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Children's Literature

Page history last edited by Stephanie Knox 9 years, 4 months ago

Introduction

  For the purpose of this category, children's literature is defined as texts designed for students in preschool through middle school (approximately ages 3-13).  These are based on both an average reading level (for a child who has had access to school services for his/her lifetime) and content that is appropriate for the age level.  Therefore, as a teacher you may have students who are significantly older or younger than the suggested ages for this books.  We will now provide some general suggestions of how to use children's literature to promote peace and then some specific suggestions based on categories, just as we did in the previous sections.

 

Using Children's Literature Successfully

Morals and Values

Children's literature is frequently successful at demonstrating clean and obvious morals.  Therefore, it is important to the teacher to keep those morals alive in the classroom, even after the text is finished.  The teacher can use the feelings of one of the characters in the book to help students start discussing how they have felt in similar situations.  Additionally, when the classroom becomes not-peaceful, for whatever reason, teachers can ask students to remember the characters from the book and how they felt in similar situations.  An example is that many children's books are about sharing.  After reading a book with this theme students can talk about when someone has or hasn't shared with them and how they felt.  Additionally, if, later, one students won't share with another the teacher can bring the conversation back to the book the read as a way of reminding students of the message they learned and allowing them to come to their own conclusion about how they should behave in the moment.

 

Creating your own text

One of the books on the list below, The Land of Many Colors, was written by a preschool class.  Creating and illustrating a book is an excellent way to promote student creativity, work on writing skills and implement a moral of peace.  Beyond writing books students can write poetry (especially slam poetry since this tends to be more alive and easy to relate to), songs, etc. In general the creation of art is an important technique for younger students since it allows them to make abstract thoughts concrete, which is important at younger developmental levels when abstract thinking is still too difficult.  If you need some suggestions for using art in the classroom, see the later section on art.

 

Developing positive feelings and learning about differences

Todd Parr is a prolific children's book writer, and all of his themes relate to peace in one way or another.  He states that his goal in writing his books is to empower kids to feel good about themselves via learning about differences.  These words provide important guidance for teachers when choosing texts.  Texts should support the growth of the student through empowerment and positive feelings.  However, this should not happen at the expense of others and therefore must happen via learning about differences. 

 

Suggested Book List (by Category)

(Note: Each book will include an indication of the approximate age that it is intended for)

 

1. Immigration/Leaving Your Home

          Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz (8 years & up).  This novel tells the story of a young, rich Mexican girl in the 1930s who, with the death of her father, loses

          everything. She and her mother create fake documents to travel north to the United States, where Esperanza learns many important lessons, such as the

          value of relationships and hard work.

 

          Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez (8 years & up).  This novel tells the story of a family of undocumented Mexican workers who begin working on a Vermont

          farm. The story focuses on the unlikely friendship between the farm owner's son and the oldest daughters of the workers.  It also depicts many of the

          horrifying realities of being an undocumented immigrant in the United States in 2009.  

 

Both of these stories are incredibly personal and reveal the inner thoughts of the characters.  Therefore, as much as possible, related activities should have readers make connections between the characters and their own lives.  Students can create their own journals, since both of these texts are written in the first person, similar to a journal. Students can also write journal entries as if they were one of the characters in the books.  To keep this type of text alive after the students are finished reading it the teacher might relay to the students information about current immigrant or refugee crisis in the world and ask students to take on the perspective of a character in the book when responding to what they think about the events.  Teachers can also ask students to draw parrelels between emotions in the stories and times when students have felt those emotions, even if they have been motivated by different precipitating causes.  Some common emotions in this category of text are loneliness, anger, confusion contrasted with excitement, exhiliration and joy.  
 

2. Diversity/Multiculturalism/Differences

          The Dear America Series by Various Authors (Published by Scholastic; ages 8 & up). These books are especially great for young women in the United States. 

          They present the history of the United States from the perspective of various young women, who all come from various backgrounds.  These stories are

          important since they give voice to women and to minority groups that frequently do not have a voice in telling history.  For teachers who have access to

          the internet, the website for this series provides information about arts, crafts and writing activities related to the stories.  The website

          is http://www.scholastic.com/dearamerica/.  For teachers who do not have access to the internet, the general idea behind these activities is to create pieces

          of artwork that are similar to what was historically done during the time period of the diary.  Writing pieces can be similar to the suggestions seen in the

          immigration section, as these texts as use a first person narrative style.  

 

          Books by Todd Parr.  Todd Parr is a prolific author of illustrated books.  His texts are appropriate for people of all ages, although they are likely intended for

          readers ages 4 to 6 (they are appropriate for younger ages as well!).  As mentioned earlier, his books focus on teaching kids about all of the differences in

          the world and why diversity is great.  In his book "The Mommy Book" he tells us that some Mommies drive motorcycles and others drive minivans, some

          Mommies go fishing and other go to the Mall but all Mommies want their kids to be themselves and to be happy with that.  Todd Parr uses colorful images

          with sometimes silly descriptions to engage the younger reader (for example: In "The Peace Book" he tells that peace is everyone having shoes for their feet

          and depicts this via a centipede who has enough shoes for his 100 feet).     

 

          The Land of Many Colors by the Klamath County YMCA Family Preschool.  This book was written by students at

          a preschool in Oregon, in the United States.  It tells the story of a war that breaks out between the blue people,

          the purple people and the green people because they do not have enough resources.  By the end of the book

          they all learn, via the help of the dust child whose race they cannot identify,  that by working together they can

          reap more benefits and be happier.  This text is approrpiate for students of all ages, but was likely intended for

          students ages 4-6.

  

          Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.  This book is an autobiographical tale of the author's struggle with

          dyslexia and the teasing that she endured when she was learning how to read.  The author's goal in writing the

          book was to teach kids about the harm of bullying and to teach kids abou the potential that they all have. This

          text is probably best for readers aged 6-8.  

 

This category of texts is probably that which all students can relate to easily, no matter where they live, what their background is, etc. All youth struggle with feeling that they are different from everyone else and that they are made fun of or treated differently because of that. Typically, once youth reach school age (age 5 more or less) they begin to become more concerned with their friends and what others think about them. Therefore the themes of diversity as expressed in this section are incredibly important and relevant for all students. The best thing that the teacher can do,in teaching texts in this category is to find as many ways as possible to relate it to the students 'lives. One way to do this is to ask students to continue the book, either in its style (when the story seems to be completed) or add more to what happens in the story. Students can include illustrations. This activity allows students to practice their writing skills, feel involved in the text and its characters, and combine their own life experiences with what they have learned from the text. Another activity is to push students to understand hypothetical questions that relate to the reading but are beyond the scope of the book. For example, when looking at the Land of Many Colors students can be asked why the people behaved how they did. These discussions can strongly influence what students add to the texts, if you choose to take this road, but they can also be used successfully on their own.

 

  McIntosh, P. (n.d.). Colors and Trouble: Lesson 5. In Learning to Give. Retrieved from The League      website: http://learningtogive.org/lessons/unit63/lesson5.html

Vasich, B. (n.d.). Teaching Peace Through Literature and Song (3-5). In Learning to Give. Retrieved 
     from The League website: http://learningtogive.org/lessons/unit155/lesson2.html 

 

 This list can be found at www.amshq.org/conference/.../Augustine_OverView_Resources.pdf  

 

          4. Violence and War

          The Last Flower: A Parable in Pictures by James Thurber.  This book tells the story of the destruction wreaked

          by a war that destroys all culture and emotions from the earth.  However, a man and a woman find the last

          flower and are able to recultivate what was lost, only to have the cycle repeated.  This book is an important

          lesson about the destruction of war as well as its cyclical nature.  It is difficult to place an appropriate age range

          on this text.  It is a picture book and easily understandable for younger students.  However, there is one page

          of sexual activity that many cultures would not consider appropriate for younger children.  Therefore, teachers

          need to be conscientious of how they should best respond culturally to the presence of this page, such as

          skipping it, including it, etc. 

 

          Zlata's Diary: A Child's LIfe in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic.  This diary, often compared to the more well-

          known Diary of Anne Frank, is the diary of 10 year-old Zlata who lives in Sarajevo from 1991 to 1993.  The diary

          chronicles the increasing impact of the conflcit on her life and on her city.  This text is appropriate for readers

          approximately aged 8-12.  These ages can be especially powerful since they represent similar ages to those of

          Zlata when she wrote the text. 

 

In looking at texts that relate to violence, the best action that students/readers can take is to think about how the text portrays the violence: why did it happen, was it inevitable, how did characters respond and what do students think about those reactions (were they correct, did they help).  These questions do not necessarily need to take the form of group discussions.  Students can respond to these questions in prose, in analytic essays and various art forms such as painting and dance. 

 

          5. Justice

           Holes by Louis Sacher.  This presents the tale of Stanley Yelnats, a boy from a poor family who is accused of

          stealing a pair of shoes he did not take.  He is sent to a hard labor camp.  The book deals with themes of

          justice and fate. This text is best for readers aged 8 to 11. 

 

          Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney.  This text is best for readers

          aged 5 to 8.  This presents the story of Sojourner Truth, an important figure in the abolition movement in the

          United States before the Civil War (1861-1865).  The stories show her fight for justice and equality by traveling

          throughout the United States to achieve abolition for slaves.  

 

Many of the concepts for teaching older students about justice can be slightly tweaked to teach younger students.  Students should define, via discussions, writing, artwork, etc. their definitions of justice.  Students can define the term before and after reading the text to see how their conceptions change.  Students should think about questions such as who defines justice, how does justice play out in their society and what is the role of justice in their daily life. 

  

          6. The Environment

          The Last Polar Bears by Harry Horse.  This is a story of an expedition to the North Pole and what the explorer

          notes about the polar bears there.  The story relates to global warming and how it impacts polar bears.  This

          text includes pictures but is probably best for students older than 8 years old, given the complexity of the text.  

 

           The Butterfly's Treasure by Schim Schimmel.  In this book a dying butterfly passes on her wisdom to her

          children, a group of caterpillars.  Her wisdom relates to the interconnections in nature.  According to activist

          and author Jane Goodall, this story will help children see the importance of all living beings in nature.  

 

When students learn about the environment and nature, it is key that students do not simply engage with the texts, but also with the elements that the text discusses.  Climate permitting, students can read environmental texts outside or engage in other activities outside.  When climate or other factors make spending time outside an unwise decision students can still learn to appreciate the environment.  Students can explain time they have spent outside and what was special about it. Students can also use natural materials, which either they have collected or have been collected by the teacher to create art that responds to the stories they have read.  For more ideas about environmental education, please see the corresponding page.  

 

 

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