Children’s storybook springboard

The Girl Who Swam with the Fish / Secret of the dance (Andrea Spalding and Alfred Scow)

Kathy Nielsen visited us to present some of her wisdom regarding engaging students in the classroom. Kathy is a strong advocate for reading to her students. That may really not seem too extraordinary, but the fact that she advocates reading children’s books to older students was, well, a little baffling at first. However, once she read aloud to us the book “Secret of the Dance” it was clear what she was doing. Beyond telling us about the benefits of a technique she modeled it. The reading pulled us in, created an access point to the topic in for those with little experience with the topic, and allowed us to momentarily adopt the perspective of the main character in the story. From this base we were able to launch into a brief discussion with regard to the meaning of the text and how it would be a great Segway into a deeper discussion.

Following we read though a few books on our own and were instructed to select at one that we would/could see ourselves using in our respective classrooms. I selected, The Girl Who Swam with the Fish by Michelle Renner. This story of a girl who wonders about the life and journey of the salmon that sustain here people is swept away by the very river she is monitoring in anticipation of the salmon’s pending return. All at once she is transformed into a fish and she is now experiencing the things she had wondered about and through the fish’s eyes, traveling to the sea and then returning to her home stream and to her village site. The tale ends with here safe return back as a little girl where she then shares her adventurous tale with her relieved and surprised family.

The tale would serve to discuss not only the importance of the resources around us, but also the importance of the salmon to the inhabitants the rely on the river for sustenance. This is significant today because of dwindling salmon stocks, combined with untold environmental stressors like habitat destruction, water pollution, acidification of the ocean, climate change, water diversion, over fishing, and the list continues. Highlighting these factors as a threats to the natural cycle and sustainable population of salmon is worth discussing with students and can be framed in, or approached from a multidisciplinary fashion.

2 thoughts on “Children’s storybook springboard”

  1. Great insight into Kathy’s visit and the book you chose. Mine is a similar tale of the land and stories of SE Alaska. I, too, was curious about her approach to reading children’s literature to high school kids. I wonder if they would snicker. But I also think it’s a good “hook” to get them thinking about the issues you raised, from culture to addressing the serious environmental concerns we face.

  2. I read this story too, and I agree that it is a great lead in to discussing environmental issues. Additionally, I think it is a great lead into more philosophical discussions- about looking at life from a different perspective and how that can enrich our own life.

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