CM January 5, 
1996. Vol. 2, Number 12

image Books Alive:
Using Literature in the Classroom.

Susan Hill.
Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1994. 144pp, paper, $18.00.
ISBN 1-895411-71-8.

Subject Headings:
Literature-Study and teaching (Elementary).
Reading (Elementary).
Children-Books and reading.

Professional: K-8.
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.

book 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 favourite author.


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 earlier.

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 is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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