian and Anthony and their father, a recent widow. The book is told from Damian's point of view, a young boy that is obsessed with saints and has an interest in world issues. One night Damian is locked out of his house and says a prayer to God. Damian is surprised when a very large amount of money falls into his hands. Damian wants to spend the money helping sick and poor children and Anthony can only think of himself. Thus, the brothers begin an adventure in which the one thing they want is something that no amount of money can provide.
Grade Level Suitability: Grade 5-7
Links to BC Curriculum: This book would be an excellent choice for a novel study in language arts or for literature circles as there are some interesting moral decisions that would be a great starting point for class or small group discussions. World issues are also discussed. This book was also made into a movie that came out this year and a great activity would be to compare the two.
Contemporary Realist Non-fiction

Made You Look How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know by Shari Graydon is a non-fiction book that introduces students to the power and influence of the media. It looks specifically at advertising and discusses the many techniques and strategies used by advertising companies to persuade child and youth consumers. The book also discusses the use and effect of gender and cultural stereotypes in the media.
Grade Level Suitability: Grade 6 and up
Links to the BC Curriculum: This is a great book to use in social studies in a unit on the media in society. This book could also be integrated into language arts as it encourages students to critically analyze both the media and the text itself.

*Shari Graydon is also the author of another book of this type entitled In Your Face The Culture and Beauty of You which examines the role of the media in creating perceptions of beauty among girls and boys.

Read Aloud

For my read aloud I chose the story Alligator Baby by Robert Munsch.

Alligator Baby is a story about a little girl named Kristen whose Mom is expecting a baby. On the way to the hospital Kristen's Mom and Dad accidentally take a wrong turn and end up at the zoo to deliver their baby. When they arrive home they have the wrong baby! Kristen's parents return to the zoo and come home with yet another zoo baby. This continues to happen until Kristen steps in to save the day!

This story is suitable for grades K-3, although both older and younger children may also enjoy it. In regards to links to the BC Curriculum this story could be used as a part of a language arts unit on creative writing as the ending of the story would serve as a great writing prompt. This story could also be linked to science as children could do a research project on one of the animals presented in the story.

Here is a link to an audio version of the story told by Robert Munsch:

Sunday, January 08, 2006

My Most Memorable Story Telling Experience
I am very lucky to have been read to immensely as a child. I remember looking forward to listening to my parents tell me and my brother and sister a story every night before bedtime. I remember fondly the facial expressions and voice inflections my Dad would use to bring characters to life and the comfort of sitting on my Mom's lap curled up under a cozy blanket reading a book. I also remember the first novel I ever read on my own and what a special moment it was for me. For Christmas one year I received Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder as a gift. I remember how excited I was to not only own my very first novel, but to be able to read it independently for the first time. The power of literature is amazing. So much of what we remember we learned from a book and a lot of moments in my life I remember because of what I was reading at the time they occurred. After reading my first novel I was hooked! Ever since then I have spent a great deal of my life as a bookworm. As a child I read books by authors such as Judy Blume, Roald Dahl and R.L. Stein and series such as Little House on the Prairie, The Babysitters Club, Sleepover Friends and Nancy Drew to name a few. In fact over the last few years reading the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling has brought back many memories of reading as a child that you just don't get from reading adult books. To this day, anytime I enter a bookstore I cannot wait to check out the children's book section! My love of literature is something that I hope to pass onto my students.

A Few of My Favourite Things ...
My favourite books are a toss up between what I consider to be 2 classics...

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I have read each of these books many times and look forward to the day that I can share these stories with my own daughter. Over the years I have often wondered what it was about these two books that resonated with me and drew me in. For me one of my favourite things about reading was the vivid mental images that formed in my head as result of the words that I read. When the movie version of Little Women came out in 1994 it took me until the year 2000 to see it as I feared that it would ruin the images in my head. Reading is an escape from the everyday to an imaginary world much different from your own. For some this is a land far, far away on another planet, for others it is a world somewhat similar to your own, but set in a different place and time. I came to the conclusion that for me both novels took me to a period in time that was much different than my own. In Little House in the Big Woods I identified with the main character Laura Ingalls and sympathized with the Ingalls family and the many hardships that they had to endure. The lifestyle of pioneers interested me so much that I wanted to know more about it which resulted in me searching my school library for more books. In Little Women I identified with the main character Jo and her love of books. I admired her relationship with her sisters and her mother. I saw similarities between the imaginary games she would play with her sisters and the games that I would play with my sister. But a common theme that ran through both books was that of the importance of family, a theme which resonates very strongly with me. One of the great things about literature is that it can cause us to look inside ourselves, to question our own identities, morals and beliefs that make up who we are. As teachers we have the opportunity to actively engage students with the literature that we choose to read. We have the chance to bring a story to life for any age with our use of enthusiasm, expression, inflection and animation. Such use of literature in the classroom is an essential tool to both encourage and promote literacy.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Welcome to my blog for EDUC 457
Language & Literacy: Oral & Written Genres

"The more that you read,
The more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
The more places you'll go!

From I Can Read With My Eyes Shut
by Dr. Seuss

Stay Tuned!