Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Teaching Moments In Books

Let me start by saying that I think what is called "bibliotherapy" is a crock. Mom comes in, wants a book to help her 2 year old reconcile himself to the fact that she is no longer the center of the universe because mom has a new baby girl.  Nanny comes in and wants a book to teach a spoiled, undisciplined 3 year old to hold her hand when they cross streets.
My response to that nanny was "Tell her she has to hold your hand or ride in the stroller. She's a smart kid, she'll get it."  Sheesh!
Books to deal with moving, toilet training, pacifiers. Culminating with such wonderful titles as "Hands Are Not For Hitting" and "Teeth Are Not For Biting". Really useful stuff--hell, I had a mom whose daughter LOVED "Teeth Are Not For Biting". Loved it because she LOVED biting other kids--had made up a song about how she loved to bite kids. Yup, really helpful.

But I am not in the world of toddler/preschooldom today. Instead, I am thinking about parents, teachers and other adults who try to keep books from their kids.

Harry Potter, because "witchcraft" conflicts with their religious viewpoint. Huckleberry Finn, because of the "n-word"--have you seen that idiot who created an edited version of Huck Finn that replaces that word with the word "slave"? Dude, those same kids see that word all over MTV and YouTube. Every rapper uses that word. It's fine for kids to see it in dreck like that, but not in a book that has something meaningful to say about hate? Poor Sam Clemens must be out there somewhere shaking his head and yearning to write about it.

What really brought this to mind right now was seeing Al Capone Does My Shirts on one of my return carts today.

It's a terrific story for elementary kids, about the son of a prison guard on Alcatraz Island in 1935. The whole family lives on the island, including the boy's sister Natalie, who has a condition that would now be diagnosed as autism.

I happened to see a review a mother had done of the book on Amazon.com  She was horrified by the book because she has an autistic child herself, and is disgusted by the family's attitude towards Natalie. She said that the book:"permeates the message of segregation of people with disabilities in society. "

I feel for this mother. But what I told her in a comment is that this book is not set in 2010, it is set in 1935. That it's a wonderful chance to look at how attitudes have changed about autism since then. That the feelings of shame and discomfort Moose has about Natalie, the guilt he has because she is his sister whom he is supposed to love, the efforts he goes to in order to help her, are all worth discussing with our kids.

Are your religious values so weak that you don't dare to bring Harry Potter to your kids and discuss why you feel witchcraft is evil? Can't you read the book and realize that while you may find witchcraft offensive, that Harry's struggles with the choices between good and evil are something that we all struggle with, something that your religion is supposed to be all about?

Can't a group of school kids read Huckleberry Finn and think about how that "n" word was used commonly in 1850-something, but is totally unacceptable today and WHY that is? Can't they talk about how it is used in black culture, but why it is so repugnant for Caucasians to use it?  Can't they look at how Clemens/Twain shows us Huck as someone who is utterly conflicted by what he KNOWS society tells him about black people versus how he feels about Jim?

Books aren't written just so we can nod our heads sagely and agree.Let me quote again something I've quoted before, from the play  based on the Scopes Trial, "Inherit the Wind"

Drummond: Then why did God plaint us with the power to think?! Mr. Brady, why do you deny the one faculty of man [that] raises him above the other creatures of the earth: the power of his brain to reason? What other merit have we? The elephant is larger; the horse is swifter and stronger; the butterfly is far more beautiful; the mosquito is more prolific. Even the simple sponge is more durable. Or does a sponge think?
Brady: I don't know. I am a man, not a sponge.
Drummond: Well, do ya think a sponge thinks?
Brady: If the Lord wishes a sponge to think, it thinks!
Drummond: Do you think a man should have the same privilege as a sponge?
Brady: Of course!
  Drummond: This man wishes to be accorded the same privilege as a sponge! He wishes to think!!

Let our children THINK.
Let them read...........



De said...

Great points. I'll respond to just one that has been on my mind - knowing some history! Tony and I were talking about this recently because he was reading a novel set in North Africa. Previously, he didn't know much about the region or its history, so there were many avenues of understanding and interest that the book opened up. World history is a vast subject that still has an impact on our modern world and our relationships with other cultures.

Our library has "the Nutmeg club" (CT being the Nutmeg state) for kids in 4th grade and up - I'm pretty sure the choldenko book is on their list.

The Library Lady said...

have read a great deal of Roman history because I love Lindsay Davis's Falco books so much. I got hooked on medieval English history and the Plantagenets partly because I read E L Konigsburg's A Proud Taste For Scarlet and Miniver (about Queen Eleanor) back in jr high school.

I love a book that makes me curious to know more, a book that makes me think in a way I never have thought before. And I want the same for my girls and for all the kids I meet--and all the kids I don't meet!

Saints and Spinners said...

After reading aloud the Aesop's fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, my toddler girl went around for the next few weeks calling out, "Wolf! Wolf!" and cracking herself up.

I really liked A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver.

The Library Lady said...

And every blasted parent who wants a book about lying asks for that one. Hee, hee, hee....

The little girl who bit was dealing with a new baby sister, a school that was pushing her into toilet training and a mother who didn't seem to get that the girl was crying out for attention. Poor kid.

I wasted time in all those business ref courses. Needed a few in child psychology--and adult psychology. Though most of it is simply common sense!

fredcanfly said...

You have a most interesting blog here. I am so lucky to have found it! I am going to be following this one from now on!

I just wanted to say that it is rare to see one ready to expose their children to concepts or ideas that oppose their own. They usually see it as a threat to their teachings. It is sad, really. Most of the beliefs I have are solidified by exposure to opposing viewpoints. Adversity leads to strength. I completely agree with you, let the kids read. If they read something offensive or different from your beliefs, have a discussion with them about it. Parents aren't involved with their kids near enough nowadays.

Sorry for the long comment. I was wondering if I might be able to use your article in my blog (or at least link to it). Your comment here has sparked an idea for a blog post.

Thank you,