Volume V, Issue 4
The Power of Literature
One summer Tracy was asked to teach a language arts class for middle school students who had performed poorly in writing and literature during the academic year. Seeing this as an opportunity to earn extra spending money, Tracy accepted the invitation. On the first day of meeting the small class of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students she was convinced she had made a terrible mistake–Tracy was not prepared for the resistance they collectively demonstrated toward reading, writing, and her. Because summer school was outside the pressure to deliver the “required” curriculum, Tracy decided her most important task would be to engage this group as readers, and the best resource at her disposal would be to provide these impervious adolescents with high quality literature and choice. Tracy brought in boxes of novels and picturebooks, poetry, and collections of short stories. She read aloud every day, gave students ample time to browse and read independently, and they discussed their reading daily. Tracy saw firsthand the transformation powerful children’s and adolescent literature can evoke. While this took place many years ago, Tracy remembers one student in particular who “found himself” as reader when he read that perfect book at the perfect time. Taylor, an adolescent boy with a long history of academic struggles, picked up Ursula LeGuin’s The Wizard of Earthsea. He became completely consumed with the book and insisted Tracy find the rest of the series for him. She can bear witness to the lasting effect reading that novel had on his identity as a reader and learner because she was his Language Arts teacher the following year…. Taylor not only excelled in the Language Arts class but in his other subjects, too.
As readers, we all experience “that book” that impacts us so deeply our perspectives on life and ways of being in the world forever changes. As literacy teachers, we desire to present our students with literature that will impact them in the ways we have been touched by the powerful stories that have become deeply rooted in our identities. And while this desire is noble and important, it is not always easy. As teachers, few of us would argue that the most satisfying and exhilarating aspect of the job is seeing students find and experience a story that affects them with a force that signals growth in their understandings and perspectives of themselves and their worlds.
This issue of WOW Stories presents vignettes that highlight the power children’s and adolescent literature can have in both classroom settings and as part of teacher preparation programs. This issue opens with a vignette that takes us to Nepal, where volunteers working in rural villages provide feminine hygiene kits to girls so that menstruation will not interfere with their school attendance. The volunteer team used a rare but culturally accessible children’s book about sexual development and then observed the impact of the book on both the girls’ and boys’ perspectives about an otherwise taboo subject. Mark McCarthy, Laura Apol, and Bevin Roue describe the resistance confronting them when they extend invitations to pre-service teachers to read and respond to global literature that does not, on the surface, reflect their culture and world views. In describing their experiences, they address the ethical considerations for them as teachers when it comes to reading multicultural texts. Additionally, this issue presents the power of literature as providing springboards for inquiries into the content areas. Amy Corp describes how the use of global literature supported students in learning and applying complex mathematical concepts, and Kristen Noll and Darryn Diuguid review a range of children’s fiction that presents Amish themes and information. We end our issue with a slice of larger study done by Maria Elena Salazar on how she used multicultural literature with preservice teachers to inspire reflection on individual cultural experiences and the importance of culture when teaching children in school settings.
We hope you are inspired by these stories from the field about the power of literature, which for us reaffirms the late Ursula LeGuin’s (1980) assertion, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become” (p. 31).
Tracy and Mary
Co-Editors, Wow Stories: Connections from the Classroom
Le Guin, U. K., & Wood, S. (1980). The language of the night: Essays on fantasy and science fiction, New York: Ultramarine Publishing, p. 31.