Increasing Literacy

I confess

writing poetry is how I digress-

and then, it leaves my desk

a mess!

Poem inspired by the simple examples in Lois Lowry’s  novel Gooney Bird is so Absurd – a story set in a Grade 2 classroom that invites both adults and children to view the inside of an elementary class in action.  For any adult who wishes to peek inside her child’s classroom, this story will provide many a chuckle and is “just right” for emerging readers to connect with character and plot.  It also works as a primer for how to increase Literacy at home; the simple use of couplets, the encouraging of the children’s efforts, the genuine enjoyment in demonstrating how the many voices in a classroom respond to direction.  Perhaps what I liked best is that in this day and age when we profess to being about “diversity” it is fun to read a story where the children’s comments are believable and the multiple perspectives simply expressed.

I immersed myself in children’s novels these past few weeks, marveling at how some managed to convey really “big ideas” and encourage a reader of any age to “care”.  Another book that impressed: Stealing Home by Ellen Schwartz.  This one is geared to slightly older children and set in 1947- with the story of Jackie Robinson as a backdrop for the main character developing and finding both himself and his own home.  Fans of baseball will be asked to consider the importance of radio (technology at the time) as well as being given insight into what is really behind major events like “Black History Month”.  Ms. Schwartz also shares insight into a Jewish family in Brooklyn’s 1940s – as a cross cultural novel the book displays understanding of “miscommunication” and suggests how inter-generational bonds can be formed.

The Secret Garden now this one is a step back in time and for readers who already possess a strong vocabulary and who read regardless of the dialects and who can become curious about the formal and very full descriptions of time, place, and characters.  It is important to remember that writers in the last century were focusing on sharing a story, not gearing their writing to a specific age group- so many of the books which I found in the “children’s” section of the library weren’t originally written with a particular genre in mind.  The book being about friendships formed and new beginnings, can definitely be shared as an in class study for junior and even senior high school students- in the older grades there would be the opportunity to look into the politics subtly expressed.  Too often it seems books with deeper social/cultural meaning are currently being relegated as “children’s stories” which has a double sided sword.  Children do indeed absorb the nuances in a story and the extra curious will try to learn more about a particular time period or why characters may have behaved or been expected to behave in a certain way.  But older students with the deeper knowledge base may shy away from reading a novel that is labelled “children’s” even if also called a classic and then become stuck between what is available in the young adult sections- and what is enforced- that is, chosen by a teacher for classroom study.  It is a bit of a truism that reading makes readers.

As an adult I continue to be thrilled when I can find a book on Project Gutenberg, or quickly use the internet to source a topic, and am all in favour of encouraging students to value reading in all its various dimensions however there is simply something intrinsic to the feel of a book- and to the value that can be gained through taking the time to connect with voices that travel across time and space and into one’s psyche; when a novel’s characters no longer appear as words on a page but indeed become examples of people worth caring about -this happens.  And that is what is meant by how reading may encourage empathy.

Next week: some classics reviewed

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