Children's Literature: culturally responsive teaching

This weblog is a project for Education 642, Children's written and oral genres, a course for elementary education students at UNBC (Prince George, BC). Its purpose is to provide an opportunity for students to experience how literature "opens up worlds"-- the social, emotional, imaginative, spritual, the cultural and the aesthetic.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What stories or experiences with literature have inspired you? What stories did you fall in love with as a child? Perhaps you remember oral stories told to you by a parent, family member, friend or teacher. Most of us have powerful memories linked to stories: sometimes because they helped us to explore an imaginative world, sometimes because they remind us of special people or special times in our lives, sometimes because we connected in a very personal way to what we have read.

I am hoping that you will take a moment to reflect on some of your powerful memories about children's literature as a part of your first blog entry. Choose a story and a story telling experience, and then share with us what made this a memorable event. Was it the language of the story? The theme? A memorable character and/or situation that you connected with? The illustrations? A deep emotional or personal connection? A favourite author? What was happening in your life at that time that made it particularly poignant or meaningful? Did hearing/ reading a story motivate you to try other stories or authors? In reflecting on this previous experience as a teacher candidate, why do you think unpacking the social and cultural contexts might be important to our thinking as teachers? How might it connect with our goals of encouraging and promoting literacy?

I have two very strong memories linked to story telling. The oldest is remembering how my mother would tell stories to me when she tucked me into my bed at night. The stories came from the quilt on my bed: each piece of fabric had a story about my family. I would pick a different fabric piece each night and ask my mother to tell me about it; she would begin by saying where the fabric had come from, and then tell me something about the person or what it represented. I don't remember the specfics of each story: sometimes it would be about a dress my mother had worn when she was younger, or a story about me, when I had been much younger, prompted by a piece of red flannelette or ginham. My most powerful memory is of the warm and satisfying experience of being under a cozy blanket while my mother told stories exclusively to me. In a family of five children, having time with my mother made me feel very special.

The first novel I remember (and have re-read over and over) is called James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. The fantastic characters were so much fun, but perhaps more important was the courage of a small boy faced with what seemed to be an overwhelmingly hurtful life without love. I remember reading in the small attic space that had been converted into a bedroom for me, so engrossed in reading subsequent chapters that I read with a flashlight under the covers rather than go to sleep. I made remarkable pictures in my head of the creatures: the centipede in particular-- aided by the voices I created as I read... the tone, tenor and speaking patterns that helped define the nature of each character. To this day, I have not gone to the now popular movie because I don't want to give up the images and feelings I have about these long favourite story characters. I've read all of Roald Dahl's books: reading James and the Giant Peach got me started on an author that kept me entertained and engaged for many, many years. When I began teaching, James and the Giant Peach was the first story I chose to read outloud to my students: and I believe my love and passion for the story was conveyed to my students too. On more than one occasion I can recall being "talked into" reading more chapters... one day we spent an entire afternoon reading from the novel without realizing it until the final bell rang!

Here's a memorable part of the story, right near the beginning that really caught me and engaged me from the very start:

James: What are they?
Old Man: Crocodile tongues.
James: Tongues?
Old Man: Long, slimy crocodile tongues boiled in the skull of a dead witch for 40 days and 40 nights. And, the gizard of a pig, the fingers of a young monkey, the beak of a parrot and three spoonfuls of sugar, and then, let the moon do the rest.

Can you imagine the image of the crocodile tongues, wriggling and moving in the bag that James is given? It still gives me goosebumps when I read those words and imagine what those tongues might look like in the bottom of the bag...


  • At 4:48 PM, Blogger Narinder said…

    I am also a big fan of Roald Dahl. One of my favourite stories by him is Matilda.

  • At 7:10 PM, Blogger clare said…

    I really enjoyed reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I still remember the description of the four grandparents in the bed in the middle of the tiny little house. No matter how bad things were as a child I never had to eat cabbage soup. I think chldren still enjoy this book today because it so vividly describes Charlie's longing to win a golden ticket and get inside the chocolate factory.(Every child's dream) Dahl describes the sights and smells of the chocolate river, and the mint flavored blades of grass and all the characters come to life so easily in a child's imagination.
    Today when I think about this story I think about some of the lessons it encourages children to think about. Charlie was never greedy or selfish and always thought of others before himself.

    I think it's still a good story


  • At 12:53 PM, Blogger Cathy said…

    Thanks Narinder and Clare, for sharing your Roald Dahl stories. I agree, he really is a powerful author.

    I do wonder about how people think of the story of Charlie and the Chocolate factory now that there is a new movie out: I went to see it, and I must say, it gave me a different sense of Willy Wonka than I had before... the use of image and dress really gave me an impression of a less than caring man, which was not my in my memory when I read the book. Yet I guess the book could have been interpreted that way, given the way that Mr. wonka set up circumstances that eliminated certain children one by one. I'm wondering the degree to which image has enhanced my process of meaning making, or whether it has limited it in some ways. I guess for me the jury is still out on that question. Does anyone else want to jump into this conversation?

  • At 7:09 PM, Blogger JennD said…

    It is a pet peeve of mine to see the movie after I have read the book. I have preconceived notions of what the characters look and sound like and the movie actors never match the characters in my head. Johnny Depp is not the Mr. Wonka who exists in my mind. Much to my son's dismay I avoided The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. Maybe I will rent it for him after I have read him the story.

  • At 8:31 PM, Blogger Narinder said…

    Personally, I like watching the movie after I have read the book. I really enjoyed the Matilda movie because for me, it helps bring the characters to life. It allowed me to further relate to it as a child who was fascinated by magic and fantasy. What I don't like is when movies leave out parts of the story that were meaningful or interesting to me in the book. I have discussed this with Cathy in her office last semester. An example of such a book was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The book is much better than the movie!

  • At 6:47 PM, Blogger Chirtie said…

    I love Roald dahl too! I started reading his books at a difficult time in my childhood- I had trouble relating to the other kids emotionally and socially and Dahl's characters made me feel "normal". I remember my grade 4 teacher reading the Twits to us. It was disgusting and I loved it!
    I read it to my students last year and then read James and the Giant Peach to them. They loved both, and it was a wonderful experience for me to share things I loved with my students.
    Another fav of mine is Dahl's "Boy", it is a sort of semi- autibiographical about his years in a boarding school.
    A good read for teachers to be! ;)


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