|Family outing to explore the real 'My Place'|
- Share stories with each other and incorporate storybook language into classroom, playground and home life.
- Spontaneously respond to stories - 'Can I make my own book like Jeannie's'? (Jeannie Baker is the master of collage).
- Gossip about stories - 'Have you seen this book'? 'Did you watch Toy Story last night'? 'My big brother told me this weird story about...'. 'Mrs watts, this story reminds me of that movie we watched..'. 'Have you read some of the other Berenstain Bear books?'
- Incorporate stories into their playground and outdoor activities - 'Let's do the Big Bad Wolf, and I'm the wolf.' 'Can we play Toy Story, and I'm Woody?'
- Incorporate elements of stories read, seen or heard into their writing.
- Use literature and stories of all kinds as springboards to other forms of learning - 'Can we see if we can sink a boat like in the book?' (This is in response to 'Who Sank the Boat', see below)
- Respond creatively through drawing, movement, song and rhyme, dance, drama.
In this post I want to provide examples of how 6 children's books can act as a springboard for meaning making and learning. Examples based on films, videos and life experiences, but literature is sufficient to illustrate what I mean by the above comments.
1. 'The Jolly Postman, or Other People's Letters' by Janet & Allen Ahlberg (1986)
'The Jolly Postman' is a favourite book for many children (and adults). The Ahlberg's inspiration for the 'Jolly Postman' was the fact that their daughter was always upset when they went to the mailbox and none of the letters were for her. So they wrote her a book that was full of her own mail. The text brilliantly weaves together various fairytale characters in a continuous narrative, while introducing readers to varied written genres - letters, a postcard, birthday card, letter from a solicitor etc. The book took five years to make but it won many awards, including the Kate Greenaway Medal. You can read my post on the Ahlbergs HERE
Children who read the book, or who share it as a class or group will delight in creating their own version of this unique book, or simply producing their own letters, cards, bills etc based on storybook characters or stories. Classes I have shared the book with have wanted to write and design their own versions of these texts inspired by other books and movies.
2. 'Where the Forest Meets the Sea' by Jeannie Baker (1987)
'Window' (1991) Greenwillow Books
A second example from Baker is 'Window'. This book represents a move from the natural world to the man-made world as she shows once again how development can change the natural world. A mother and her baby look through a window at bush and open space. But with each turn of the page time marches on, and as we look from the same window, the world changes under the impact of people. As the child grows and ages, so too the view changes, from a country scene to dense settlement. This wordless book won the Children's Book Council (Australia) picture book of the year in 1992.
Both books can inspire readers to produce their own collage, predict the future for a specific place, or contemplate how humanity changes places. Students might write letters to the editor commenting on the social cost of development, contribute to a joint blog with other students interested in a common concern and so on.
|Illustration from Jeannie Baker's 'Window'|
3. 'The Sign of the Seahorse: A Tale of Greed and High Adventure in Two Acts' by Graeme Base (1992)
The 'Sign of the Seahorse' is an illustrated picture book by well-known author and illustrator Graeme Base. It was published in 1992. Originally designed by Base to become a narrated concert, the story is composed of two acts. We have a hero, a villain and eventually, the victory of good over evil. The story follows the underwater life of Reeftown that is threatened with environmental disaster.
The book explores varied ways to express meaning using language, image and many other devices (e.g. colour, print layout, a map, hidden clues etc). It stimulates creativity and the imagination in ways that can lead spontaneously to many texts, drawings, dramatic skits and so on. With little prompting your children will want to draw their own maps of the reef, record dialogue for a favourite character or scene, create drawings and collage. These varied forms of response will enrich the children's experience of the story and encourage them to deep their understanding of the environmental issues stimulated by the book. You can read my review of the work of Graeme Base HERE.
4. 'Counting on Frank' by Rod Clement (1990)
'Counting on Frank' we meet a boy who spends his life trying to solve problems to do with number, area and capacity. Frank speculates about many things. How many dogs identical to his own would it take to fill his room? How many of his Dad could he squeeze into a television? How long it would take to fill his entire bathroom at bath time? One day Frank puts these skills to a very practical use with a good outcome. This is a delightful story that teaches us about mathematical problem solving, estimation and prediction.
You can't read this book without talking about Frank's predictions yourself. In the right hands children can be encouraged to speculate and set up their own means to test their assumptions and predictions. These can be shared in verbal, written and diagrammatic form for hours of fun, and varied literacy, mathematical and scientific learning. Your class might set up its own competition that requires prediction, estimation or mathematical calculations of all kinds.
5. 'Who Sank the Boat' by Pamela Allen (1982)
Pamela Allen has written and illustrated many wonderful and simple picture books. In 'Who Sank the Boat' her story explores how many animals it takes to sink a boat, and who's at fault!
"Can anyone tell me where all this water came from?"And of course eventually, "Eureka!" he cracks the mystery. He exclaims with joy:
"We make the water go up."
'I eat a free-range egg for my breakfast'The illustrations are simple but eye-catching, use simple tonal variations, strongly contrasting colours and many variations in page shape, cut-outs and so on, to capture attention. The book has the look and feel of recycled paper.
'I put my eggshell in the compost bin ..'
'I help empty the washing machine... and peg our clothes out to dry'. And so on.
The book can act as a springboard to varied environmental projects. Classes could set up a compost box, begin a worm farm, build a vegetable patch, or learn how to clean things without chemicals. Perhaps they could do their own 'Greed Days' based on their life at home or school. As well, writing, language and drawing can be used to support their varied response to how they might 'green' the day.
While literature is important as a wonderful source of meaning, language and learning, it can also act as a springboard to other ways to learn and express ongoing explorations and discovery. Story enriches and can stay with you for life. It can have echoes that penetrate other areas of learning in can deepen learning experiences in surprising ways.
Well-known New Zealand author Margaret Mahy was well aware of the way stories crept into her life, and became part of her learning and literary history. When reflecting upon her childhood literary experiences she commented:
"I wrote because I was a reader, and wanted to relive certain reading experiences more intimately by bringing them back out of myself......books give me access to a continuous and reciprocating discussion, and the awareness of lots of things all going on simultaneously... I think I dissolved the books I needed and no doubt I still carry them (in solution) within me" (1987).