Exploring Fairy Tales Part II

By Marilyn Carpenter, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA

“Just as the child is born with a literal hole in its head, where the bones slowly close underneath the fragile shield of skin, so the child is born with a figurative hole in its heart.  Slowly this, too, is filled up.  What slips in before it anneals shapes the man or woman into which that child will grow.  Story is one of the most serious intruders into the heart” (Touch Magic by Jane Yolen, p.26).

Fairy tales can be “serious intruders into the heart,” however, children need adults to lead them to tales that have that potential. Children too often only experience the Disney versions of fairy tales. As I was growing up Disney movies popularized and sugar coated the fairy tales but did so in a way that took away the essential nature of the story and turned, for example, Snow White into a passive character singing, “Someday my Prince will Come.” Disney robbed the tales of what Yolen calls their “invigorating magic.” “The story has been falsified and the true meaning lost …”  (p. 39).

In this WOW Currents post continuing on the subject of fairy tales, I will explore the following questions regarding fairy tales:

  • Why are fairy tales valuable for today’s children?
  • How can we as classroom teachers justify sharing folktales when we are mandated with scripted or time-based curriculum and have the pressures of testing?
  • How can we answer objections to reading fairy tales in the classroom?

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Exploring Fairy Tales Part I

By Marilyn Carpenter, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA

SlipperFairy tales fueled my imaginary life as a child. In my play I became Snow White, Cinderella, and sometimes even the Prince when my friends insisted they must have a turn at the “main parts.” The romance of the tales captured my interest. Waiting for sleep at night, I would create new versions of the stories, always starring myself as the heroine.

My elementary students also enjoyed fairy tales. One sixth grade class, all new immigrants from Viet Nam, became absorbed in The Brocaded Slipper and Other Vietnamese Tales by Lynetter Vuong and Vo-Dinh Mai. After hearing the Vietnamese Cinderella, the title story in the collection, they started an inquiry about other Cinderella stories. That investigation led to a discovery of more than forty other Cinderella stories from all over the world.
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Geography & International Literature, Part II

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

It is place, permanent position in both the social and topographical sense that gives us our identity.

~ J.B. Jackson

Addressing geography and international literature, I want to explore issues of identity with readers. In last week’s blog, I pondered teaching geography through international literature. This week, I am interested in how young readers reflect upon their own geographical identity and resultant affinities for particular places or locations.

Certainly, geography plays a role in our identities and colors our perceptions as readers and writers when the books come from our home culture, but how does that work when the literature is produced outside our geographical selves? How we might read a text from a geographical/cultural location that is outside the book’s cultural backdrop? I am not thinking about outsider/insider perspectives here, but rather, a geographical sensibility that is part cultural but also part physical location or physical affinity.
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Geography & International Literature, Part I

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

If some peoples pretend that history or geography gives them the right to subjugate other races, nations, or peoples, there can be no peace.

~ Ludwig von Mises

hotblack_20070818_Mumbai_077Because I like to travel, as I mentioned in my last post, geography has become of real interest to me. How can we engage international literature without thinking about geography?

I grew into my fascination with geography, but I believe I have always liked maps and movement. Thinking about Kathy Short’s post about the often dated illustrations of picture books set in present day, I find it important to educate young people about geography, and the present reality of a particular location. Frequently the best of places blend past and present, but young people need to know that the world is connected on a myriad of levels and that progress is a world event. So, what happens “at home” is connected to the world and what happens “a world away” may have an impact on the immediate neighborhood. We could think of it as the butterfly effect in more political or economic terms; an event that may not be noticed by young people in one location, but is prevalent in another place and could influence the former. A case in point is how young people in the U.S. may not be aware of child labor issues in other countries, but wear articles of clothing manufactured by children in sweatshops.
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“Travel” and International Literature

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Like most people, when I read I have images playing my head, almost like a movie. I am traveling! But to get that movie and to take that journey, I need some prior knowledge about the setting of the story along with other details that bring the text to life. If I have a sense of the setting I don’t attend to the description as much as when I need to build the picture in my head from scratch. If I have been to a place, it serves as a handy backdrop to the piece of literature I am reading. When I haven’t been there, I need help. Of course, most of us do not have the extensive travel experience we would need (or like) to feel comfortable reading in this way. But travel is handy. It was also my passion when I was younger, and so I find that my experience of different places I have been are useful for my reading of international literature—on two accounts.

ThisisRomeFirst, I like reading about where I have been. The reading is enriched when I can picture it. I pull the images from my memory to help envision the world to which the author has led me. Secondly, the reading enriches my experience of the places I have traveled. It’s also great to find books to read about a place—whether fiction or informational—when planning to travel in it. Some fun texts for cities across the globe are the Miroslav Sasek series such as This is London and This is Rome. These books were written in the 1960s and 1970s, but have “this is today” excerpts that help students see how cities change over time.
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Social Responsibility and the Reader

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

OneWorldIf you ask me what I came to do in the world, I, an artist, will answer you: I came here to live out loud. — Emile Zola

Kathy Short’s June WOW Currents posts broached the issue of the social responsibility of the reviewer. I should have responded then, but waited because that posting had me thinking about Rosenblatt’s theory of transaction and the relationship between the reader and the author’s text. Searching the Internet, I found a Wikipedia entry on social responsibility along with One World, One Earth: Educating Children for Social Responsibility by Merryl Hammond and Rob Collins. After more thought, I am beginning to wonder, what is the connection to reading and social responsibility, especially if and when we find ourselves “outsiders” to the culture highlighted in the text?
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A Language for the Literature

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

BreakingBoundariesI am on a hunt. I am searching for the variety of ways international literature might be conceptualized by teacher educators, teachers, and teacher candidates. I am also interested in the ways in which they might address and differentiate between international and multicultural literature as well as how they perceive various other terms that might be used for literature that, well, transcends its native borders. I became interested in such a venture because it seemed as though as much as I discussed what I suggested was the difference between, say, “international” and “multicultural” literature, the terms and their nuances seldom transferred to my students. Was I not trying hard enough? Was I being too esoteric? Needless to say, I found the phenomenon intriguing, and so thought I would broach the topic via WOW Currents.
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Nick Glass Interview – Part 4

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX

Newbery(L)This is the fourth of a planned four-part interview with Nick Glass, member of the 2009 Newbery Committee, conducted electronically by Judi Moreillon.

JM: Nick Glass and I are wrapping up this month’s Newbery Medal Award conversation with a look at the books that have earned this prize since it was first awarded in 1922. That year, The Story of Mankind written by Hendrik Wellem van Loon earned the medal. To support our historical look, we referenced a book now published annually by the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC), The Newbery and Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books.

In clarifying the criteria for the awards and defining terms, ALSC notes that the “award is for literary quality and quality of presentation to children. The award is not for didactic intent or for popularity” (p. 4). As we noted in early posts this month, the question of popularity should not enter into the committee’s deliberations. Still, every school and public library branch in the country purchases at least one copy of each Newbery award-winning book.

Do we expect Newbery Award-winning books to be enticing to readers? If not, can we rely on teachers and librarians to push titles that possess literary quality but are less popular with young people? What has been your experience?

NG: I absolutely believe the books that have been recognized as distinguished by the Newbery committee will be enticing –- with the caveat that not every book is for every reader. I loved the 2008 Newbery Medal-winning Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! It is both a wonderful book, and perhaps the one of the best curriculum-fit books I’ve read in a long time. It tells marvelous stories of the Middle Ages, and can be performed as fun, comprehension-grasping reader’s theater. Do I expect everyone to pick this book up and find it enticing? No. But for the people who love mini-dramas, goodness, they will love this treasure.
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Nick Glass Interview – Part 3

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX

This is the third of a planned four-part interview with Nick Glass, member of the 2009 Newbery Committee, conducted electronically by Judi Moreillon. Readers may refer to Judi’s summary of Gaiman’s acceptance speech.

JM: Nick Glass and I were among the enthusiastic authors, illustrators, librarians, publishers, and fans of children’s books at the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet in Chicago. Held on July 12th during the Annual American Library Association Conference, this event gives the award winners the opportunity to share their responses to earning the awards, a peek into their creative processes, and, we hope, a glimpse into their hearts. I have attended this event for many years, and I always leave the banquet hall with admiration for the talent and generous spirit of the award winners. This year was no exception. Nick, what were some of the memorable moments in Neil Gaiman’s Newbery acceptance speech?
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Summary of Gaiman's Newbery Speech

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX

This summary of Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Award acceptance speech is a supplement to the planned four-part interview with Nick Glass, member of the 2009 Newbery Committee, conducted electronically by Judi Moreillon.

Please read The Horn Book editor Elise Howard’s introduction of Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman divided his Newbery Acceptance Speech into six parts, as he said “for no particular reason.” He shared the role of this award in impressing his own children; who doesn’t want to be a hero to his/her kids? He talked about his youth as a “feral child” who raised himself among the library stacks, where early on he satisfied his curiosity about “ghosts, witches, magic, and space.” He shared the surreal experience of being sleep deprived at the moment he first heard the excited chorus of the 14 members of the Newbery Committee, delivered via speakerphone to his Los Angeles hotel room. He talked about being on the side of books you love.
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