Magazine article Practical Literacy

Considering Difference and Diversity in Children's Books: Todd Parr and Patricia Polacco

Magazine article Practical Literacy

Considering Difference and Diversity in Children's Books: Todd Parr and Patricia Polacco

Article excerpt

From a very young age, children begin to internalise messages about power, privilege, cultural and societal norms (Hyland, 2010; O'Neil, 2010). Children receive these messages explicitly through the things adults say, in the media they consume (e.g. television, movies, advertising) and in the books they first hear and later read. When I select children's books to read aloud in classrooms or to use in my teaching, I am particularly mindful of the way the story--through both text and image represents diversity and difference.

Which brings me to two of my all-time favourite children's author/illustrators. Both of these authors are American and each has a slew of books, popular in American classrooms, but not often seen on Australian bookshelves.

Todd Parr

I do not remember the first Todd Parr book I read or owned, but I am fairly certain I have had Parr in my bookshelf ever since I clapped eyes on his colourful and irreverent illustrations. Though Parr has a heap of books, my absolute favourite is Reading Makes You Feel Good.

The narrative goes something like this: 'Reading makes you feel good because ...' and then Parr gallops through a whole lot of reasons why reading does indeed make you feel good. Reasons like 'you can learn how to make pizza'--true! The images are bright and bold; animals are reading, people are reading, there is even reading in the bath. When teaching pre-service teachers, I start all my literacy units with this book. When using this book with pre-schoolers and transition age students we read the book and then make class books using the carrier phrase 'Reading makes you feel good because ...' typed at the bottom of the page. Students complete the phrase and illustrate their statement to be combined in a book with all their classmates' work.

This is such a simple but crucial message for children. If reading makes you feel good, you are much more likely to read. If you are more likely to read, you will be a better reader. Better readers are often better students. So, we want reading to make students feel good and this book lets educators really emphasise that point.

A second message throughout this text is that 'you can do it anywhere.' You can! Call me old fashioned, but how wonderful would it be if families took books to the supermarket and restaurants and while waiting at the doctor's office instead of handing over the phone or an iPad.

Other Parr favourites include It's Okay to be Different, The Feelings Book and The Family Book. All the people in Parr's books are diverse. They are orange and blue and yellow and green. They are whimsical and comical and likeable. It's Okay to be Different works with the carrier phrase 'It's okay to...'. For example, 'it's okay to dance by yourself' and 'it's okay to have an invisible friend.' Some of the messages are serious e.g. 'it's okay to say NO to bad things' and others are not 'it's okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub.' Overall, I think Parr always strikes the right balance for a good read aloud. Here's a link to see Todd Parr read It's Okay to be Different https://www. youtube.com/watch?v= sl5U2Z0oQok

With Parr's The Feelings Book the carrier phrase is 'sometimes I feel like ...' These too can be serious 'sometimes I feel lonely' and also playful 'sometimes I feel like reading a book under the covers.' The book easily sparks a conversation with even the youngest children about how they sometimes feel. The addition of the more comical pages e.g. 'sometimes I feel like standing on my head' gives children permission to come up with all sorts of their own suggestions that beg to be written down by the teacher and illustrated by the students.

The Family Book uses the carrier phrase 'some Families ...' along with contrasting concepts on opposite pages (e.g. big/small, live near/live far). Periodically, the text switches to 'all families ...' as in 'all families are sad when they lose someone they love. …

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