Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Characters, Lessons, Dreams, and Lives on the Margins

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Characters, Lessons, Dreams, and Lives on the Margins

Article excerpt

Characters, lessons, dreams, and lives on the margins Auger, D. (2008). Mwakwav Talks to the Loon: A Cree Story for Children. Heritage House. 32 pp. ISBN 13: 978-1894974325 ISBN 10: 1894974328

In thinking about books related to the theme of curriculum on the margins we thought that learning occurs in unexpected ways. We thought that teachers recognize in their students learning and achievement that is tangent to the curriculum of the school. Insights in reading response to a book, interpretations of illustrations in a picture book, discovery in science experiments, or a question about particular information in a text book that leads to new ideas and thinking and makes connection to life experiences are moments teachers have with their students. Teachers design lessons and inquiries to teach features of genre while they reinforce strategies of reading, for example, and in the process a student discovers an author that inspires her to read. Students can be touched by books in ways that are unpredicted but that guide further learning and thinking.

The books in this collection depict characters who experience rich lessons on the margins of their daily lives and in unexpected places, in unexpected ways. In one book three children are connected by their pride in a boxer whose bouts are broadcast on the treasured radio they all gather round. In another book, one boy discovers insights into his life through the close examination of illustrations of birds in the town library. Yet another book, written in verse, chronicles the lives of members of a family, who, as immigrants to America, make their way in the new culture as they hold onto the traditions of the culture they left at the end of the Vietnam War. One nonfiction book explores the work that nurtured a friendship between two women that grew over a period of fifty years and changed the thinking of an entire culture toward women.

Kayas is a young Cree man who is blessed with a Gift, a talent, that allows him to understand the languages of the animals that he hunts. Because ofthat talent he came to be known as a great hunter. He grows proud of this talent and recognition and stops hunting. Not until after he is filled with pride and stopped hunting does he recognize that his village suffered. He sees that his people are hungry and his talent has left him. He seeks advice from the Elders, and the loon. With their help he learns that all talents and beings are to be respected and if he is to have a life of peace and success he must continue to respect and honor that knowledge. He learns that gifts must be protected, honored, and cherished. With their help he is able to save his people.

The story itself is a folktale that was retold to teach a lesson. In order to save his village he goes to the elders for help. The lesson learned within the tale, using one's gifts wisely, may not interest the independent reader, but is definitely a great read aloud to start a unit of study, or discussion of such values. This is a beautiful tale that is accompanied by Cree words and phrases within the text along with pronunciations and definitions. The illustrations are beautiful and easily create the pictures of life in a traditional Native American village.

Bond, V, 8c Simon, TR. (2010). Zora and Me. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 185 pp. ISBN 978-0-7636-4300-3

In this historical fiction novel Zora's best friend, Carrie, narrates the experiences of the two girls in Eatonville, Florida. Townsfolk made up of laborers, farmers, turpentine workers, and carpenters gather at the general store of Joe Clarke, recount experiences and Zora accustomed to hearing tales of the evil eye and curses people put on others, listens to the stories from the sidelines and turns them into tales. Carrie, an observant, respectful, and ultimately insightful narrator says, "Zora had a way of giving personality to everything in Eatonville" (p. 26). In one tale Sonny sets out to wrestle the biggest, meanest alligator in the area, called the Ghost, but the mishap of the adventure becomes a tale in which Zora creates gator man, who figures in the story and is part of one of the pivotal lessons Zora learns. …

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