Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Selecting Books: Diversify

Selecting Books: Diversity

When selecting books to read aloud, we (at Brave Writer) follow a key principle:

Diversify

The idea is to lay a feast of ideas (ht: Charlotte Mason) before your children, to create opportunities for empathy, to help your children grow in critical thinking, to expand a child’s world, and to entertain! That too.

The goal is to offer a selection of books over a year or several years that is diverse in lots of ways. Keeping the list below handy will help you get out of ruts and habits too.

When reading gets stale or predictable, shake things up! Here’s how.

Select from these categories:

Diverse Authors

Diverse Characters

  • male and female protagonists
  • older and younger
  • varieties of worldview

Diverse Experiences

  • types of childhoods
  • historical events
  • national disasters
  • humanitarian crises
  • humorous, suspenseful, fantastical situations

Diverse Genres

  • poetry
  • prose
  • nonfiction
  • graphic novels
  • comics
  • plays
  • short stories
  • fables

This post is originally from Instagram and @juliebravewriter is my account there so come follow along for more conversations like this one!


Arrows and Boomerangs

Books for Summertime

We LOVE a good book list here at Brave Writer!  Check these fun books out from your local library, or head to the bookstore, and get your kiddos in the summery spirit.


[This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases,
Brave Writer receives compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you!]


Summer Books for Kids

Caveat: We are familiar with a number of these titles but have not vetted them all (relying on trusted sources like Here Wee Read and others for some of the suggestions). So please remember that you’re the parent. Certain titles, especially for teens, contain mature themes and strong language. If you have doubts about the content of a particular book, check the reviews of it or read it for yourself first.

LITTLES

MIDDLERS

TEENS


Brave Writer Arrow and Boomerang Programs

Question: Why do students have to study literature?

Library booksImage by CCAC North Library

My response: The study of literature is intended to give students a lens into the ideas and stories that shape society (present and past) as well as to expose them to the complexity of human development, through time. All sorts of fiction genres create scaffolding for philosophies, ideologies, the politics of relationships, the exploration of the logical end of imagined scenarios, the psychology behind particular actions and events, and more. Literature also exposes students to uses of language not available in non-fiction, and creates a series of cultural touchstones for shared understanding that transcend mere fact.

In short, literature provides an avenue of expanded imagination and language for the sake of both appreciating beauty and human depths, while sharing the experience with other readers (creating a kind of connection and community through shared story). We consider the reading of literature to be one of the ways we create societal cohesion!

Now onto the real question: do they HAVE to study it?

Kids don’t have to study lit any more than they have to study trigonometry or post-modernism or physics or sculpture. Some exposure to literature is valuable just like some exposure to advanced math and science has value. But for kids who are not enamored with literature, keep it to a minimum just like you would if you were raising an actress who never imagined using the quadratic equation in her future but who wanted to go to college and so needed to take Algebra 2.

Make it as painless as possible. Select works of fiction that are more easily accessible (popular story lines with fast-aced writing). Learn how to identify themes, imagery, plot arc, and characterization. Appreciate the use of language (note what sort it is, examine why it works or doesn’t). Learn to write one literary analysis essay in high school so when it happens in Freshman English in college, it won’t be your child’s first attempt.

Cross-posted on facebook.

The professor-archetype

Portrait of Professor Benjamin H RandHave you ever noticed that in some children’s literature, a professorial type male character is often included as a father-like figure to a gaggle of kids? He might even be the father.

This man is usually interesting to the reader because he seems oblivious to typical parental worries—he doesn’t throw up red flags of caution when the children experiment with dangerous tools, contraptions, or potions. He is unworried by their retellings of journeys into magical worlds or forests. He is non-plussed by their cheeky philosophy or their impolitely expressed opinions. He often accepts their fantastical tales with aplomb, barely registering alarm when they return from adventures riddled with danger, and shows a surprising capacity to believe the stories at face value.

This man-character doesn’t lecture children and sometimes, infuriatingly, doesn’t even give advice or warnings when they seem most merited. He, himself, might be engaged in his own mysterious doings and ponderings, which leave the children bewildered and impressed.

I think of characters like Professor Dumbledore (Harry Potter), Professor Kirke (Chronicles of Narnia), Professor Martin Penderwick (professor of botany, The Penderwicks), Merlin (The Sword and the Stone), Wayne Szalinski (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings series) and even the benign homesteading pioneer, Pa Ingalls (Little House series).

This archetype is an intriguing figure. Children gravitate to these men and I’ve been curious about why. I have a few hunches. It seems to me that children crave the experience of being taken seriously. They want their words to be weighed by adults and then found to be full of truth, sincerity, and importance. Even if children’s ideas or experiences could be explained away by an adult’s greater worldliness, children still hope to find in the adult they respect, an appreciation for the way they know the world so far.

These professor-like men uniformly respect a child’s grasp of the world they live in and they are appropriately engaged in their own battles and explorations so as not to be overly impressed by the children’s, either. These men’s lives are independent of whether or not the kids turn out, survive, or discover the same truths the professor-types take for granted.

Additionally, the professor-archetype believes he doesn’t know everything and is open to learning from any source, including the naive experiences of kids. This openness registers deeply with readers. It gives child-readers hope that the thoughts and feelings they have about the life they are living can find a kind, sympathetic, or at minimum, respectful audience in the adults they love and trust.

When I get worked up (wanting to cover all the bases, trying to protect my children from danger – even my adult children!, lecturing them from the vast-expanse of my more abundant failures and successes, disbelieving their reports because they don’t match what I’ve known to be true), I sometimes envision Professor Kirke and his wave-of-the-hand type attitude. He couldn’t be bothered explaining away Lucy’s experience of Narnia. If she reported it and she was trustworthy and we admit that there are things in the universe we do not yet know, there must be truth in Lucy’s report. End of story.

A profound respect for the truthfulness of children. Impressive.

When faced with my children’s inexperience and their youthful impulses, I have to resist the temptation to be a stodgy, know-it-all adult who fails to see magic and opportunity in a child’s point of view. I have to sometimes sit on my hands (which tend to do all the talking, lecturing, and waving) and let the perspective “ride”—let it run its course or express itself without restraint to hear the full-bodied nature of what it wants to say. I have to make room for what makes me uncomfortable.

I’m learning how to let risk be a part of a child’s (or young adult’s) exploration. I’m trying to hang back, talk less, and listen more. I want to be open, quieter, more curious, less case-closed.

I want to relate to my kids, believing that life is a better teacher than a lecture.

I want to respect their experiences without being a busybody about them.

It’s funny. This professor-archetype character is so popular with kids. They just love the surprise of an authority figure who would treat children as peers and invite them into real danger trusting them to their competencies, heart (valor), and goodwill—at least on the level of how they express their participation in the world around them, and how they understand their part in it.

These men (and women) make good role models for us. Don’t you think? Who are your favorite adults in children’s (or any) literature? What have you learned from them? I’m curious.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image Portrait of Professor Benjamin H Rand by Thomas Eakins (1874)

Reading Aloud Matters

Reading Aloud Matters

I spent hours of my adult life nestled in the corner of the sectional, feet tucked under me, with a book in my hands. Sometimes a baby sucked on a bulging breast at the same time, and one of those babies didn’t like to listen to my voice resonating through my chest cavity. Some well-timed nips to the nipples drove home that message. Ouch!

Other times a toddler couldn’t be calmed or a middler would knock over the orange juice onto the carpet and the book would get flung back into the library basket. Reading time over! Waving the white flag.

But those were exceptions. We made it a daily priority to read together for an hour. Read aloud time signaled the start to our homeschool day. It was the “coming together” of all of us of all the ages in all our stages, and it told us: “Yes, we homeschooled today.”

Over hummus and olives one Friday night in my friend’s kitchen (homeschoolers really rock the social scene), a bunch of my mom friends and I became animated as we swapped titles and our various reactions to the children’s novels we had read over nearly 10 years time. Better than a book club! We drank wine, we got misty over Anne of Green Gables, and had a wide variety of reactions to Moccasin Trail and Across Five Aprils. We were a wealth of detail about Rome and Egypt (easily could have talked husbands under the table about ancient history—so schmart were we, aided and abetted by fiction for children).

We also laughed about the books that bored us but that thrilled our kids.

For instance, I have no idea what happens in any Redwall book. I got through (operative phrase there) the first one (not as delighted by the woodland feasts and feisty creatures in chain mail as my kidlets), but then somewhere during the second installment, I discovered I could make shopping list, consider the benefits of dying my hair, and respond to angry posters online all in my head while reading, without skipping a sentence. So I’d merrily read along and space out, until that one moment that was sure to give me away at the end of any given chapter:

“Mom what do you think is going to happen next?’

Blink.

“Um…” I scrambled. “I have a hunch the bad guys are preparing to attack the Abbey.”

Yes! That is what they thought! They knew it!

And that, friends, is the correct answer to any question about plot in Redwall. You’re welcome. You may return to kitchen remodeling in your mind.

While in this vigorous conversation about kids’ lit, one of the moms made a remarkable statement:

“I can’t figure out how you all have time to read aloud. We never have time. That’s the one thing we’ve never done in all our years. I just don’t see how it could be fitted in.”

For a tense moment, you could have heard an olive drop to that tiled floor. We were stunned, because what quickly became clear is that there were even a few us (I plead guilty to this charge) who sometimes got little more done in a day than reading aloud. I couldn’t imagine what homeschool would be if you didn’t read books to your kids.

If I had been forced to supervise workbooks all day, every day, for 5 kids, for 17 years without fiction? Without reading Laura Ingalls Wilder? Without discovering Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf or Robert Peck’s Soup? Not getting to read The Shadow Spinner or become enchanted by Toad and Mole and Badger in The Wind and the Willows?

The-Wind-in-the-Willows-the-wind-in-the-willows-30730319-630-390

Image: The Wind in the Willows

My laundry basket of library books, the wide array of reading lists, the hours spent using my voice to share my emotional reactions in real time to the plights and adventures of heroes and heroines I grew to love as my own possession… This was/is the teaching that is/was homeschool to me… to us.

Homeschoolers rightly think reading to our children is about getting them to hear quality language or to learn about history in a story-format or to become familiar with great literature. It is those.

But it’s also this: When you read aloud, your children discover your values and your humanity. They see tears form in the corners of your eyes. They notice the catch in your throat as you describe a tender scene of connection between two estranged characters. They hear you roar with laughter over an inside joke or a cultural touchstone and they want “in” and expect you to help them “get it.”

Big Juicy Conversations

And then you talk. About the book! About that awesome story and your surprise at the ending or how glad you are that it did end well. Forget that odious word “narration” for a moment (it has been used to drub tedious recounting out of children when a Big Juicy Conversation will do so much more).

You talk about who you liked and who you believed and who you rooted for to get what he or she wanted. You talk about the evil stoat or the wicked prince or the confusion that goes with a troubled character who has both admirable qualities and also real flaws. You compare today to then, and here to there. But you do it, filled with emotion and connection, and the sense of your own place in history and on the planet, all in front of your children—showing them a way to interact with each other, with their neighbors, with their fellow country-persons, and even with how they perceive other times and places.

Reading aloud is the chief way in the homeschool you show who you are to your children—and they show themselves to you. It’s the core of education.

I can’t think of any more important practice in the homeschool than the sacred read aloud time.

Read to your children every day that you can. You won’t regret it.


Stuff Every Parent Needs to Know About Reading