Interpreting Literature with Children

Interpreting Literature with Children

Interpreting Literature with Children

Interpreting Literature with Children

Synopsis

Clearly organized and beautifully written, Interpreting Literature With Children is a remarkable book that stands on the edge of two textbook genres: the survey of literature text and the literary criticism text. Neither approach, however, says enough about how children respond to literature in everyday classroom situations. That is the mission of this book. It begins by providing a solid foundation in both approaches and then examines multiple ways of developing children's literary interpretation through talk, through culture, class, and gender, as well as through creative modes of expression, including writing, the visual arts, and drama. The result is a balanced resource for teachers who want to deepen their understanding of literature and literary engagement. Because of its modest length and price and its ongoing focus on how to increase student engagement with literature, either preservice or practicing teachers can use this text in children's literature, language arts, or literacy and language courses.

Excerpt

Once upon a crisp autumn day, I was in a classroom observing a group of children reading a short tradebook about maps. The text described the prevailing view of the populace who believed the earth was flat, but then explained how a few brave thinkers suggested the spherical shape of the planet. Finally, the tradebook summarized the voyage of Magellan, who set out to prove the new theory by circumnavigating the globe. The children—a group of confident, worldly 9- and 10-year-olds—laughed over the image of the earth as flat. I suggested that even though the theory seemed amazing to us now, they should try to imagine the courage of those who set out into their own unknown. I explained that in ancient times, people said, “At the edges of the earth, there be dragons. ” The boy sitting next to me immediately jerked around in his seat, looked me square in the eye, and exclaimed, “You talk just like a book!”

Of course, the book he meant was not the expository tradebook before us, but literature. Yet what in my statement triggered his exclamation? Possibly it was the alliterative quality in “edges of the earth” with the repetition of the letter e in such close proximity. It could be, perhaps, the more archaic construction of “there be” instead of “there were. ” But I think the most likely reason of all may have been the presence of dragons, who live and breathe fire into a number of children's tales, from the terrifying creature in Saint George and the Dragon (Hodges, 1984) to Hagrid's careful, but ultimately catastrophic, attempt to raise a baby dragon in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Rowling, 1998). From an old classic to a 21st century publishing phenomenon, dragons seem a sure bet for drawing children into literature. Still . . .

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