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Changing Perspectives: Childhood to the Present

Jenny Chen's picture

In thinking of favorite books from childhood, it made think about what we absorb as children and what we futher gain when we look back on the books we loved as children. In many ways, what we learn from books as children is as valid as what we later on understand, but in other ways I think that the adult view on childrens literature is more full and developed. Here is an example from my own personal experience:

As a child, I was not an incredibly avid reader, but I loved books. I loved books because I loved art, and thus, books with pictures inside were the best. Often times it would take 5 to 10 tries for me to get through a picture book because I would start reading a book and get so involved with the pictures that I would forget to continue reading. And even after I finished reading, I would go back and look at the pictures more. Once in a while, my parents would ask, "What was the book you just read (or read 5 times) about?" and while I could give them a general bullet pointed list of things that happened in the book, or a very very detailed analysis of the pictures, I was never really able to develop a concrete understanding of what the book is really about. It was not until I reached middle and high school when I had to write analytical paper about books (without pictures) that I started to understand literature. I was able to draw ideas from a book and basically "take it apart" in order to prove a point. When I first started writing these papers (around 7th grade) I was very much upset by the aspect of "taking things apart". I thought that by doing analysis, it would deteriorate the story. I remember discussing Cather In The Rye with my English teacher and thinking that it was awful that we were giving so much "symbolism" to Holden's red hat. 

I realized that literature is not just about a "story", it is about literacy in the form of a story. I find that without this analysis, books would just be lists of facts or a sequence of events, espeically now in college when the majority of our readings do not have colorful pictures, or rather in my case is a bunch of confusing diagrams that just happens to be in color. Analysis is in someways true understanding.

This brings me to another connecting thought. I think that I could have gotten more out of early childhood books if I had someone explain the meaning of books in more depth. I may not have understood it back then, but it at least would have been an introduction to what I would later on have learned. In many ways, I feel that as a child I was looking at things directly, and very obviously looking past them. This thought only came about one day when I came across an article about Joshua Bell playing in a Washington D.C. subway station. Of the 1000+ people that walked by during the time he was playing, only a few people took notice, many of which were children that were shooed on by their parents. What is interesting is that a world class musician playing in a subway station would go un-noticed through six amazing pieces. Even though some of the children were receptive to music, the actions of their parents leading them away teaches them the perspective of "oh, that is just another street musician". I know that my parents probably would have had that view, but had it been in a concert hall, my parents would have pointed out his handiwork and skills. My parents used to take me to piano concerts and deliberately find seats so that I could see the pianists hands and feet. They told me that to fully enjoy and understand music, you not only need to make it sound good, but you also need to have good technique, and they were able to show me by sitting in seats where I could directly correlate beautiful music to the pianists technique. However, had I been a child walking through a D.C. subway watching a "street performer" play music, my parents probably would have shooed me along too, passing a musician with impeccable technique. 

In conclusion, I continuously wonder how many things we selectively choose to overlook. Our literacy is based on context, but in what ways can we become more literate by analyzing our surroundings? How is our perspective changed by our environment? Is our environment distracting? In what ways can we hone in on a childs education through not only their books but their society and environment. Perspectives are built as a child, and they change as we grow, but to what degree and which perspectives are the ones to stay and the ones to change? 


alesnick's picture

literature = "literacy in the form of a story"

This definition is powerful and I would love for you to develop it.  How is literature not only story but literacy as story? What does making this distinction get you?  

The example of the Joshua Bell video is powerful, too. People walked by because they did not frame his performance as significant.  It did not have the trappings of quality/merit/specialness, so it could be overlooked.  But to equally fine musicians, or devoted listeners, the quality would shine through the surroundings.  They would be called to it by a shared literacy, while lesser lights would miss it owing to their dependence on costume.  

Are you asking how we can lead children to become independent, awake, energetic experiencers of their surroundings, so that that have greater access to the richness and complexity around them?  So that lesser literacies don't deafen them to stronger ones?

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

Must we always read between the lines? Do we Create meaning?

Great post:) I personally connected to the part about finding symbols in literature and then having to analyze them in papers. However, although I think that in many books there are "deeper" meanings, I always struggled with whether it was the person teaching the book that was creating meaning out of something that was actually nothing or was it the intent of the author to have, for example, an apple represent sin? The only author I know of where her symbols were clear is JK Rowling. Other than that, I am always skeptical when analyzing books in the classroom. I feel like most of the interpreting comes from how, we as individuals, can connect to or make meaning of the book versus what was the true intention of the author. Hope this makes sense! :)


Esteniolla M.

Jenny Chen's picture

Also, if you're interested,

Also, if you're interested, here is the link to the article on Joshua Bell: