By Odette Bruneau
Booktalks have long been viewed as an effective way to stimulate student interest in literature by connecting books and readers (Chance & Lesesne, 2012). Gavigan and Kurtts (2011) have discussed the importance of literature to facilitate students’ understanding of diversity and disability. Students in the library and special education programs at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and at the University of South Carolina are using quality children’s and young adult literature to improve their inclusive educational practices. The students at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro select books from an extensive list and then, using specific focus questions, write a reflective paper on the book. Part of the response paper is to determine whether the book is appropriate in helping others to learn about disabilities. Robin Ward (2005) has successfully used children’s literature with preservice teachers in math methods courses. Ward’s goal is to have pre-service teachers experience literature in the context of mathematics, making it more engaging and less intimidating. Allison Hoewisch (2000) has stated,
“The value of children’s literature to children’s literacy development cannot be contested…Preservice teachers cannot be expected to know how to use children’s literature as a purposeful and meaningful educational tool unless we teach them well” (n.p.).
She further suggests that children’s literature should be firmly rooted in the program and not just in our children’s/adolescent literature courses.
The course, Education 240: Home-School-and Community is a pre-service course taken by early childhood, ELL (English Language Learners), and special education endorsement students at Luther College. The purpose of the course is to introduce students to family dynamics, family systems, and the critical interactions between families, schools and the greater community. I wanted students to think about the diversity of families and family situations that they might encounter as they move into classrooms as practicing teachers. I decided to use children’s and young adult literature to help them make connections. I assigned them to read a book on family differences such as divorce, homelessness, incarceration, same sex parents, adoption/foster care, or any of the many other differences that impact families today. The students were to read the book, summarize the book, and highlight features that made the book appealing to the age group for whom they found it appropriate. Further they were to plan a booktalk for class that had to provide engaging classroom activities for their students following the booktalk. The students embraced the idea and eagerly researched and selected an even more varied collection of book than I had imagined. One student, who is pursuing an ELL endorsement, selected “Abuela,” the Arthur Dorros story of a young girl who spends the day with her grandmother (Abuela) flying about New York City and other places from Abuela’s past. The student was drawn to this respectful portrayal of the Spanish-speaking grandmother and to the inclusion of Spanish words and phrases. Another student who is interested in working with adolescents selected “My Sister’s Keeper,” the Jodi Picoult classic that poses moral, ethical and family questions about preimplantation genetic planning and the strength of sisterly bonds. Yet another student selected “Nine Candles,” by Maria Testa, the sensitive story of a 7-year old boy who celebrates his birthday at the prison with his incarcerated mother. The story details aspects of prison life such as guards, metal detectors, and the visiting room, but also seems judgment –free, making the bond between mother and son the primary focus. “Molly’s Family” by Nancy Garden was another lower elementary selection. As the children draw family pictures for the kindergarten Open School Night, a boy notes that Molly’s picture features two moms. He plainly tells her that this is not right, you can’t have two moms. But as other pictures emerge it becomes clear that no two families are alike and that all of the families can surround each other with love and caring. Runaways and abusive parents are the topics of the adolescent book “Lena” by Jacqueline Woodson selected by another student. Lena runs away with her younger sister Dion because their father is abusing them. Their travels take them far and they are hungry and cold, but along the way encounter other people who demonstrate great caring. Finally, the girls return to live with a close friend who shows them that caring friends can be like family. These are just some of the selections made by students in the Home-School- Community course. The students were also to provide classroom activities that would connect with the book. They provided ideas like discussion, wall murals with all different types of families, family tree activities, and a “this is me” bulletin board with photos. Some mentioned that certain topics might be sensitive, particularly if the issue was recent, like impending divorce. They predicted that in more religiously conservative districts, the idea of children’s books about same sex parents could be controversial and we discussed sending out reading lists at the start of the school year. This led us to a larger discussion of book banning, book selection committees, and how we handle a classroom where parent voices are divergent.
I wanted to try to idea of using booktalks in pre-service teacher education courses, because I think it is critical to enhance our students’ knowledge of children’s and adolescent literature and to help them see how literature can connect with all of the subjects we cover in our classrooms. It was important for me to have them explore the diversity of families in a way that they could use to help their own future students understand family diversity. Freeman, Feeney and Moravcik (2011) tell us that children’s literature can enhance our students’ understanding of course content, their appreciation for quality literature, and help them to integrate literature into their own teaching. Booktalks can help us make these connections with students, literature, and our methods courses. I intend to continue my inclusion of literature in courses I teach within the TEP program and I would encourage my colleagues to find ways to incorporate quality youth literature in their courses as well.
Chance, R., & Lesesne, T. (2012) Rethinking reading promotion-Old school meets technology. Teacher Librarian, 39, 26-28.
Dorros, A. (1997). Abuela. New York: Puffer Books.
Freeman, N., Feeney, S., & Moravcik, E. (2010). Enjoying a good story: Why we use children’s literature when teaching adults. Early Childhood Education Journal, 39, 1-5.
Garden, N. (2004). Molly’s family. Canada: Douglas & McIntyre, Ltd.
Gavigan, K., & Kurtts, S. (Winter 2011). Using children’s and young adult literature in teaching acceptance and understanding of individual differences. Morality in Education, 11-16.
Hoewisch, A. (2000). Children’s literature in teacher preparation programs. Retrieved on October 15, 2012 from http://www.readingonline.org/critical/hoewisch/ childrenlit.html#author
Picoult, J. (2004). My sister’s keeper. New York: Atria Books.
Testa, M. (1996). Nine candles. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, Inc.
Ward, R. (2005). Using children’s literature to inspire K-8 preservice teachers’ future mathematics pedagogy. The Reading Teacher, 59, 132-143.
Woodson, J. (1999). Lena. New York: Penguin Group.