15 October 2007


All our literature reading is based in history (as I’ve said before, I like to kill two or three birds with one stone). I’m also lumping my kidlets together, which cuts down on the number of books I have to read and the number of literature discussions I have to lead. Lumping also makes our discussions more fun as the kids have each other to talk with, learn from, and bounce ideas off of.

So, here’s what we’re doing. First the kids simply read their first assigned book (Carry On, Mr. Bowditch! for the middles and Andrew Nelson Lytle's At the Moon’s Inn for the older kids). They each took a couple of weeks and my goal for their first reading was that they simply enjoy and get caught up in the story.

I assigned other books after that: At the Sign of the Beaver, Johnny Tremaine, and The Slave Dancer; House of the Seven Gables; The Scarlet Letter (for our Gileskirk discussion group), and the Fenimore Cooper title of their choice. (We also read Mark Twain’s essay ‘The Literary Offences of Fenimore Cooper’ which had us roaring.)

While they read these other titles, we’re going back through Mr. Bowditch and Moon’s Inn and rereading them much more slowly (four chapters of one and one section of the other each week) and discussing our way through them.

The first time we met for discussion, I threw quite a few literary terms and their definitions at the kids. I told them to become familiar with them, but if they couldn’t work with them or find them in stories yet, that was okay as that was what we would be focusing on for the rest of the year.

Each week, we first lay out the plot points. By starting with plot first, we’re looking at the overall structure of the story. This also helps me know where we are if I haven’t had a chance to reread the kids’ assignments that week. And, this helps the kids to see how plot relates to character as changes and growth in the characters make the most sense when they’re caused by events of the story.

After we discuss the plot points, we look at the main character and what we’ve learned about him in this smaller section. Sometimes the main character changes and grows, and sometimes we simply learn more about him. We also compare the main character to others in the story (foils). As we see his growth or the way he’s revealed and the way he is like or unlike other characters, we begin to discover the themes of a work.

Then I ask which literary devices they’ve noticed that week. Right now, we’re working on foreshadowing, metaphor and imagery. As they get better at finding those, I’ll add to this list.

This is pretty basic right now, but as we do this through the year with different works, we’ll get lots of practice. I want my children to know how to dive deeply into a work, understanding how to approach a work, so they aren’t left to simply read what others say.

A couple of books that I found quite helpful in my literary education:

Reading Between the Lines, by Gene Edward Veith

How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas Foster

Here are a few more hints:

If you’ve never looked at literature like this before, start slowly. Choose a couple and when you begin to understand how those work, add a few more.

Don’t try to find anything your first time through. Simply enjoy the story the first time you read it. Save the analysis for a reread.

It’s easier and faster to watch a film a second or even a third time than to read a long book twice, so look for these things in films, especially in kids’ films. Pixar has some of the best scripts for these types of things.


08 October 2007

My New Preciouses

Took a trip to the used bookstore tonight with my oldest and, boy, did we find some treasures!
First to the foreign language section. I was hoping to find a beginning French reader, but instead I found a copy of La Jument Verte (The Green Mare) which my good friend Debra in Mozambique highly recommended when she discovered I was reading Le Petit Nicolas.

Next, we headed to the fiction and literature aisles, where we discovered How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays by Umberto Eco. As much as I love stories, I’m beginning to appreciate humorous essays. They’re short enough to fit into my schedule and can really brighten my day. And I love sharing them with my kids.

My friend Jenny in Michigan had mentioned Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies to me over a year ago. Alas, they didn’t have that title, but they did have many of his others. I bought The Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders), and The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks. I read a couple of excerpts from the last to my daughter as we sat there on the floor and, as we laughed together, I knew I had to buy it.

I turned to see what was on the shelf behind me and saw an interesting title among Dickens’ works: The D. Case or The Truth About the Mystery of Edwin Drood by Dickens, with a bit of help from Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini.

We then headed to the kids’ section where we found two copies of Johnny Tremaine for my middles’ literature reading. I also found Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. I’ve had Ballet Shoes and Dancing Shoes for a few years now and, as a dyed in the wool thespian, was thrilled to finally find this at such a good price.

I also found Village School and Village Diary, both by ‘Miss Read’, in the children’s section! I could hardly believe it and wonder who put them there?

Last week, we went to another used bookstore and I found an anthology of Anthony Trollope’s shorter fiction, some of which haven’t been published since their first appearance over 100 years ago. I also found a copy of Stone Soup in French.