Using Literature in the Classroom.
Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1994. 144pp, paper, $18.00.
Literature-Study and teaching (Elementary).
Children-Books and reading.
Review by MaryLeah Otto.
The rationale for using this approach in the classroom is the importance
of presenting children with the best quality literature or literature
that has stood the test of time and still remains popular. Many people
claim that particular books -- the classics -- have great cultural
importance because they transmit the important values of a culture.
Quoting from many research studies on the relationship between the use of
literature and a child's linguistic development, Susan Hill of the
University of South Australia examines a wide range of children's
literature and the ways it can be integrated into teaching language arts.
She faults many basal reading schemes for their blandness and their lack
of symbolism and the figurative language that evokes human emotion. She
believes in a different approach, stressing that literature "helps the
reader better understand worlds perhaps not yet experienced, extends the
imagination and helps us deal better with life's problems. Literature also
provides a base for developing all aspects of the language arts: talking,
listening, reading and writing."
Hill's practical suggestions are intended for use from kindergarten
through grade seven. She begins by outlining how "real books," as she
calls them, enhance a child's developing awareness of what it means to be
human; how they stimulate interest in the beauty and richness of the
written and spoken word; and how they can sometimes provide
biblio-therapy. She applies her theory in four ways.
First she stresses the importance of asking children the right
questions about what they have heard or read in order to encourage the
broadest oral or written response. The former can be achieved by using
panel discussions, storytelling, advertisements, models, designs, and
puppets. Written response can be created through journals, letters,
testimonials, and revisions of existing stories. Responses may also be
made using other media such as photos, videos, radio dramas, painting,
songwriting, and so on.
The second way to teach literature focuses on the author. Here, Hill
presents a photo and a brief biography of twenty-two well-known children's authors, with Canada well represented. Each entry concludes with a
select bibliography and some suggestions for getting to know more about a
The third approach deals with the more technical matters of form,
genre, structure, style, and characterisation. Hill describes a wealth of
appealing ways to present these more difficult elements of literature.
The fourth approach looks specifically at fables, folk and fairy
tales, myth and legends, and the cultural classics of the last two
centuries. Ways to use these stories are similar to those mentioned
A long chapter on literature-based reading programs offers detailed,
illustrated examples that should be very helpful to teachers. Three
appendices include a bibliography of "pattern" books; generic questions
for writing about the different genres of books; and an invaluable list
of international children's book award-winners since the inception of
each prize. An index and reference bibliography complete the book (which,
by the way, appeared first in Australia in 1986).
I do have a reservation about Hill's occasional bows to political correctness. For example, in her remarks on the tale of the Three Little
Pigs, she admits to wondering why the pigs worked individually and
"didn't collaborate to build a great house together -- and why we
continue to stereotype wolves as villains." Come come, Ms. Hill!
Maryleah Otto is a former children's librarian with the Etobicoke
(Toronto) and London, Ontario, Public Libraries, the author of four
published books for children, and a member of CONSCRIPT. She has reviewed books regularly for the Ontario Library Negotiation and the Canadian Library Association. She resides in St. Thomas, Ontario where she continues to write for children and adults.
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Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association.
Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice
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