"Booking It" to Peace: Bibliotherapy Guidelines for Teachers. (On-Going Topics)

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article explores both the theory and practice of bibliotherapy. The history of bibliotherapy is discussed with various definitions. The authors provide guidelines and examples for implementing bibliotherapy in the classroom for children with special needs. The benefits of using bibliotherapy include language enrichment, improved reading skills, self-confidence, thinking in another perspective, and empathy development. The appendix provides a listing of useful children's books, which are particularly useful for students with disabilities.

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Humans seem to have an insatiable thirst for knowledge that can be partially satisfied by the printed word (Davis & Wilson, 1992). Naturally curious, children too have a thirst for knowledge as they journey through their lives to adulthood. Unfortunately, that journey has become more challenging for children today. Children in America are entering school with a multitude of experiences that in the past took a lifetime to accrue. This exposure is due to influences such as the media, changes in family structure, mobility, and other factors too numerous to mention. Regretably, these experiences do not always serve to promote the healthy development of our children. As a result, the needs of children in classrooms today are such that teachers are challenged to utilize all resources and strategies available to meet needs beyond pure academic acquisition of knowledge. One strategy beginning with the creation of books is bibliotherapy.

Documented use of bibliotherapy reaches back to the Ancient Greeks, where it was primarily used with patients who were mentally ill, and continues through the twentieth century to present day in a variety of settings (Bernstein, 1977; McMath, 1997; McTague, 1998; Piercy, 1996; Stroud, Stroud, & Staley, 1999). The first books printed for children were basically used to mold the minds of children toward good character by focusing on religious and moral values. As children's literature evolved and changed to include less acceptable and sometimes demoralizing storybooks, evaluation of children's literature began focusing on the identification and creation of lists of acceptable books for children. The first of these lists published by Edwin Starbuck (1928) prompted the move toward bibliotherapy, which was first applied to maladjusted children in 1946 (Agnes, 1946, pp.8-16).

As our society and the lives of our children have become more complex, the issues and the challenges facing them have also become more complex. Focusing on the moral development of literary characters where problems seem to work out ideally in the end no longer applies to the emotions of children facing such issues of AIDS, divorce, drugs and alcohol, homosexuality, pregnancy, prejudice, rape, social alienation, suicide, violence, and learning problems in a highly literate society. Bibliotherapy has evolved dramatically to include a plethora of books whose story characters have realistic problems to be faced and often not necessarily resolved, just as in real life. Young readers of realistic literature often find solace and hope through the written page in a way that will most likely benefit them on their life's journey.

Definition

Connecting literature to the emotions of the reader for therapeutic purposes has been termed bibliotherapy. The intent is for the reader to think about and question situations from another perspective. Bibliotherapy is not a cure all, pill, or band aid to fix a child's problems (Smith 1989). Bibliotherapy has been defined in a variety of ways of which the following are representative samples:

() Bibliotherapy is a tool that can be used to promote healing through books (Smith, 1989).

() Bibliotherapy is the process of growing toward emotional good health through the medium of literature (Davis & Wilson, 1992).

() Bibliotherapy is the therapeutic use of literature with guidance or intervention from a therapist (Cohen, 1994). …