Tag Archive | Children’s Literature

Patterns, motifs, and manifestations

We’ve been reading Beowulf in my British Literature class. For me it is like The Odyssey, I like discussing themes and from the literature, but don’t enjoy reading the actual literature itself. I don’t tend to go for the macho male hero who blinds cyclopses or disarms ambiguous monstrosities for my pleasure reading, but again I think the themes are very valuable.

The third story of Beowulf is particularly intriguing to those who have read The Hobbit. Tolkien was, of course, a big fan of Beowulf, and was actually responsible for bringing that story back into our curriculum. And the parallels between Beowulf and The Hobbit are so blatant sometimes. One very important theme in both stories is the idea of ‘the little guy’ becoming a hero, the one that nobody suspects, the one that seems far too naive and powerless. Have I ever told you that one of my favorite moments of The Hobbit movie is when Bilbo stands between the pale orc and the fallen Thorin? It’s a beautiful moment.

Another… motif, if you will, is the dragon. Dragons are the manifestations of greed (we see this in The Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis as well). I found this quite interesting, mostly because it made me think about fairy tales– which we have been discussing in my Children’s Literature class. For instance, one of the motifs in Snow White is the mirror, which is the perfect symbol for vanity. And that could be considered one of the themes of Snow White, vanity and envy. Both, of course, are as prevalent in today’s culture as they were back when the tales were first spun. These are human weaknesses that persist through time, which perhaps is why we still have that kind of literature today.

It gets the imagination going, you know? You start to wonder if we have recognizable symbols for other weaknesses, like pride, selfishness, revenge, deceit, and so on. And you also start to notice that different objects, symbols, or motifs can apply to lots of different stories. For instance if we went back to the mirror; that can belong to Snow White’s Evil Stepmother, or it could belong to Narcissus. Or, the mirror is a bridge between worlds, like Through the Looking Class. Lots of stories involve these sort of seemingly ordinary ‘bridges,’ like a rabbit hole, a wardrobe, or a cyclone. It’s just so fascinating to see how it is all woven together, and then wonder what you can do with a structure that already exists.

Reading aloud- my vision

This is an extension of my previous post, ‘Read to your kids.’ In my Children’s Lit. class, we have been reading from Jim Trelease’s book, “The Read-Aloud Handbook.” I would recommend it to anyone (especially parents and teachers). It’s a fun read because it’s persuasive rather than just informative. In this book, Trelease discusses the many benefits your kids could have from being read to, including quite a few academic advantages.

You know how there are all these programs to take care of homeless and elderly, bring medicine to third world countries, feed the hungry, educate our youth, etc.? I think it would be great if there was a program in place to enhance the linguistic capabilities of our youth, by having read-aloud sessions by skilled performers; people who are funny and engaging.

Every time I read this book I have this kind of vision in my mind- a crowd of little kids sitting on the floor with a reader at the front of the room, a kind of guy who makes people laugh just by looking at them. He holds up the featured picture book and solemnly announces, “One fish,” in that way that kids can’t help but laugh at. He continues, with melodramatic influctuations. “Two fish. Red fish– this book is so beautiful. Blue fish– oh say it again! Everybody now…” And then the guy proceeds to beatbox, and then get out of his chair and dance as he repeats that first page, while the kids are rolling on the floor dying of laughter.

Okay, so maybe I have a bit of an active imagination.

But my point is the same point that Jim Trelease makes in his book; kids need to learn to associate reading with pleasure. The problem in our country is not illiteracy, but aliteracy. People know how to read, but they chose not to. They haven’t learned to find reading pleasurable, possibly because their encounters with reading in school have all proved to be negative. Reading becomes much less fun when you have stop in order to write the definitions to that unit’s vocabulary terms, you know what I mean? But when we can help people understand that reading can be fun– that’s when we build people up to be life-long readers.

Somebody has to read to these kids if their parents don’t. I just think it would be fun if it were done by performers, and I mean professionals. By people who will read… outside the box, so to speak. I mean, who says you have to sit in a chair the whole time while you’re reading to the kids? What if you got so excited you stood up from your chair so you could act out some of the scenes. I think there should be physical comedy, facial expressions, sound effects, comedic timing, accents, all those things that people enjoy. And I think it could be really great if we could figure out a way to get that to a bunch of people, to a bunch of kids. Especially those who are perhaps struggling with school.

I’m no expert. Not in reading to kids, not in starting up programs to enhance literacy among kids, but I think it would be great if somebody with more expertise could make it happen.