A Little Knowledge Can Be a Dangerous Thing

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Reading books with 6th grade students is wonderful.  The kids are imaginative and enthusiastic – and they are just beginning to understand the power of good literature. One of the concepts I introduce to kids this age is symbolism.  In order to show the students how authors use symbols to convey meaning, we begin with picture books.  I might show a picture of a character who feels sad and point out that it is no coincidence that the accompanying picture often includes closed windows and doors.  Then we look at the end of the book where, of course, the sun is out, the birds are singing and the windows are wide open.  The book I most often use to introduce this lesson is Albert by Donna Jo Napoli.

From there, we begin looking for symbols in text.  I direct them to clues that point to some further development in a story.  For example, calling attention to a garden that was stagnant during the book’s central conflict, but has new buds on the trees at the end (Skellig by David Almond).  I encourage them to pay attention to things that may have escaped their attention when they were younger readers: colors, weather, windows, and most of all – gardens.  The “a-ha” moments are theirs, not mine, but it’s rewarding to watch them begin reading at a higher level.  It’s literally as if a light switch has been flipped on when they see that in Edward Bloor’s novel, Tangerine, the character who wears glasses because he is partially blind, actually “sees” better than anyone else in the book.

In their eagerness to practice their new skill, the kids begin finding things where nothing is there.  They think every thing has a hidden meaning.  I always think of Natalie Babbit, the author of Tuck Everlasting, who when asked about the meaning of the man in the yellow suit, tells people that she was looking for a color with two syllables.  Regardles of their stumbles along the way (no, that is just a pizza – the fact that it is a circle means that it was cooked in a circular pan), it is a privilige to watch them continue their journey as readers and thinkers.

A New View


The new window in the Inly library

I have a new window.

It’s right across from my desk in the Inly School Library, and when I look out I can see kids coming into school or parents chatting in the parking lot.

While I’ve always loved the Inly Library, I love it even more now.  Before last week, I could not see outdoors unless I opened the door and allowed every wasp and bee in the area to browse through the collection.  Bees and wasps scare me so I often just sweated it out—literally.  But now…it’s bright and breezy and the room looks bigger and more welcoming.

Libraries should have windows.  Reading a novel is like walking down a street at night and looking in your neighbor’s window.  As cliche as it sounds, every book is like taking that nighttime walk.  They each offer a different view—from the curb or the window.

One of my favorite picture books is about windows—Albert by Donna Jo Napoli.  Albert lives alone in his apartment, and he’s afraid to go outside because the weather may be less than perfect.  One day, while reaching his arm outdoors, cardinals land on his hand and build their nest.  Of course, Albert is stuck.  He can’t pull his hand back inside or the birds will die.  So, while standing and watching the world go by, Albert sees that while the weather may not always be perfect, there are many reasons to go outside.