I hold up the book I will be reading aloud, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat. The students start commenting:
This is one of my favorite books…
I love Thing #1 and Thing #2!
I (loved) or I (hated) the movie!
Can we read Green Eggs and Ham, too?
I settle the students down and begin,
“The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
Just sit in the house all that cold, cold wet day.”
32 eyes blink brightly up at the pages as I turn them.
Several mouths move without sound to recite along with me.
The students are mesmerized.
Oh, did I mention that these are seniors in high school?
I am using a picture book to explain Freud’s theory of the Id, Ego and Superego (see post). Thing #1 and Thing #2 represent Id, and that righteous fish? The Superego. Yes, Dr. Seuss is great for psychological literary criticism, but he is not the only picture book in my repertoire of children’s literature used in high school. Here are a few of my favorites to use and why:
Tuesday by David Weisner. We use this text for our 9th grade mythology unit because a myth explains the unexplainable. Our students have to create a myth for why frogs might lift off from a local pond and terrorize some inhabitants of a small town (see post).
The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell. This mash-up of the 1931 film Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel is ideal to stimulate discussion on the relationship between a creator and the created. In McDonnell’s version, however, the Monster is sensitive, compassionate, with more of an interest in warm, powdered jelly doughnuts than in seeking vengeance…a nice break from the rigors of Advanced Placement English Literature.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Surreal images capture the point of view of an immigrant experience which makes this wordless text ideal for students who are studying Ellis Island or Angel Island. Many of the illustrations are available on the website so students can look at the haunting pictures on their own devices as well.
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. A book full of provocative images that has inspired thousands of stories explaining the mysteries in each sepia toned drawing. This book is wonderful for writing classroom, and there have been contests for the best stories written by children. Celebrated children’s authors have also taken an opportunity to try their imaginations using the pictures as story prompts in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.
The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone; illustrated by Mark Smollin and There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer. Both of these books have been incorporated into our Heroes and Monsters English IV (grade 12) elective. I use them as a starting point for an inquiry project about images of monsters given to children contrasted with the images of monsters we know as adults. Most students discuss the “fuzzy factor” with cute, loveable old Grover as something they remember fondly. They also remember very clearly the monster that lived in their closets. The anxiety of Mayer’s “Nightmare”, sobbing at the foot of the bed, usually brings about a discussion of facing fears.
There are YouTube Videos for students to watch in advance of class (flipped classroom): The Monster at the End of this Book and There’s a Nightmare in My Closet
Fredrick by Leo Lionni. What does the poet do for society? This little fable answers that question and works well in any poetry unit. Frederick’s use of language paints pictures in the minds of the other mice who are struggling through a particularly bleak winter season. There is a delightful video recording of this to share in class or to have students watch on their own (flipped classroom).
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka; illustrated by Lane Smith. Want a lesson on point of view? This retake of the three little pigs is one of the best ways to present the advantages of this literary device to students of all ages. In his explanation of the story, A. Wolf comes across the first little pig after the house of straw caved in. With culinary justification, he says,
“It seemed like a shame to leave a perfectly good ham dinner lying there in the straw. So I ate it up. Think of it as a cheeseburger just lying there.”
The story presents opportunities to use other fairy tales for students to practice retelling stories from another point of view once they buy into Scieszka’s formula.
Fables by Arnold Lobel. Here are modern little fables that are one page long with morals such as “It is the high and mighty that have the farthest to fall.” One year, I used these fables with my drama class as short sketches. My favorite sketch to watch was the story of the Lobster and the Crab where the insanely spirited Lobster took timid Crab out for a ride in a boat during a tremendous storm. When the boat capsized, the student playing Crab cried out in despair, “Horrors!” while the student playing Lobster jumped and shouted with glee.”Down we go!” she yelled at the top of her lungs.
The Crab was shaken and upset.
The Lobster took him for a relaxing walk along the ocean floor.
“How brave we are,” said the Lobster. “What a wonderful adventure we have had!”
The moral? “Even the taking of small risks will add to the excitement of life.”
The same can be said for using children’s literature in high school.
The use of a well-chosen picture book will add to the excitement of a lesson! Continue Reading…