Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Seventh Graders and Books

My seventh graders are writing children's stories, so we've been reading picture books for a while together and talking about how the authors approach the stories, the kinds of stories young children enjoy, and issues of craft. It's a lot of fun - I have to admit that reading aloud is one of my favorite things to do, so I probably chose this unit partly because of that.

This year's seventh grade class is extremely opinionated and not at all shy about expressing those opinions. This week in our three days of school I read three books about people: Miss Rumphius, My Great-Aunt Arizona and Island Boy. They hated all of them, especially the last, which we read today.

"Why does everyone die in these books?" they grumbled. I pointed out that everyone really does die, and not just in these books, but they thought that young children should be spared that knowledge. They found the books depressing, too long, and, as one student always remarks, with not enough explosions.

Another book they hated was Jane Yolen's beautiful Owl Moon. The word "boring" was mentioned more than once.

This class doesn't do lyrical, and it doesn't do melancholy. The specific request for next week is "funny books." But I know that not all kids feel this way. A case in point: myself. My favorite fairy tale as a child was "The Little Mermaid," not the Disney version (far in the future still) but the heartbreaking Hans Christian Andersen original. It made me sad, but in a pleasurable way, and I loved the language of it. I cried when I read Little Women at about ten, not a few tears but deep, racking sobs. And then I reread the book countless times until I almost had it memorized.

I guess you could draw the conclusion that I was (and perhaps still am) strange. I wouldn't read those stories to this class, for sure. Instead I choose the funniest, most action-packed read-alouds I can find. I just finished Carl Hiaasen's Flush with them, and they liked it a lot. Now I'm reading What Child is This?: A Christmas Story, by Carolyn Cooney, a book about foster children. So far the kids are a bit grumpy about this one; it does tend toward the lyrical, and there are a lot of characters, something they find confusing. But I'm persevering because it's a good book and eventually everything will come together for them, I hope.


Jessica Stock said...

opinionated? I can't imagine :0 This makes me smile, and think what a wonderful teacher you are.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Jess! Just don't ask the seventh graders if they agree with you!

Kathie said...

I did something like this a few years ago with one of my writing classes, a mix of 7th and 8th graders. I think it really helped to have a few 8th graders in the class. We finally chose to base our group story on Larry Gets Lost in Seattle by John Skewes and the kids loved it. Our book was Lucy (a dachshund whose buddy Alphose, a llama, searches for her) Gets Lost in Olympia, using all the architectural highlights and entertainment hot spots in our city. The kids were paired up and each team had a couple pages to do. They did detailed illustrations and all. The final product was adorable! Have fun with this even if they do grumble.

Janet said...

This class will like Mockingjay for sure.


Tricia said...

Wait, doesn't that owl explode out of the tree in Owl Moon? Or am I thinking of another owl book? (And it's certainly not the kind of explosion he/she was referring to...)

One of our favorite read-aloud picture books of this past year has been Margaret Mahy's Bubble Trouble. It's hilarious, and full of ear-pleasing rhythms and rhymes.

Tricia said...

I searched my public library catalog for "what child is this" - they default to keyword search and i didn't bother to switch it to title. Items #2 and #3 in the list? "Up" and "The Hurt Locker." Is that bizarre or what??

Ruth said...

Tricia, that's the right owl book. I think that explosion isn't quite what they had in mind. :-)