Academic journal article Family Relations

The Girl with the Brown Crayon: How Children Use Stories to Shape Their Lives

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Girl with the Brown Crayon: How Children Use Stories to Shape Their Lives

Article excerpt

Paley, Vivian Gussin, (1997). The Girl with the Brown Crayon: How Children Use Stories to Shape Their Lives. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 99 pages. Paperback ISBN 0-6743-5442-7, price $10.95.

"Each year I wait to be reawakened by a (student like) Reeny."

This wonderfully written book may reawaken your teaching. Vivian Gussin Paley gives readers a brief glimpse at the inside of her kindergarten class. During her final year of teaching, Paley joins the children in a journey of self-discovery. Using books by Italian author Leo Lionni, Paley, her co-teacher, and the children read, act out, illustrate and talk about issues such as friendship and other relationships, racism and identity, and the possibilities of civic leadership. Paley's 100-page book offers lessons for teachers, practitioners, and parents at all levels and across the disciplines.

Although Paley does not make a point of it, it is apparent that Lionni's books echo the growing Northern Italian influence from the schools of Reggio Emilia, where children are viewed as competent and curious, and teachers make daily use of reflection, revisiting, and questioning to guide their innate curiosity. Leo Lionni is not just a children's author. His books go further than his wonderful illustrations and simple language. Multiple layers of meaning unfold in Lionni's stories, all of which explore deeper meanings of self making.

Focusing on one child in particular, Paley observes Reeny, who brings up her own questions and finds parallels in the stories to her own life. Along with Reeny, the children exhibit remarkable growth in their thinking processes, particularly when given the "proper context in which to demonstrate and fine tune their natural gifts." With one Lionni book, Pezzettino, the children discover the weakness of a small child in a world of self-sufficient adults. The children interpret the story as a message about relationships, while Paley goes beyond this aspect to question the practices of the school and the educational system. …

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