Cultural Literature IS Highly Important

Dear readers,

Are you interested in learning cultural literature in school or did you learn any good stories you could tell your kids or your student children? IF so, and if you answered yes to both these questions, here’s a hint when dealing with cultural literature. When you’re dealing with Native American and Asian children, in fact any kid who is not Eurocentric raised or bred in a European style home, you have got to make sure that these children are familiar with stories they can connect with. Even with the European bred children, the ones who are considered Caucasian, there are acceptable levels and pieces I could go on for hours about, but legends and tall tales are very important work of what I call “cultural literature.” Then, when a child goes on to high school, like this one young man I knew who did, they should b reading culturally different stories such as that of African and Native authors. Why bother restricting all schoolchildren to reading Eurocentric trash? Here are things to stay away from:

For younger readers, don’t encourage too many stories that put girls in a bad position. Examples include Cinderella and Snow White. However, you can use Little Red Riding Hood to teach about strangers and the dangers of thinking that grandma is grandma, but then gets eaten by a wolf, but it does teach somewhat about stranger danger. I would encourage the Hansel and Gretel iterations but the stories in which princesses are supposed to be shown as weak and meek and only marriageable by rite of the monarchy are not good for kids till they get a bit older and can understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Cinderella is best read outside the class.

It’s hard to find stories for disabled kids, but please make an effort to teach cultural literature that includes disabled kids, teaches about weather patterns and legends beyond the European princess culture. Examples, I’ve read this interesting Abenaki story of an eagle who makes the wind blow, and this one guy was like, I’m sick of it, and tried to stop the wind. When he tied the eagle up, preventing the wind from going, the eagle got mad and blew off the poor guy’s hair. You can’t stop the winds from blowing, the story says. There are other stories I’ve read too, and for a collection of woman friendly stories, especially for Native Americans, I’d recommend the collection called the Girl Who Married the Moon which is chalk full of stories about girls, girls who do things to outwit their enemies. One of my favorites is a Cherokee legend called Stonecoat. It’s about seven young women in their moontimes, women given the power of giving life, who take the life of a stone enemy. These women tell Stonecoat when he says, “Granddaughter, you’re in a dirty way,” that “no, we’re in the sacred way.” These women, all in what we’d call menstruating times, would culturally be respected because of this legend and others like it. Spoiler alert, Stonecoat is weakened by the time he reaches the oldest woman in her moon time and is thrown in to the fire, but the information he provides is invaluable to the tribes. Stories like these validate the existence of Native girls, and can be used for the study of cultral literature, provided the schools include this in the environment so that girls feel included and valid.

When a child is a teenager, going into high school, as I mentioned before, they need to think outside the bun. I think outside the box all the time, but the thinking outside the bun gives girls and boys and others alike an opportunity to embrace classmates and their cultures who are different than the Eurocentric ones. I had the privilege and honor of singing and studying African cultures, so there you have it. Cultural lit is important, and getting to know your identity and those of others is very important. Just keep up the great work when you are reading, and you will come to understand and know every thing you are able to read.

If you are the kind of person who loves to study other cultures, here’s an incentive for you. Rudyard Kipling’s character Mowgli has to study all the natural languages of animals, which lead him to becomig the keeper of the jungle law. HE learns from many people and animals, so why shouldn’t we?

Beth

School Days

Dear readers,

While you’re parenting kids and getting them up for school this fall, beware a few different things. While we’re all concerned about Corona virus and its impact on the education of children, please be mindful of the cancel culture and its impact on literature. Examples include Huckleberry Finn being offensive to blacks, as if the use of the N word wasn’t offensive enough. I think the greatest issue schools have is literature that balances between what we call “window books” and “mirror books.” I’ve covered this before, and I’ll say it again. If your child is reading insipid teenage literature, pull off the blinders immediately and demand that the teacher give them a balanced literature list instead of only modern works.

Here is a list of books I would recommend for each grade level, and a bit of why I recommend these books.

For very young readers, start with books like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which is what we call a mobius story, a cycle that goes around and around and around. This would lead to a project like I did once where we put all the pages and words to this poem about a mouse eating cookies into a mobius circle on paper, colored the areas around the words, and turned the projects around and around. I’d also recommend the works of Dr. Seuss, better known for his rhythm and rhymes but his full name is Theodore Seuss Geisel, and his widow was not surprisingly upset about Grinch movies gone wrong. But for the younger kiddos, Dr. Seuss is perfect because he writes such zany writings that open the door for a child to foster their imaginations.

When a child reaches about second or fourth grade, this is a crucial time for children to read “window books”, books that provide a window to the past, books like the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I adore Laura’s writings, cautioning that Mary and her blindness could become an issue for some with disabilities. However, the window part of this series allows the reader to observe the author’s and the family’s view of Mary’s prospects for a normal life. Mary Ingalls is not married, and in the books, the family does put her in some dangerous situations because she’s not like laura and Carrie, so read with care. I also would recommend the animals in literature selections like those in the Redwall series,, and some of these are kind of funny. Historical fiction should be introduced, especially books dealing with all kinds of immigrant group problems, including a book called Norrey Ryan’s Song, about the Irish potato famine that rocked Ireland in the nineteenth century. Norrie is a girl who’s forced to go to America and her family struggles like hell to survive, and this is an important thing for all kids to study because this story is like a lot of other immigrant stories. For Asian American history, I’d recommend the work of such authors as Lawrence Yep, a Chinese author who grew up American, but he is still ethnically Chinese. He wrote some pretty great works of literature, and we’ll get to some deep study later on John Steinbeck, but first, study this author because he has some great immigrant historical stories to tell. For the record, American girl storybooks do not count here. Kids need to be reading books by reputable authors in the literature selection at a school or public library, not farm out their reading time with Pleasant Company. While I do like the American Girl dolls, they can provide some sense of connection and girls can collect them, but what about the boys? That’s why they don’t count, and there are no LGBTQI+ dolls anyway. Children in theese grades, second to fourth grade, will have plenty of reading to do at this rate.

Fifth through eighth graders should be reading more serious works. Romeo and Juliet can wait, possibly never be studied abridged. I would recommend poetry as a clear road map to preparing your brain to be baffled by the Elizabethan English that is Shakespeare, but abridged copies of the story of Romen and Juliet can be studied in the lower grades, but eighth graders should seriously take up the study. Drama and plays would really help these grades get acquainted with things like tragedy and comedy, and these grades should also be studying Greek works of dramatic fiction or those plays based on Greek myths like Medea, Jason and the Argonauts, and so much more. Then, we’ll get to serious sexualized tragedy by ninth grade and higher, but if the kids insist on learning about Oedipus the King by tenth grade, they better learn Romeo and Juliet as soon as humanly possible, at least in the seventh grade.

High schoolers should be familiar with works of English, American, and some African lit. Let’s delve into the things they should be reading: George Orwell’s Animal Farm, 1984. Brave New World by Huxley, on top of Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, and then the Giver series by Lois Lowry. Yes, my middle school teacher made us read that in middle school, but there are three more books to read in that same universe. Read them. Prepare the mind for college literature in the eleventh grade by reading the entire Outsiders novel, portraying the Beatnik teenage generations, and then there was more. You could try reading The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, and Alias Grace, all by a remarkably good Margaret Atwood, but these books also contain both history and warning. All high schoolers should be reading books that warn of the coming future. Study Elie Wiesel’s Night, Annie Dilliard’s Holy the Firm, or perhaps Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men and Their Eyes were Watching God. Both books were amazing, and great reads. Don’t try to get the impression that Hurston’s work is bad, or that her use of the N word in Mules and Men is any more amusing than if a white person said it to a black person. These books have history and “window” written all over them. Read A Little Princess by F. H. Bernette and learn about the British colonization of India, where at one time the capital was called Bombay instead of Mumbai as it is now. Next, study Charles Dickens and Kipling, thanks Matilda by Roald Dahl,, and indeed try reading Hemingway and Faulkner. Then try reading as much as possible in the adult category. By the way, Dahl wrote some adult stories, so try reading all the classics, even in high school. Gain an appreciation for Roald Dahl’s books and learn from the master storyteller’s vivid descriptions of good moral character, lessons on children, and so much more. My favorite book by Mr. Dahl happens to be Matilda, and there is a growing list of books that are being banned from schools for stupid reasons, but let’s face it. All k-12 students should be acquainted with a balance of mirror books like the Hunger Games trilogy and that new one that just came out, and then there’s Harry Potter, and then there are window books out there by such authors in all grades like for the younger ones, they should read Beatrix Potter and Beverly Cleary. I read the Ramona books, and now they’re classics. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume should be on all the preteens’ lists. One of my favorite Blume books I’d recommend for high schoolers is Then Again, Maybe I Won’t. Of course, there’s so much you can hear in those books, but the window books should be carefully selected to create a teaching moment. I don’t have English pedagogy in my brain, but I do have an idea of where book learning is going.

What books would I stay away from if I was in k-12? Stay away from the Robin Gunn books, please. Don’t read books by a religious author of any sort, because most of that literature is more of an indoctrination, and overall, not as good quality. Yes, there are Catholics who would prefer you not read Atwood, but who cares. In MCC, there was this one book I would have had to read that was about conversion. Ugh. Boy I would have given the MCC faculty an earful about that. THS might have been racey in their preferences for literature, but at least Jennifer Dick-Thomas, my AP English lit teacher in eleventh grade, has brains. She loves literature, loves English, and has recommended we study Hurston and Dilliard, but she found a good selection of stories. The recommended summer reading list in my eleventh grade AP lit list was pretty straightforward, and I had already tucked into Night before Mrs. Thomas could say anything. I love books, probably as much as Mrs. Thomas, but not a lot of teachers are getting the creative license to teach these works of literature. Why? Standardized test crap. Here’s the key to opening the creative box again: get rid of the FCAT, Florida Writes, and other standardized bullshit in public schools. Mind you, you teachers will be happy when you and your students get together and force change, because we all know that Florida and other states where comprehensive standardized insipidity tests reign, that the government won’t do a darn thing.

Education is missing a lot of creative things, but writing a blog has been for me a creative release, therapy, and so much more. To those who criticize my choices, go away because your criticism ain’t good enough for me. You lack substance, can’t comment anyway, and there are more books out there that meet the so called standards you’re looking for, you’re just not looking hard enough.

One more note about books and literature: let kids explore what window books are acceptable in their milieu of society such as if an Asian American child wants to read Dragon’s gate by Lawrence Yep, or perhaps your Native American child student wants to read Wilma Mankiller’s bio, who cares. Kids need to find time for independent study, connect with books that shape who they are. However, religious authors that encourage imprisonment of women’s thoughts and expressions by the patriarchy should be forbidden in libraries. Instead, read books by Jessica Valentin, a feminist author who encourages people to think. I wrote a whole few posts on sex ed, and that should tie into sex ed class, but no. Books should never encourage lack of imagination and creativity, quite the opposite should be happening.

For the very young readers, make sure you also read the words, not just stare at illustrations and things. Legends around the world should be taught, and I could delve into literature that explores cultural things, again I say Lawrence Yep is a good example, but try Joseph Bruchac for exploring Native American stories and literature. Then there’s Chinua Achebe who writes Things fall Apart, among other works of African literature. There are some books that are written by white and non associated authors, books like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Sing Down the Moon, but those books have been carefully researched. Scott O’Dell is by no means just a Native American author, he has written some stories with compelling amounts of research about the people in the story. Sing Down the Moon, for example, tells the story of a Navajo woman forced to leave her home, along with other Navajo tribes and clans. She tells her story, from her point of view. This is a definite window book into history. If you’re looking for a mirror selection of books, do that while not in class. The whole point of reading is to exercise the mind, open the brain’s doors, and give the child students the ability to communicate with good idiomatic references. American English is full of idioms, so paint them on your pallet with good grace.

Beth

God Bless Books

Dear readers,

Books, I love them and I could gobble them up like food. Why? Because I discovered audible, the site everybody loves that has professionally narrated audio books. And I will still use the NLS bard site, but the book limits are dumb and I can’t tell you the half of it. I can’t do the protected notice thing and override it anyway, and I wrote about this on Facebook, saying that Audible might be a better thing because at least I can keep track of credits, and one day I will have books to read that are professional. Here’s a few examples:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is narrated by Claire Daines, but on NLS Bard, the quality is not as great, but Laura Gianarelli is a great narrator period. So … let’s think. Who would you want narrating a really important book? That would be Claire for me, so I’m going to delve into the book with Claire Daines narrating her way through the pages, but I still think Elizabeth Moss’s performance in the Hulu show is bomb. She just does wonders that’s all.

The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter are narrated by Eric Sandvold on NLS Bard, but I think Eric has a good voice, don’t get me wrong. But when you want to hear a good book from the point of view of Michael York, who narrates Brave New World in a so British way, you’ve got to get the Narnia box set I ended up throwing on my bookshelf. And the best thing or part of that entire box set is … spoiler alert, the last book is narrated by none other than the guy who plays Jean-Luke Picard, Okay, I can’t spell the first name, but the guy who plays Captain Picard, also known as Patrick Stewart, and yes, it might sound great on paper, but I can’t wait to hear Patrick Stewart narrate a Narnia book. Trenton loves the Chronicles, so we study them together, and we studied them while eating, but we looked at the Focus on the Family dramatizations, perhaps the only good thing Focus on the Family brought us. I like those dramas because they literally copy the book. But Jadis’s name is pronounced weird in the dramas, but the book does it right. Eric pronounced the words “Calormen”, “Tarkaan”, and “Tarkheena” almost close to how I’d have pronounced it, but remember, I read the Chronicles in Braille too. Harry Potter is a no brainer, Jim Dale is the best, so Steven Frye? Oh please, he can read everything else, but don’t wreck Harry Potter.

There are lots of great books in the audible collection, but I’m working on trying to see what Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book collection has gotten into, but still, I hope she’s doing another book, but I’d love to see a performance from the lady herself on Audible. Books like these are being shipped into Bard, but then, … well, here’s the thing with Bard: it’s a library. It’s weird with that book limit someone told me about, no wonder half the books were unreadable. Ugh. I gotta wait to read those books till August. Ugh.

So what is Audible’s ranking against Bard? I can’t say one is better than the other, but Bard works when books can’t be found on Audible, and the Elvenbane is an example. I love that book, and it is one of those with thought provoking questions to humanity embedded in the subject matter.

With Bard, you can listen while the thing you’re playing it on, whether iPhone, android, whatever, is locked, but same with Audible. The only thing with Audible is you have to subscribe, which I did, and then there’s credits you get per month to get books, and I hope I get audible book credits for my birthday because I want more books to read, good audio books, professionally narrated and performed by good people like … well, Claire Daines and Patrick Stewart. I think Michael York’s narrations are amazing, don’t get me wrong I think British literature is very very important, so yeah.

God bless the ability to listen to and read books, and for this summer, read as many books as possible.

Beth