Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Tomorrow's Teachers Engaging in Unprotected Text

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Tomorrow's Teachers Engaging in Unprotected Text

Article excerpt

This study combines data from transcribed book discussions, interviews, and student writings to illustrate one preservice teacher's transformative journey while studying children's literature.

RECENTLY, OUR TOWN, which is approximately 1,500 miles from the Texas border, lassoed and hogtied a cowboy. While in the midst of innocently bathing, the unsuspecting fellow was scooped up and plastered on our newspaper's front page (Elias, 2012). The accompanying article chronicled a local school board's decision (8-0) to remove The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake (2003) from the school library after parents of a kindergarten student lodged a complaint about obscene illustrations. Timberlake indicated the book was based on a family story. In her great-grandfather's tale, once reported in a New Mexico newspaper in the 19th century, a dirty cowboy finds a watering hole, takes off his clothes, and bathes. His ever-loyal dog, with his keen sense of smell, refuses to allow the cowboy back into his master's clothing because the cowboy's recognizable stench is gone. Amy's family story, like all tall tales, originates in the oral tradition and often details a truth. This narrative illustrates the intensity of the sense of smell in canines. As expected in the genre of tall tales, there is exaggeration. The cranky cowboy and his furry friend spend a majority of the story tussling over the filthy clothes. The illustrator cleverly obscures the cowboy's private parts with various items, such as the dog's tail. This recent uproar is unsurprising. Male private parts have a history of problems in children's books (e.g., In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, 1970; The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, 2006). The recurring nature of this and other controversial issues, such as violence and inappropriate language, in children's books substantiates the need for preservice teachers to consider their own engagement with text (visual and print) before they arrive at the classroom door. As a teacher educator drawn to this quandary, I offer insights gained from instituting an apprenticeship model for preservice teachers and the book selection process. My findings are revealed through a literacy portrait of Cecile (all names are pseudonyms), a preservice teacher enrolled in my children's literature course. Cecile's portrait outlines the benefits of engaging tomorrow's teachers with unprotected text. The term unprotected text is admittedly cheeky but aligns with Harste's "risky text" (2008, p. 70), or a quality text worth talking about. At its core, risky/unprotected text is the "imaginative shaping of life and thought into the forms and structures of language" (Kiefer & Tyson, 2010, p. 3). It has the child's eye at the center and is circumscribed by the child's experience. This definition works in tandem with Bishop's (1990) oft-quoted metaphor of children's literature as "mirrors, windows, and sliding doors" (p. ix). Such texts are unflinchingly honest portrayals of life.

Book Selection Dilemmas for Preservice Teachers

Book selection is a ubiquitous dilemma for teachers, but it is especially difficult for inexperienced preservice teachers. Lacking confidence, preservice teachers often depend on experienced cooperating teachers or professors. By relying on someone in authority, preservice teachers deny themselves opportunities to struggle with issues that enhance their efficacy in the book decision process. In addition to lacking confidence, these teachers often defer because they fear controversy- and rightly so. Controversy, like lightning, never has the courtesy to tell where it will strike. The lightning analogy plays out often when parents question a teacher's choice of text. Like a bolt of lightning on a sultry summer night, controversy electrifies the air. Formerly prosaic words or images appear surreal. As Jenkins (2011) explains, "If a community's laws or school code of conduct prohibit particular actions or behaviors by young people, so the reasoning goes, those actions or behaviors should not appear in the books of that community's public or school libraries" (p. …

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