Monday, November 23, 2009

Reflections from Children's Literature

This class has given me a new way to look at children’s books. I have analyzed novels throughout my life, but I have never had the chance to closely examine a children’s book. I now understand how much each little thing means in a book and how books can have different layers of messages for both parents and children. The observations in the bookstore and the library helped me see how children learn about diversity through books, although I believe bookstores and libraries should be carrying more of these types of books. I now realize just how similar several children’s books are in terms of plot and characters. The counter-narrative project gave me a new appreciation for diversity in children’s books and how little multiculturalism there really is in many of them. I feel that this class has taught me to be aware of the types of books I will use in my classroom and different ways I can use books to teach my students. I would have never thought of half of the activities possible without the text or this class. I have learned to look for all types of issues in children’s books and use them to teach my students about the world. This class changed my perspective of critical literacy and how I view children’s books and has had a clear impact on the teacher I will become after college.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Differences in my Counter-Narrative Text

The big change that I made in my version of Cinderella was that instead of a female character being “rescued” essentially, the female “rescues” the male. I feel that most fairy tales and children’s books always place the female as the beautiful damsel in distress and the strong male as the one who comes to save her. Females don’t always need to be saved; they are strong too. This is why I wanted to turn the tables around in my narrative and have a strong female rescue a male character. This should happen in many more books, but one does not see that very often. This was a very empowering experience for me and I hope it is one others can learn from.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bookstore and Library Observations

Barnes and Noble in Friendship Heights

What’s Heaven? By Maria Shriver
This book is about how parents can talk to their children about what happens when a loved one dies. Heaven and death are difficult subjects to talk about and even harder to understand, so having a book to help explain this is a good tool.

Buddhism Eyewitness Book
This book explains several different aspects of Buddhism from the traditions in the religion to artifacts found from thousands of years ago. This book opens children’s eyes to a religion that is not commonly practiced in America.

It’s So Amazing! By Robie H. Harris
This is a book for ages 7 and up about sex and families. While I personally do not think this book is age appropriate, it would be a good way to get the conversation going about sex and puberty with a child.

Only Passing Through by Anne Rockwell
This book is the story of Sojourner Truth. It takes you through her journey through slavery and confronts the sensitive issue of slavery in America.

Chief Hawah’s Book of Native American Indians
This book briefly describes the differences between several Native American Indian tribes and also describes many traditions of the Native American Indians. The book discusses the typical lifestyle, ceremonies, and well known members of the tribes (ex. Pocahontas, Chief Sitting Bull, etc.).

Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson
When children learn about the American Revolution, they learn all about how the men fought for our country, etc. This book tells the story from the point of view of the women and how they contributed to all of the changes that took place in America during the American Revolution.

Two Homes by Claire Masurel
This book confronts the situation of when a child’s parents are divorced and a child lives in two homes. The main character describes how he has two of everything since he lives in two homes and how his parents still love him no matter where they are and no matter where he is.

I Miss You by Pat Thomas
This is another great book that deals with the topic of death. It talks about the circle of life and also has questions in it to ask the child reading it such as, “What kinds of things make you happy when you are sad?”

Are there many such books available? Where are these books located in the store?
There are many books such books available considering the size of the selection of children’s books in the Borders I went to. The children’s section in this store is not very big, yet I did not have a hard time finding the books I needed to complete this assignment. The books are located throughout the “books” part of the children’s section (as opposed to the area where there are mostly toys and games), but they are mostly concentrated in the “Religion” and “Social Studies/History” sections, which are located in the back corner of the children’s section.

How are these books displayed and what variety is available?
The books are all shelved so that you can see the binding only; they do not have the cover facing people, as some popular books are displayed. There is a large variety available, but they are not displayed as prominently as some of the other books are.

Is the authorship of these books diverse?
From what I can tell, yes. Books about women are typically written by women. However, beyond that, I cannot tell the races or any other diverse information about the authors just from their names. I did however notice that most of the books I picked were written by men.

For whom are the books in the store accessible? For whom are they not accessible?
The books are accessible to everyone. If you are not tall enough to reach the top shelf of the books, there are several stools located around the children’s section to stand on.

Do the books portray any sorts of cultural stereotypes?
Yes. I found that most of the books’ illustrations portrayed stereotypes whether it was all of the Asians wearing the same kimono, or the African American characters with solid black skin.

What do these books convey about the characters in them?
These books all show that every person has a story to tell. They may have different lessons and morals at the end, but they are all important in their own ways.

Describe the neighborhood in which the bookstore is located.
The bookstore I went to was the Borders in Friendship Heights. It is a very nice shopping area with stores like Neiman Marcus and restaurants like Maggiano’s around it.

How might this location intersect with your observations?
Since the area is fairly well off, most of the people shopping in this Borders are probably well off as well. Therefore, the population buying these books is probably fairly homogeneous.

Tenley Community Library

We All Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns
This is a counting book about a group of people who go on a safari. They spot different numbers of animals and count them. At the back of the book there is an explanation of all of their Swahili names, what they mean in English and some fun facts about Tanzania.

Maya’s World by Maya Angelou
This is a book about Maya Angelou’s childhood friend Angelina, who lived in Italy. She talks about her love of pizza and creates a fun story for the whole family. This book shows that families in Italy are not very different from families in the America.

F is for Fiesta by Susan Middleton Elya
This book starts out with a glossary on what some Spanish words used in the book mean. Then the book is like a traditional Spanish alphabet book, but it uses the Spanish alphabet instead of the English alphabet. This is a great way for kids to be exposed to another language and culture.

Passover by Alice K. Flanagan
This book is all about the Jewish holiday of Passover. It explains the story of Passover and the different things that families do to celebrate Passover. This book is a great way to introduce children to this holiday and how they can help celebrate it.

1621 A New Look At Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac
This book uses photographs to tell the story of Thanksgiving. They explain the culture and language of the Indians who lived in America before the first Thanksgiving happened and also give some traditional recipes to try at home. This book is a great way to teach children about where the holiday of Thanksgiving came from and how it has changed over the years.

Boycott Blues by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney
This book is about Rosa Parks and how she inspired people everywhere. It talks about the bus boycott and how effective their efforts were. The book ends by telling how the Supreme Court abolished segregation and how happy everyone was about it.

Count on Cullebra by Ann Whitford Paul
This is a counting book in Spanish. It is a regular story in English, but the characters count things in Spanish. The last page of the book translates all of the numbers and Spanish words used in the text into English and gives the recipe they talked about in the book.

Silent Lotus by Jeanne M. Glee
This book is about a Cambodian girl in named Lotus who cannot speak or hear. She learns to dance and loves it. She becomes a famous dancer and dances for the King.

Are there many such books available? & Where are these books located in the store?
There are several of these books available. There is no set place for them but they are all around the children’s section.

How are these books displayed and what variety is available.
They are placed with all of the other books in the section. There are books available about all different cultures and some books are partially in other languages.

Is the authorship of these books diverse?
I am not really able to tell about this because I can’t see pictures of many of the authors, but it seems to be that the authors are writing about their own cultures or in their own languages.

For whom are the books in the store accessible? & For whom are they not accessible?
The books are accessible to everyone that comes into the library. Most of the books are located on low shelves so that all children can reach them.

Do the books portray any sorts of cultural stereotypes?
Some of the books have characters in traditional clothing of the culture they are about, but I don’t consider that a stereotype. However, the books about African Americans depicted almost all of the characters as having extremely dark skin, as opposed to the varying shades you see in most people.

What do these books convey about the characters in them?
The books show how the characters live their lives and how they celebrate their cultures.

Describe the neighborhood in which the bookstore is located.
The library I went to was in Tenleytown (right next to the Greenberg Theater), so it was in a fairly nice area.

How might this location intersect with your observations?
Most of the people in this area are fairly well off and have no problem travelling to the library whenever they want. It is likely that most of the kids are fairly well cultured at home because they probably go to school with many different types of people. Therefore, the selection of books at the library helps keep their eyes open to different groups of people and their cultures.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Research in the Community Observations

I was surprised by the difference in the set-up of the library and the bookstore I visited. In the bookstore, there was a labeled corner for books on subjects such as “religion” and “social studies/history”. However, there was no such labeling in the library. On one hand, I guess this is a good thing because then you are not separating those books from any other stories, you are saying they are just as valuable as any other book in the library. On the other hand, if a parent wants to teach his or her child about diversity, it may be hard to find a bunch of books on it because they are scattered around the library with all of the other books.

I was also surprised with the way many of the books seemed very similar to one another in terms of stereotypes. For example, if the characters were African American, their skin was always very dark. If the characters were Asian, they always seemed to be wearing very traditional clothing and had extremely slanted eyes. I understand that the clothing is traditional, but this seemed to be a recurring theme in all of the books I looked at.

I never knew how many books were written about different cultures and traditions. After reading a wide variety of such books, I have thought about how I can use all of these types of books in my classroom as a teacher. I want to show my students that just because someone looks different from you or has different traditions than you does not mean one of you is better than the other. Everyone is equal and everyone is special in his or her own way.

I was also surprised by how many times the media uses children’s literature. These links show the different ads and songs I found that show just how prevalent children’s literature is in our everyday lives:

Love Story by Taylor Swift:

Cinderella by Play:

Hansel and Gretel AT&T Commercial:

Japanese Ad with Little Red Riding Hood:

Bassett Furniture Commercial (Goldilocks and the Three Bears):

Capital One Credit Card Commercial (Princess Kisses Frog):

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Critical Literacy Websites

This article discusses the history of critical literacy and how to use it in the classroom. It talks about the theory behind critical literacy and how it can be used effectively in and out of the classroom. The site also shows how one can use critical literacy through methods other than books such as media and technology.

This site gives teachers lots of ideas of how to use critical literacy in their classrooms. Too many students read without analyzing the author’s message or point of view. Several activities are described to help stop this from happening as much in the classroom.

This website discusses important questions such as “What is critical literacy?” and “Why is critical literacy important?” It lays out why it is so important to teach students critical literacy and these reasons clearly show how learning critical literacy at an early age will help students later in their academic careers. It also gives some good example questions to ask students to help teach critical literacy.

This site talks about using technology to encourage critical literacy. This is a great way to use something other than books to promote deeper thinking about texts. This provides some innovative ways to engage students in the classroom and get them excited to learn about critical literacy.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Banned Books

When I first started looking up banned books, I expected to find a list of books I had never heard of. However, when I started my research, I found that I knew almost every single book on the list! I had read almost all of them and some of them had been favorites of mine when I was younger. For example, I was shocked to see that The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein was on the list of banned books. I never saw anything wrong with it, but apparently it is sexist, and therefore must be banned. I was also shocked to see the book Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes on the list. I recently read Olive’s Ocean for a literature class last semester. The book won a Newbury Honor and I believe it is a valuable book for children to read. However, according to the banned books list, it has too many mature themes such as death and puberty.
While I understand that some books are too racist or outright offensive, I feel that some people have become too sensitive when it comes to books. These same themes that books are being banned for are coming up again and again on TV, on billboards, and throughout many other types of media, and no one is doing anything to ban these themes from those types of media. To me, some people are getting a bit overzealous when it comes to banning books. Just because a child reads a poem about breaking dishes instead of washing them and sees a picture accompanying the poem, does not mean the child will start to break dishes instead of washing them as well.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Podcast Ideas

For my podcast, I will concentrate on Religion and the way it is presented in children’s books. I am Jewish and one of my favorite books as a child was “Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah.” I was always sad that Sammy Spider was never able to celebrate Hanukkah with the family and that he was not allowed to spin dreidels because according to his mother, “spiders don’t spin dreidels, spiders spin webs.” To me, the spiders always seemed to represent children that were not Jewish but were curious about Judaism and looking in on the religion from an outsider’s point of view. I would like to focus my podcast on how different religions are presented in children’s literature and how that affects the children reading the books. For example, a non-Jewish child could identify with Sammy Spider if he or she wished he could spin dreidels and celebrate Hanukkah, but is not Jewish. I would like to find another book that examines a different religion as well and use that to further examine religion in children’s literature.