Thesis: Children's Literature

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¶ … children's literature to dispel the popular premise that a diametric difference separate good literature and good multicultural literature, as it asserts that children's literature may promote interracial respect, yet lack bias and still possess exceptional literary qualities.

Contemporary book publishers face the challenge of fulfilling their the responsibility to produce good children's literature, yet not compromise that responsibility and/or fabricate culturally authentic works to satisfy the demands of the marketplace. Parents and educators face the challenge be another set of eyes to challenge a book, whether it advertises itself as multicultural or not, to qualify first and foremost as "good."

MULTURAL/GOOD LITERATURE DIFFERENCE DISPELLED

"Children's literature opens up a world of ideas and ways of thinking.

bringing children's literature into the classroom is like bringing 'another pair of eyes' for students to look at the world and at themselves"

- Marion Dane Bauer, author

(Bauer, as cited in Peterson & Swartz, 2008, p. 14).

INTRODUCTION

Another Pair of Eyes

Good literature possesses transforming power, Shelley Stagg Peterson and Larry

Swartz (2008) assert in their book, Good Books Matter. Good literature may alter the person as it sometimes disturbs him/her. At other times, good literature may affirm or challenge the emotions the person experiences; that he/she cannot express. Good literature may affirm or challenge the values the person subscribes to. Good literature may also as the quote by Marion Dane Bauer introducing this study proclaims, bring another pair of eyes to one's life scene. This research paper brings "another pair of eyes" and "voice" to present an analytical evaluation of children's literature to dispel the popular premise that a diametric difference separate good literature and good multicultural literature, as it asserts that children's literature may promote interracial respect, yet lack bias and still possess exceptional literary qualities.

The researcher concurs with Peterson and Swartz (2008); that the word "good" denotes a book that possesses the transforming power to significantly impact a young reader, with the impact remaining with the child even after he/she completes the "good' book and returns it to the shelf. A myriad of past, as well as contemporary contentions, however continually clamor to denote the definition of what constitutes "good" literature. What may qualify as a "good" book to one person may not qualify as "good" literature on another critic's list. In fact, as Peterson and Swartz (2008) purport:

There are good popular books; good books that are censored; good books for a reluctant leader; good books for a summer's afternoon; good books in continuing series; good books that talk about our communities, or cultures, our childhoods, four are family situations…. Good books matter, depending on the child, the context, the culture, and the occasion. (Peterson & Swartz (2008, p. 10).

In Good Informational Literature

In good informational literature, children learn more about their own familiar worlds, as they meet new people, some near, while some live in faraway places. Some places may be familiar, while some the reader "sees" in the literature represent places he/she may never see. The child may also learn about things he/she might never encounter in his/her normal routine. If/when the fiction the child reads proves true to accuracy, albeit the reader may also experience these same benefits (Peterson & Swartz, 2008). Whether or not the book is classified as multicultural literature may or may not be relevant.

Multiculturalism

Kathryn L. Davis, Associate Professor of Physical Education at Middle Tennessee State University, Bernice G. Brown, Associate Professor of Education at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, Ann Liedel-Rice, Professor at Carlow University in Pittsburgh and Pamela Soeder, Professor of Education at Slippery Rock University (2005) coauthored "Experiencing diversity through children's multicultural literature.." Davis, et al. report that the quest to prepare teacher candidates for work with diverse students currently challenges teacher educators. The candidates preparing for these future positions, predominantly European-American, middle-class, and monolingual, possess limited experiences with diverse populations. Many perceive diversity in a negative context.

When teachers lack understanding of diversity issues, this may negatively affect the student's potential to succeed in their educational pursuits. "For teacher candidates to work effectively with students from diverse cultures in all grade levels, they need to become familiar with some of the major issues that students confront in today's society" (Davis, et al., 2005, ¶ 1). Just as the study of children's literature from multiple perspectives may contribute to enhancing the educators' understanding of complex concepts relating to multicultural issues, the perception proclaims that introducing multicultural concepts to children will better prepare them to succeed in their future actions with individuals from various cultures.

Four Categories of Multicultural Literature

Davis, et al. (2005) recommend a number of books that reportedly help building teacher candidates' background knowledge, to help them reflect on their personal life experiences to multicultural issues. The four categories of multicultural literature Davis, et al. present include the following:

1. Racism,

2. poverty,

3. gender equity, and

4. religious beliefs. (Davis, et al., 2005, ¶ 2).

The following section relates a sampling of summarized multicultural literature that Davis, et al., (2005) presented for teacher candidates to review:

Red Bird (Mitchell 1996) is about eliminating stereotypes that can lead to racism. Katie, a member of the Nanticoke Nation, is called Red Bird by her grandfather. Each September, the family makes a trip from the city to Nanticoke country for the annual Pow Wow. Katie and her family look forward to this event because it is a time of celebration that preserves their heritage. (Davis, et al., 2005, ¶ 4)

Bud, Not Buddy (Curtis 1999) is a story that explores the fears and anxieties of a 10-year-old homeless child who escapes from an abusive foster home. Set in the 1930s during the Depression, Bud is on-the-run looking for his father and armed with only a few clues of his father's whereabouts. Memories of his deceased Momma provide strength during his struggles. (Davis, et al., 2005, Poverty section, ¶ 2)

Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt (Ernst 1983) is about an adult male named Sam who begins to mend an awning by sewing together colorful patches of cloth. Sam discovers that he enjoys sewing, but meets with scorn and ridicule when he asks his wife whether he could join her quilting club. Sam starts his own men's quilting club, and they compete in the county fair quilting contest. (Davis, et al., 2005, Gender equity section, ¶ 2)

The Devil's Arithmetic (Yolen 1988) discusses the religious persecution of Jews during World War II. The story is about Hannah, a Jewish girl visiting her family during Passover. Hannah has the unusual experience of being transported back in time where she is a World War II prisoner in a concentration camp. (Davis, et al., 2005, Religious beliefs section, ¶ 2)

As Red Bird, Davis, et al. (2005) explain to teacher candidates, focuses on eliminating stereotypes that may lead to racism, it challenges one to rethink his/her views and assess his/her understanding of American Indians.

Bud, Not Buddy, according to Davis, et al. (2005) relates the challenges homeless individuals experience in worrying about food, where they will sleep, as well as their personal safety concerns. Teaching candidates are asked: "How does Bud's life during the Depression compare with that of children in poverty and the homeless today?" They are asked to consider things teacher could do to facilitate an equitable education for children who may be homeless and/or live in poverty.

Davis, et al. (2005) pose a gender-based question to teacher candidates regarding Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt: What other types of activities might boys or girls be excluded from because of their gender?" (Gender equity section, ¶ 2). Both a mother and a father can complete certain tasks, Davis, et al. stress.

In The Devil's Arithmetic, according to Davis, et al. (2005), the story fosters considerations of how teachers can help the student understand "marginalziations" particular religions practice. Davis, et al., ask the teacher candidates to assess what groups experienced persecution after September 11, 2001.

Book Publishers' Challenge

Jane Smith and Patricia Wiese (2006) point out in "Authenticating children's literature: Raising cultural awareness with an inquiry-based project in a teacher education course," that contemporary book publishers face the challenge of fulfilling their the responsibility to produce good children's literature, yet not compromise that responsibility and/or fabricate culturally authentic works to satisfy the demands of the marketplace. Smith and Wiese relate the experience of Jane Kurtz, who discusses the conflict she, as a new author of multicultural children's books, as she struggled to satisfy the demands of cultural accuracy, along with the challenges the story presented.

Multicultural benefits may be diminished, Smith and Wiese (2006) note, when the story is not written or not rewritten in an accurate, authentic, and respectful manner. Culturally authentic literature possesses the potential to demolish negative stereotypes, while it promotes understanding and an appreciation of various cultures. The concern arises, albeit that if multicultural literature is to ... help readers gain insight into and appreciation for the social groups reflected… [END OF PREVIEW]

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