Tuesday, April 28, 2009

picture books and teen readers

I've been thinking a lot lately about how to make more inroads with my students in my reading workshop. I consider all of them to be reluctant readers, with some being downright hellbent against reading anything that's not explicitly part of their deal to get out of lockup. It occurred to me, after a few months of teaching in DYS, that not only do my kids lack literacy-rich backgrounds, but they also lack exposure to art. Maybe I could bring more picture books into the fold, I mused. Would they think these to be too "babyish?"

Little by little, I've been testing the picture book waters by bringing in books that have sparked my interest. At first, I don't say anything about the book, but I display it in a prominent place in my classroom and wait to see who picks it up. It's kind of like fishing. So far I think I've used some good lures: Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between The Towers, which tells the fascinating story of Philippe Petit's 1974 highwire walk between the World Trade Center towers in New York; and Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is such an artful, literary gem of a work (see my review in an earlier post). Both books have succeeded at getting the attention of all of my students. Doors that were once shut tight are now opening, shedding light on new ideas, new thinking. It's exciting to see - and I realize I have to keep a steady flow of these books coming.

My latest discovery, thanks to Barbara Lindsay, my Literacy Learning For Older Children instructor, is Eve Bunting's Riding The Tiger. Barbara read this book aloud last Thursday night to a class of twenty or so teachers, and it was as if the words themselves came to life and rose up off the pages. Bunting, along with David Frampton's distinctive woodcut illustrations, tells the story of young Danny, new to town and eager to belong. She uses the vivid allegory of the tiger, who befriends an impressionable Danny, to represent the allure of gang culture. Danny believes in the tiger's promise of respect and power, until he realizes that fear is at the core of the tiger's prowess. Riding The Tiger offers a powerful message about temptation, submission and loss of control that comes when we accept a ride on any kind of tiger.

Thematically, I don't know how much more relevant I can get than this. Tomorrow I plan to go fishing with a tiger in my classroom. I wonder who I'll catch?

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