This post continues February’s My Take/Your Take conversation on books that have won the Schneider Family Award for their portrayal of the disability experience. The conversation started with The Deaf Musicians and A Splash of Red, and continues this week with The Pirate of Kindergarten.
MEGAN: Based on author George Ella Lyon’s own experience comes a story of a little girl whose eyes play tricks on her. Ginny, a kindergartener sees two of everything, but does not know that she has double vision or that it is unusual. Ginny frequently hears her teacher makes statements such as “we read it just once” and “don’t squint,” but she does not think anything of it. Not until a vision test at school brings to light Ginny’s double vision. The nurse gently asks Ginny how many words she sees and informs her that “most people only see one.” Ginny’s see everything double, but when she receives the screening she discovers that not everyone sees double; she also discovers that her vision can be treated. The story covers Ginny’s time in kindergarten when she wore a remedial eye patch to help correct her double vision.
With little fanfare and simple text, Lyon places readers in Ginny’s mind; and Avril’s mixed-media illustrations are arranged beautifully to match Ginny’s vision. Avril’s illustrations are created by overlaying one image a touch off with the original in order to create a disorienting picture.
The story is an empathetic look at a disorienting impairment. Lyons and Avril work together to show how disorientating and isolating double vision can make an individual feel. The story also highlights the benefits a basic school screening for vision and hearing can have to improve school children’s success. Readers are not privy to Ginny’s complete improvement but are assured that her vision will be completely healed.
While I am not always a proponent of happy endings I do think this story works.
MARIA: I agree with you, Megan, that the illustrations can support readers in understanding what Ginny is going through, how she “literally” sees the world. The juxtaposition of the images is clever, particularly the illustration that shows Ginny’s book “Cat ran fast.” I found the way narrator describes reading isolated letters versus reading words interesting: “If they had been words, she [Ginny] could have read just once, but letters by themselves were jumble.” This sentence can elicit conversation around the importance of context and meaning in reading (and writing).
I have mixed feelings regarding the portrayal of the teacher. Her lack of awareness at the beginning of the story is discouraging at times, especially when she discounted Ginny’s reading strategies: “we read with our eyes, not our noses,” “don’t squint.” However, when Ginny struck the scissors in the glue out of frustration, the teacher acknowledged Ginny’s efforts in cutting the bunny’s ears and kindly asked her to wash the scissors. Maybe, at this time she had noticed Ginny’s double vision. I appreciate the realistic tone of the story: she was bullied by her classmates, sometimes misunderstood by her teacher, and experienced a wide range of emotions (from fear and frustration to optimism and joy) that many children face on a daily basis. Still, the story positions Ginny as a strong and motivated little girl.
MEGAN: This story also demonstrates the importance of viewing situations from a holistic stance as well as a contextualized stance. I am an advocate of phonics instruction within a balanced approach to reading instruction. This story demonstrates how viewing circumstances in isolation can have drawbacks. Without understanding the larger context of a situation an individual can make erroneous assumptions.
When Ginny has difficulties reading, the teacher labels Ginny as deficient rather than investigating the underlying reasons for Ginny’s reading difficulties. The teacher needs to consider Ginny’s reading behaviors from multiple perspectives and as one behavior of many. If only meaning mattered in developmental reading instruction, the teacher may not have known the severity of Ginny’s disability until a later date. Capable students can often understand a story that they cannot read; similarly, students can decode the words in a story but not make meaning. In reading instruction the combination of explicit instruction of phonics along with a holistic approach provides a joint focus on meaning and all other reading skills.
MARIA: Megan, your comments regarding a holistic approach to literacy made me wonder about how other people have interpreted this story. I read several reviews about the book on Goodreads and two ideas caught my attention. First, some people questioned the author’s decision to include instances when Ginny was bullied at school, arguing that a children’s book should not be the place to describe this unkind and dehumanizing behavior. I myself have worn glasses since I was five years old, and I was called all kinds of names at school because the glasses make me look different. Reading the reviews and reflecting upon my experiences, I am convinced that children’s literature is the place to describe social issues like bullying because these stories can create opportunities to address issues in a systematic way through the curriculum.
Second, the reviews made me think about the notion of being perceived as different. I understand that the format of picture books, when compared to chapter books, does not provide enough space to develop some stories. Still, I wonder about the portrayal of Ginny’s classmates throughout the story, especially their quick change when she became the pirate of kindergarten. It seems like they changed their relationship with Ginny when they perceived her as normal. I wonder if they laughed at her when she started wearing the patch. I think this book creates a space to explore the ways in which classrooms build community.
Last week I visited a first grade classroom where the teacher and her students created two thoughtful T-charts:
– What I can say to myself: Instead of… Try thinking…
– This is how “being kind” sounds like… and looks like…
The first T-chart could encourage children like Ginny and her classmates to reflect on their own thoughts, and support them in moving towards a positive self-concept and self-esteem that can create spaces for children to empower themselves. The second T-chart can encourage children to develop language and actions toward a respectful, empathic, and inclusive community of learners. These charts can serve as tools for children and teachers in taking a holistic approach to their own learning as they also consider and develop dispositions.
Title: The Pirate of Kindergarten
Author: George Ella Lyon
Illustrator: Lynne Avril
Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
Date Published: June 22, 2010