Sarah's Story Corner


I can't decide whether I like the desert or the mountains more... both are incredibly beautiful and I am the happiest when I am exploring in both. Hmmm. And then there is the ocean...

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The two class articles that I feel I connected with the most were “Connecting Children’s Stories to Children’s Literature: Meeting Diversity Needs” by Melissa J. St.Amour and “Using Literacy to Create Social Justice Classrooms” by R. Henkin.

Both articles emphasize the positive affect literature (including oral storytelling) can have on the lives of growing children – of all backgrounds. They both also touch on how carefully chosen literature can provide an avenue for presenting children with the means to become culturally and socially aware at the community level as well as to develop self-identity and self-confidence by being able to recognize and respect diversity within themselves. On the other hand, both articles do seem paint the picture that if chosen correctly, literature can save us from the path we, as a race of human beings, seem to be headed down. As much as I would love to believe that, I feel the strategies are going to have to go much deeper than that.

So who is responsible for saving us? I think as teachers we only have so much that we can do to create socially and culturally aware students who also understand, respect and nurture diversity. I do believe that literature provides us with the greatest opportunity for making that happen (and I certainly plan on putting it to use in my class), but it does go beyond us – and that is what we need our communities and the greater society to understand; although we, as teachers, are role models, we are not the only people who have that responsibility. I think we can create a socially just society that is about equity and equality… we just have the tiny obstacle of getting at least a few billion more people on our side.

So back to the articles….

Friday, February 03, 2006

Of the three books that we read for class, Nighthjohn, by Gary Paulsen affected me the most. I think the effect was mostly due to the harsh nature of the story and the feelings created within me by the descriptions of how the people at that time were treated. But I think it was also because it was so easy to become quickly attached to all the main characters – Sarny, Mammy and even Nightjohn, despite not being deeply exposed to his character. I think the book portrays a realism that is sometimes missed and even misrepresented in stories like that, especially those intended for the elementary audience.
In regards to application in the classroom, I at first struggled with how Nightjohn could be used, other than with reflective writing based on feelings of characters and feelings brought out in the reader (student). Personally, I would just hope that having students read that novel, would bring about feelings of empathy – in the context of social justice –making the students aware of injustices people have imposed on others in the past, how wrong it was, and how now we need to work towards a society and a world that is not at all tolerant to such behaviour.
Anyways… now that I have ranted about that, I did find some other applications for the use of Nightjohn in the classroom. One idea would be to do an author’s study on Gary Paulsen, contrasting the ways the he presents the various issues found in his novels. Another idea would be to compare the movie version of the story with the book version and contrast the differences. There are also a variety of thematic connections such as prejudice, freedom, the treatment of others and even leadership (as Nightjohn demonstrated). I think one key thing about presenting this book to the class is that background information does need to be provided – such as a synopsis of slavery in the United States.
Other than that… I feel this was a very powerful novel and most definitely plan on using in my classroom!! Thanks!

Alright… so for some recommended readings! In contacting my cooperating teacher from our 1st year, the following is what she recommends for some good books to read aloud in class (for intermediate!):
  • The Dirt Eaters: Dennis Foon “Roan, a 15-year-old boy, survives a raid on his village of Longlight where his parents are killed and his sister kidnapped. Wandering through the smoldering ruins of the village, he meets Saint, the leader of a band of men called The Brothers….” Classroom ideas include creating a story game board with all the stories characters or creating your own fantasy story
  • Freewalker (sequel) to The Dirt Eaters (one more to come in trilogy)
  • The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe – OF COURSE !!!
  • Touching Spirit Bear: Ben Mikaelson - “Within Cole Matthews lies anger, rage and hate. Cole has been stealing and fighting for years. This time he caught Peter Driscal in the parking lot and smashed his head against the sidewalk. Now, Peter may have permanent brain damage and Cole is in the biggest trouble of his life. Cole is offered Circle Justice: a system based on Native American traditions that attempts to provide healing for the criminal offender, the victim, and the community…” Wow… lots of ideas to work with here! Discussions and writing about violence and feelings of anger, responsibility for actions, etc.
  • Among the Hidden: Margaret Peterson Haddix - “Luke is a third child. He is forbidden by the Population Law, which states that because of a shortage of food, a family is only allowed to have two children. Since Luke will be killed if he is seen, he doesn’t go to school, or church, or have friends. In fact, ever since the woods surrounding the Garner’s home were demolished, he hasn’t been outside…” One option for use in the classroom is to compare/contrast this to China’s One Child Policy or more language based options such looking at symbolism, figurative language, and theme or even exploring character profiles.
  • Holes: by Louis Sachar - “Stanley is just a regular kid until he is found responsible for a crime he didn't commit. We learn about a curse that has been in his family for several generations. His bad luck lands Stanley in a very strange correctional camp in the Texas desert. The warden has all the inmates digging holes in a dry lake bed…”
  • Eragon Book #1 and Eldest BooK #2 (book 3 still to come): Christopher Paolini
  • The Tiger Rising: Kate DiCamillo
  • Silverwing: Kenneth Oppel
  • Uncanny Book#1 and Uncollected Book #2 (short stories with a funny twist): Paul Jennings
  • Shabanu - Daughter of the Wind: Suzanne Fisher Staples - “This story leads the reader on a tour of the Pakistani desert, market fairs, sand storms, pilgrimages, Muslim weddings, Cholistani customs, and the transition from girl to woman in the harsh desert conditions that are the setting for this novel. The narrator on this tour is Shabanu, the youngest daughter in a family of camel herding nomads.”·
  • Gathering Blue: Lois Lowry

And don’t forget!!! There is always, always tons of help on the internet for finding books to read and activities to go along with them. All the excerpts I provided were found at or on the book’s specific website!!

Happy read alouds! This is really something that I am looking forward to!

I wanted to share with you the book that I chose for the multicultural assignment – Baseball Saved Us. It was written by Ken Mochizuki in 1993 and illustrated by Dom Lee. The book was published by Lee & Low Books, New York. The story is about “Shorty and his family, along with thousands of Japanese Americans, are sent to an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fighting the heat and dust of the desert, Shorty and his father decide to build a baseball diamond and form a league in order to boost the spirits of the internees. Shorty quickly learns that he is playing not only to win, but to gain dignity and self-respect as well” (
The book is geared towards a grade 3 reading level but could probably be used from grades 1-6 for different purposes.

From my assignment: What I really liked about this story was that all of the cultural and racial depictions are integral to the story. The Japanese people are not described or illustrated in any stereotypical way. The characters are Americans, with Japanese decent, and they dress and talk the same as anyone else would at that time. The story is interesting as it touches on a very sensitive subject (the treatment of the Japanese during WWII) but does not look for any sympathy. The story is told from the view point of a boy who is not going to understand the political issues surrounding is heritage and so those issues are completely left out. I think it is great for young students to read as they get an understanding of what happened back then without reading about particularly harsh incidents – and there is no blaming or name calling against anyone.

This story would be excellent as an introduction to young students about some of the injustices that happened to different cultures/societies in the past. The story introduces the injustice, briefly touches on the negative treatment of a targeted culture, introduces the confusion and feelings experienced by the targeted people and it also shows the strength of a culture/community in the face of adversity.

The main character is absolutely no different form any other boy his age – which is important for all young readers to see.

So, back to Tikki Tikki Tembo – one of my favorite childhood books - that I chose for my read aloud. There seems to be so much opportunity for voice animation in that story! It is amazing to read and I feel that with the right voice inflections, children can really get involved in the story. It is intended to read as a Chinese Folktale, but there seems to be some controversy around its authenticity. Overall, though it is a great read-aloud book for students kindergarten to grade 4. There are many different classroom uses – simply just for humor and a fun story or students can be asked to reflect on different components of the story – such as what was the relationship like between Chang and Tikki Tikki Tembo? Or even rhyming and syllable activities. One use I thought of for older grades was to read it aloud to them and then have the class write their own folktale that concludes with a moral.

There is some trouble with the story though – it really is not representative of Chinese culture at all – so I think it is important to inform your students of this if you do read it in class. It is easy for us as adults and teachers to see this discrepancy, but much more difficult for young impressionable minds to do so! One option would be to read another book based on Chinese culture that portrays a more realistic image of the culture and people. Or you can analyze the story with your students to determine which are the false or inaccurate cultural representations.

Anyways, I again recommend checking it out, if only for interest’s sake!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Ever since that class a while back where our first discussion on social justice and cultural diversity issues in the classroom surfaced, I have not been able to get the topic out of my mind. The trouble though, has been that I have been unable to figure out how to put my thoughts into words. So please bear with me while I attempt…
To start, I looked up the words equity and equality on This is what I found: Equity – 1.) “The state, quality, or ideal of being just, impartial, and fair;” 2.) “Something that is just, impartial, and fair,” and “from Latin aequits, from aequus: even, fair.” For Equality – 1.) “The state or quality of being equal;” 2.) “Mathematics. A statement, usually an equation, that one thing equals another,” and "from Latin aequlits, from aequlis: equal.”

So to me, it sums up something like this: equity is how we treat people, while equality is how we perceive people. Can we, as people, ‘act out’ one of those without the other? Oh yes, definitely. And that really scares me. Do I treat all people fairly and justly? Do I perceive all people equal? I think so. I might slip every once in a while, but I always feel like crap when I do notice a discrepancy in my behaviour. There are always going to be people that I do not see eye to eye with (like, say Mr. G.W. Bush), but that does not mean that I need to treat them less then equitably or perceive them as less than equal as a fellow human being. Overall, I think that when I do meet someone new or when I talk about/with someone or enter any form of a relationship with someone; I approach them equitably and view them as an equal, even when we might be on completely different pages.
Now, back to social justice in the classroom (and just to confirm, I feel that cultural diversity is integral to social justice). Social justice is about treating people as equals while truly feeling that they are equal (so, not just acting). Social justice, to me, has its foundations in this: no matter who another person is, what they do, where they come from or what they believe in, that person is equal to you and that you treat them like that. There is a huge difference between equity and equality that is so clear to me, but the line between the two is so gray and so fine. So then, with that in mind, how do you teach equity and equality? And how do you model them? Especially with so much going on in the media that always has one group of people pointedly against another. How can we teach it when everyone sees the United States of America trying to make everyone else bow down to what they believe? They are not being equitable or viewing others as their equals. What about in the war between the Israelis and Palestinians? Are they treating each other equitably? Are they treating each other as equals? Right now, the only answer I can come up with is for me… and it is that teaching social justice issues, inclusive with cultural diversity, in the classroom is going to come straight from my heart. And it is hopefully going to be about providing my students with enough tools that they too can learn about and want to treat people with equity and view them as equals in everything that they do.

So any thoughts on where I should go next?

Monday, January 16, 2006

So as my most recent form of procrastination, I began reflecting on some of the novels that the teacher from my first practicum recommended to me. There were alot.... some of which I (sigh*) cannot remember but I hope to make contact soon and get her extended list. I promise I will share! But what I also remember was a discussion with my practicum teacher's father, a retired teacher who is still actively involved in the school system. There was a boy in my class who was completely infatuated with a novel... every second he had, the book was out on his desk so he could find out what was happening next. Although he was a little off track from what he was supposed to be doing, my practicum teacher's father pointed out to me that this kid was reading. And that this kid was absolutely in love with reading. The father then said something like this "If you have student in your class that is this intent on reading, that is this engrossed by literature, then let them read. There is no greater harm to a student than taking a book away from them that they are completely fasinated in and engaged by." I thought that was really interesting. I'm not sure how I feel about a student in my class reading while I am trying to lead the class through math, but I do see his point. Any thoughts?

Oh yeah, the class was grade 6 and the book was Eragon by Christopher Paolini. It came highly recommended, by both my practicum teacher and the student!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

It is amazing how easy it is to forget things from your past, especially from your childhood. But one thing that I have found during this program is that slowly but surely, important, profound and exciting memories are coming back to me from my childhood as I try my best to remember what it is like to be young and not-so-weathered. So in trying to remember what I enjoyed reading as a child (without resorting to calling up my Mom... yet), the few that came to mind
include the Frog and Toad series, the Nancy Drew series,
Charlotte's Web, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and some of the Anne of Green Gables novels.
I am sure there are more, so I will reveal them to you as I 'decide' to reveal them to myself.
Something else I can share is this: my Mom and Dad would read to me all the time! If not already during the day, every night before my bedroom light was shut off, we would either sit on the living room couch or one of them would lay in bed with me reading something that we had picked out together. My Dad would also play the guitar for me if I couldn't fall asleep, but that is a different story. What I do remember though is being really interested in fictional, imaginative stories as well as stories that involved families.
The one story (of many) that I have chosen to share as one that I have many memories of is Tikki Tikki Tembo, a Chinese folktale retold by Arlene Mosel. I remember taking this book out of the library all the time! I absolutely loved the story, but mostly I think it was how my parents read me the story (both would do it) with their different voices and the enthusiasum they put into it that has made it stick with me. But it wasn't always my parents... I had a really cool closet in my bedroom as a child (that E.T. lived in during the night) and I remember sitting in there and reading this book by myself and having a blast!
My parents were always trying to open my eyes to different
cultures, even at a young age, and I think this story was one
of those attempts that has truly stuck with me. And the best part of this whole thing, is that one of the nick names that my parents called me as a child stemmed from this story... and sometimes I still get called it today!
Two Christmas's ago, this book was a present from my Mom and Dad. I guess this story holds a similar meaning with them.