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Posts Tagged ‘Children’s Literature’

History is the essence of innumerable biographies. –Thomas Carlyle

Why Teach History through Literature? by Rea Berg

In our first installment of this series, we looked at the importance of the study of history. When we consider the question of how history ought to be taught and why we would consider teaching  history through literature, there are some interesting points to bear in mind: 1.  How has history been taught through the ages?  2. Why use literature to teach history?  3. Why is the use of literature the most effective way to learn history?

How has history been taught through the ages?

Waves of immigrants posed challenges to 19th century educators

Waves of immigrants posed challenges to 19th century educators

In the nineteenth century, with the dawn of compulsory education in America, schools were forced to begin to standardize what should be taught to all these children sitting eight hours a day at their obligatory desks. Because the dawn of compulsory education coincided with industrialization and with a massive influx of immigrants, educators felt motivated, from a sometimes elitist mindset, to educate the masses for the purposes of creating a literate work force.  Presented with the challenge of getting all these children from varying backgrounds on the same educational “page”, it is easy to see how the textbook naturally evolved.  Certain events, personages, significant battles and historical milestones were deemed essential knowledge for the creation of good citizens and a stable workforce.  These “facts” were compiled into disseminated formats stripped of the narrative elements of story, resulting in dry works of little human interest and no literary value.

Standardizing the teaching of history spelled the death knell for creating any love of history in that rising generation of new Americans. It alparisso flew in the face of how history was taught for centuries.  From ancient times forward students studied history by reading history.  In other words, if a student say, in the Middle Ages, was studying history he read the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Eusebius, Plutarch and Josephus. Of course, if you were a young French boy studying in a monastic school in Paris, reading these works meant learning Greek, Latin, and in some cases Hebrew, for ancient histories were not translated into vernacular languages until the late 1200s.  In some instances, it would be centuries before these ancient classic texts appeared in English.  An English schoolboy in London, would not have had Plutarch’s Parallel Lives in English until the late 1500s.   This is one reason why a classical education was always inextricably linked with the study of Latin and Greek.

Why use literature to teach history?

Our ancient young predecessors, sitting by candlelight or lamplight, reading history, actually read history through literature.  There simply was no other way to study history–which brings us to our second point. History has effectively been taught through literature since ancient times.  Only just the last century or so has this vibrant subject been robbed of its human connection by the ubiquitous textbook.  As Neil Postman urges in his book, The End of Education, those who desire to improve teaching ought to get rid of all textbooks which, in his opinion are “the enemies of education, instruments for promoting dogmatism and trivial learning” (116).  Exchanging literature–biographies, classical works, even historical fiction, for the history textbook not only restores this discipline to its historic roots, but also reinvigorates it with its inherent passion, human interest, and wonder.  A middle-grade child reading Johnny Tremain for her studies of the American Revolution will learn far more about the essence of that struggle than even the most colorful textbook could ever impart.

Why is the use of literature the most effective way to teach history?

Literature, as defined by the Oxford reference is “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.”  Now, I’m not sure about you, but I have yet to hear of a single history textbook to win a Pulitzer or a Nobel prize for Literature.  Written works achieve the status of literary merit by their ability to speak to the human condition and the experiences, trials, and aspirations of the human heart. In this way, the best works draw the reader into the drama of the story and through the emotions open the mind.  David McCullough, Pulitzer prize-winner for his work John Adams, affirms that the most effective way to teach history is to “tell stories.”9780684813639_p0_v2_s260x420

That’s what history is: a story.  And what’s a story? E. M. Forster gave a wonderful definition to it: If I say to you the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events.  If I say the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.  That’s human. That calls for empathy on the part of the teller of the story and . . . the listener to the story. (“Knowing History”)

The notion of emotion and empathy as a critical component of history’s ability to speak to the human heart, was promoted by Charlotte Mason, the 19th century educational reformer. She advocated the use of “living books”–literature, history, biography—”to open limitless avenues of discovery in a child’s mind”.  She taught that all, “Education should aim at giving knowledge touched with emotion” (For the Children’s Sake). It is the connection between the human heart, mind, and will, that makes the study of history so enjoyable and memorable to those fortunate to study it through the best books. As a wonderful by-product, students brought up on an educational curriculum rich in the best literature often become compassionate, engaged, and thoughtful adults–the best possible educational outcome.

Works Cited:

“Knowing History and Who We Are.”  David McCullough.  Imprimis.  Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College. April 2005.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, Wheaton, IL: Crossway

           Books, 1984.

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Hello Fellow Book Lovers,

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.–Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Well, summer’s lease is nearly over, and despite our wish that it could linger just a bit longer, school days will shortly be upon us!  So, to give us all a boost (myself included), I am hosting a “Back to School” Literature Soirée on Saturday, September 8.  I will cover more literary analysis, but this time we will look at how to analyze historical literature within the context of the heroic quest.  This will be a fun adventure as we consider how the heroes and heroines of the eras of exploration, discovery, and colonization provide examples of heroic archetypes fulfilling their own unique destinies.

I will present an overview of the best historical works for children covering the period of the early 1600s up through the Civil War.  The concentration will be early American History, but some world history will naturally be a part of that.  So roughly speaking, here is how the day should go:

9:30-10 am: Arrival and get acquainted with a cup of coffee or tea

10 am-10:30: a brief session will look at current statistics of American student’s knowledge of history and literature as well as the why’s and wherefore’s of the “notebook approach”

10:30-11:30 am: the best children’s literature of Early American Exploration, Discovery, and Colonization

11:30 am-noon: Analyzing historical literature using the elements of the heroic quest (definition and overview), anthropomorphism, the orphaned child literary trope, and others!  (not to worry, I will clearly define all of these before setting you out on your own).

Noon-1:45: Working lunch applying literary analysis to various works of historical literature. This time we will work in pairs to save time

1:45-2 pm: Coffee Break

2:00-3:00 pm: the best Children’s Literature of the American Revolution–the Civil War

3:00-3:30 pm:  Wrap up and feedback on take away

So to recap: Saturday, September 8, 2012

At my home: 1306 Mill Street, San Luis Obispo

Time: 9:30 am–3:30 pm

Cost: $30 (which will include lunch– please email me if you need gluten free or vegetarian)  You can register here.

Finally, this soiree is already half booked with ladies returning from our summer session.  So please register soon, to insure you have a place!

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It isn’t too often that I enjoy a children’s movie so much that I am inspired to post on it, but one of the latest children’s book/movie combinations–The Invention of Hugo Cabret, (featured in the film Hugo ) is worth devoting some time to.  My daughter Katie and I have completely immersed ourselves in all things French this year, as we are spending some extended time in Paris this spring.  My eldest daughter and her husband are studying there for the year, so this is a perfect opportunity to take a Parisian field trip and explore this very special part of the world!  So besides studying French, Chopin, the Impressionists, reading Les MisérablesThe Hunchback of Notre Dame  and researching and writing on the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, it is our great luck that such a fine film based upon the Caldecott Medal winner of 2008 has appeared now as well!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret takes place in Paris, and features an orphaned boy (Hugo) who lives secretly in a Paris train station while caring for the station’s clocks.  His father was an horologist–one who studies or is proficient at the art of measuring time–and Hugo has inherited this love and skill from his late father.  Hugo lives secretly in order to avoid being sent to an orphanage.

The plot revolves around a mysterious, but broken automaton that Hugo’s father had discovered while working at a Paris museum.  His father had been working on it before he died, and Hugo is convinced that if he can only fix it, he will discover a message from his father. In the process of pursuing this mystery, Hugo becomes involved with a cranky old toy shop owner, his goddaughter Isabelle, and a well-plotted and intriguing series of events.  One more interesting tidbit, is that the film is an homage to one of the earliest French filmmakers, Georges Méliès.  The artwork in the book by Brian Selznick has components that make me think it also is an homage to Van Gogh, as there are certain perspectives that provoke that response.  Here is one of Selznick’s exquisite drawings and a self-portrait of Van Gogh.

To me, the seminal moment in the film occurs when Hugo and Isabella are in the clock tower of the train station overlooking an illuminated panorama of night time Paris.

“It’s so beautiful,” said Isabelle.  “It looks like the whole city is made out of stars.”

“Sometimes I come up here at night, even when I’m not fixing the clocks, just to look at the city. I like to imagine that the world is one big machine.  You know, machines never have any extra parts.  They have the exact number and type of parts they need.  So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason.  And that means that you have to be here for some reason, too.”

Brian’s Selznick’s work takes on transcendent meaning in this passage.  In a culture where lives are often considered dispensable merely because they’re inconvenient, seeing the importance of each individual life through this lens is powerful and moving.  The movie recently received the most Oscar nominations of any film of 2012, and the magic and wonder of it’s 3-d affects certainly makes it worthy.  But the true wonder of this film is the message that every life has an essential part to play in a beautifully orchestrated and perfectly designed universe.

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Hello Readers!

Today’s post is dedicated to the wonderful world of French language children’s books!  Though most of us are familiar with the wonderful works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Jean de Brunhoff, and Hergé, I have just recently learned of a wonderful treasury of Belgian children’s books by Gilbert Delahaye and illustrated by Marcel Marlier.  Originally published in French the Martine books number over 50 and have been translated into many languages.  I only recently learned of these through Eve Ratthe, who is a friend of my niece Faye Hanoian.  At a recent seminar in Orange County, the topic was the way in which children’s books can be inspirational to a child’s future destiny.  Eve was eager to share how the Martine books were formative to her life’s passion and how that has been realized in her life.  I think you’ll find her story and these books delightful!

Hello readers,Martine bathing baby

My name is Eve Blanchard Ratthe and I am a French Canadian living in Orange County with my soul mate/best friend and my 7 blessings from above.  There are many things in life I am absolutely passionate about, one of which is holding a good book in my hands, smelling it (the older the better) and looking at it with anticipation. I try to find ways to carve out some time from my busy schedule to discover it’s beauty and how it will affect and change my life!

I recently went to Rea’s literature seminar in Orange County and was thrilled to meet her. During the seminar, my love for books grew bigger and deeper. The idea of writing my own book some day became a little closer to reality! After the seminar, Rea asked me if I would be interested to share about the books I liked as a little girl and how they influenced me now as a mother, wife,  baker–I was delighted!

This is one of my favorite scenes, so tender and filled with love…oh how I longed to hold a baby…I was crying. That day I remember vividly my mom letting me go babysit with my older sister so I can hold one of these precious miracles until one day I could hold my own…

How excited I am to share these awesome books with you. This beautiful French collection is called “MARTINE” and there are 60+ books in the series. It’s been translated in many languages and for those of you who would like to learn French, some are accompanied by a CD which has a narrator telling the story.

As a little girl, I loved Martine’s sweet character, full of life and how she brought me into all her adventures. The incredible art work would transport me into my dreams. They allowed me to visualize them, they were a tangible way of seeing that my dreams can come true. Often times, right after reading these books, I would ask my mother if I could play out what I saw in those pictures and she would let me. I would gather all that I needed and would re-create exactly what I saw in those pictures.

I truly believe I had hidden those BEAUTIFUL images in my heart and that one day they would come true for me . . . and they have . . .

I am now rediscovering them through the eyes of my children! I couldn’t wait to have my own children and experience motherhood, I couldn’t wait for them to have their own library and mark those special books with Ex Libris. When I gave birth to my first child, I immediately thought of starting her library and book collection. I asked several people in our families to give our daughter a book that they liked as a child and that influenced their own childhood. I wanted her to have this “MARTINE” collection that was so dear to me . . . of course. Whenever we go to Quebec, we never miss a chance of expanding her collection and mark those trips with one or two new Martine books. When our families come visit us, they also bring some with them. All my children truly enjoy reading them. The other day, my daughter Armanie shared with me that it was her absolute favorite collection–how thrilled I was to hear that!

Last year, the illustrator “Marcel MARLIER” who is now in his 80s, came to Quebec to visit the town where my sisters live. My sisters had each bought a book for my daughter and had it signed by him, needless to say, my daughter and I were incredibly touched. He wrote her a little message in each book and gave her a card as well. This is priceless to both of us! These two books are now marked with a very special autograph. Just as I have dreamt, I truly hope my children dream as they open these books . . .

These pictures increased my love for cooking and I’m sure had something to do with me entering pastry school!!

In these theater scenes, I just wanted to jump in the book and play with them.

 

Martine Plays Theatre, Martine is a Ballerina, and Martine and the Birthday Present are some of our favorites! I believe that just like they were for me, the Martine books are candy for my children’s sweet little eyes . . .

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Dear Readers,

In my last posting I mentioned the work of Anita Silvey and recommended her resources for those “stories behind the stories” of great children’s books.  You can read that posting here.  Just a few weeks ago, Anita began publishing a blog entitled “Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac.  In my humble opinion, Anita’s almanac will become the children’s literary counterpart to The Writer’s Almanac of Garrison Keillor.  This blog will introduce readers to countless classic as well as contemporary books that, as Anita notes, are on their way to becoming classics. And just like The Writer’s Almanac, the book postings will be connected to important historic milestones,  author’s birthdays, or other events related to the history of children’s literature.

On that note, today, November 19th, is the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of 1863.  To honor Lincoln, Anita kindly posted the story of our reissue of Abraham Lincoln by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.  You can read her lovely post here.  If you’ve been touched by this book, post a comment on Anita’s site and tell her how this book has enlarged, enhanced or impacted your view of America’s 16th President.

As Anita notes, Ingri D’Aulaire’s family was living under Nazi occupation in Norway at the time she and Edgar were working on their biography of Lincoln’s life.  As European immigrants in America, the character of Lincoln so captured their imagination, that they saw in him and his remarkable story an antidote to the madness and insanity of Hitler‘s rise in Europe.  That was a key reason they were so drawn to his story at this tumultuous and trying time in history.  An in an ironic twist, the very day the D’Aulaire’s received the Caldecott Medal for this book, the famous Dunkirk evacuation was taking place.  So today, the anniversary of one of the world’s greatest speeches, pick up your copy of this remarkable book and remember the man behind the legend.  Happy reading!

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Dear Readers,

Last Saturday I had the gratifying experience of meeting with 40 lovely ladies for a full day seminar discussing children’s books, education, literature, and history.  Despite the fact that we had over six hours together delving into these absorbing subjects, as usual there simply wasn’t enough time to cover it all!  So in response to some of the requests that emerged in our discussions, I’ll be posting over the next few days on some of these topics.

First of all, and a topic I come to with a great deal of enthusiasm, is the “story behind the story” of many of the best children’s books.  Honestly, the reason I come to this with such eagerness is that in this arena I happen to know one of the foremost authorities on children’s literature today!  Her name is Anita Silvey and I had the delightful opportunity to sit under her while doing my graduate work in children’s literature at Simmons College in Boston.  Since that time, Anita and I have maintained a warm friendship and I never miss a chance when visiting Boston to make a date with Anita.  She is one of those people who brings out the best in everyone she knows, and just sitting discussing children’s literature with her for an hour over lunch is always inspiring, informative, and invigorating!  I know if you were able to meet her you would feel exactly the same way!

So here’s one of my secrets:  Anita’s books on the history of children’s authors and illustrators!  I posted last year about her book Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book and you can access that here. A number of the stories I shared with you on Saturday–Robert Ballard, Jim Trelease, Andrew Wyeth, David McCullough, were adapted from this book. There are many, many, more on contemporary authors and the books that inspired them as children. I find these stories SO valuable because as mothers and educators we never really know which book or books may be the catalyst or inspiration to focus our child on their particular path in life. And of course, this points to the importance of Charlotte Mason’s notion of “abundant and orderly” serving of books.

Now, if what you’re really looking for is the stories of the authors themselves, then Anita offers a number of really important resources. But to start, I would recommend one of two: Children’s Books and Their Creators and The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and their Creators. Hardly a month goes by for me that I am not pulling one or the other of these off my shelf to reference. The first title is over 800 pages and contains about that many entries related to children’s authors, genres of children’s literature, historical and cultural forces as formative to various genres, and personal perspectives from the authors themselves. The Essential Guide offers many of the same components (and indeed carries over into this paperback edition much of the same material) but arranged alphabetically from Aesop to Zwerger (you may remember that name as Zwerger is the remarkable illustrator of the edition of The Selfish Giant that we looked at in the literary analysis component of our day). So for the really ambitious I would recommend the first title, and for those that want a slightly simpler more condensed (albeit still 500 some pages!) version I would select The Essential Guide. This is a great place to start. I have many more guides to children’s literature that I will feature later, but this is a wonderful place to start!

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Hi Reading Friends,
The Orange County Literature Seminar is just around the corner!  I am extending the deadline for the discounted rate until tomorrow night at midnight!  So you can still register here.  Also, for those of you that are already registered, please be thinking of a favorite children’s book you’d like to share during our working lunch!  I’ll also be emailing you with specific details by Thursday so be looking for that to come through your regular email.  Can’t wait to spend this time with you!

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