Kid’s Lit Book Club for Adult ESL Students

Not family history, but it’s my life…

I’ve been a volunteer English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for about 10 years at the church I attend. Our students are adults and come from all over the world, which is perfect for me because my only language is English! I love children’s books and believe that they can be a great vehicle for increasing vocabulary, improving fluency, increasing cultural literacy, and prompting discussion. You have to choose well, but there are so many good books to choose from! Others have written about the value of using children’s literature in the adult ESL classroom, so I”ll just say, “I agree!”

My first experience using children’s literature in an adult ESL class was several years ago. I knew that teaching fairy tales and folk tales is valuable because of all the cultural references that come from such stories – cry wolf, not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin, juusst right!, and so on. These are lost on our students unless they know the story behind the words. Here’s a scary example …

 

One summer our lead teacher left the rest of us in charge, so I used the opportunity to try out some lessons using these old stories for children. I included The Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and Little Red Riding Hood.

FullSizeRender (31)Then I got a little braver and tried a contemporary book. The book I chose was “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch. I chose it for several reasons. It is a sweet story that is relatable cross-culturally. There are patterns of speech and repetition and rhythm that just scream “I can help with fluency!” Although there is a sadness to the story, there is also humor. The vocabulary is accessible to a range of students. But I worried that the men especially might not like it or might think it a silly book for us to read. I hoped for the best.

I need not have worried. One of the men, a young pediatrician/anesthesiologist from Iraq, said, “This is one of the best books I have ever read!” Success!

Years passed. Then an article on my Facebook feed gave me the inspiration to start a book club: 7 Children’s Books Every Adult Should Read

I started the Book Club a year ago in April and followed book suggestions from the article linked above. Our first book was “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” We still haven’t read all seven books on this list, but we have read a good many more than seven.

Book Club meets for one hour once a week after our regular two-hour class. The largest attendance has been about 15; we usually have eight-ten participants. We are comfortable sitting around a large table, which facilitates discussion and also the sharing of books. We never have a book for everyone. I encourage students to get a library card and I try to pick books that are available at the library. It works well enough if there is a book for every three students to share. Sometimes I can find a pdf online, post the link, and bring my iPad for students to use along with their phones and tablets – but often the illustrations are missing or incomplete and page breaks don’t always match up.

A typical Book Club goes like this:
* I provide a little background information about the book/author
* I read the book aloud to students, showing illustrations if needed
* I solicit initial reactions
* If the book is short enough, we read the book again, going around the table with each student reading a page
* I have discussion questions prepared, but if students are ready with questions or comments of their own, I let them go for it.

I don’t have a set criteria for selecting books, but I do have some general parameters. I have often selected books I own and enjoyed sharing with my children when they were young. Many of these books were popular/published during the 1980s-90s.

I choose books that can be read at least one time through with plenty of time left for discussion within our one hour time frame. I sometimes time myself reading the book aloud to determine if it is doable. When students read the book around the table, it always takes longer than when I read it to them, so I weigh the importance of a second reading. Sometimes I suggest that students just listen to me read and not read along to see how much of the story they get just by listening. I also want them to hear the rhythm of English, the intonation, and the permission to be silly, if called for. A book read to children requires that you read with emotion – and sometimes voices! – not the rote same-tone style often used by those learning a language.

FullSizeRender (32)Many of the books I select are Caldecott books; some books are classics – maybe not award-winning, but so much a part of the culture that they have a significance beyond accolades. Sometimes I select by theme, season, or author.

I am always delighted by the conversations the books provoke and am often blown away by the observations and insights offered by the students. So often they see something in the illustrations that I totally missed, or understand the story from a different perspective. I can honestly say that we learn together. And I love it when they understand the humor in a story!

Added benefits for me:
* I do a little research about the books and authors in preparation and I have learned many things that I did not know before.
* I’ve discovered some wonderful books that I did not know.
* When I felt comfortable starting the Book Club, it was a true indication that my chemo brain was improving. I was finally able to plan an activity and choose books to read! This was a really big deal for me and motivated me to continue.

ESL Book Club Reading List:

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – by Judith Viorst

Where the Wild Things Are – by Maurice Sendak
In the Night Kitchen – by Maurice Sendak

The Paper Bag Princess – by Robert Munsch

Love You Forever – by Robert Munsch

From Far Away – by Robert Munsch

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears – by Verna Aardema

Legend of the Bluebonnet by – Tomie de Paola

The Little Engine That Could – by Watty Piper

Charlotte’s Web – by E. B. White (This was a several week book study)

When I Was Young in the Mountains – by Cynthia Rylant

Grandfather’s Journey – by Allen Say

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch – by Trinka Hakes Noble

Miss Nelson is Missing – by Harry Allard

The Cat in the Hat – by Dr. Seuss

The Sneetches – by Dr. Seuss

Horton Hears a Who – by Dr. Seuss

A Visit form St. Nicholas

The Polar Express – by Chris Van Allsburg

The Story of Ferdinand the Bull – by Munro Leaf

The Missing Piece Meets the Big O – by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree – by Shel Silverstein

The Snowy Day – by Ezra Jack Keats

The People could Fly: The Picture Book – by Virginia Hamilton

Tar Beach – by Faith Ringgold

The Legend of The Indian Paintbrush – by Tomie de Paola

Miss Rumphius – by Barbara Cooney

A Chair for my Mother – by Vera B. Williams

Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats

The Gardener – by Sarah Stewart

The Lorax – by Dr. Seuss

Last Stop on Market Street – by Matt de la Pena

The Keeping Quilt – by Patricia Polacco

Fiona’s Lace – by Patricia Polacco

Thank You, Mr. Falker – by Patricia Polacco

Chicken Sunday – by Patricia Polacco

What’s next???

On This Day – March 27, 1927

John Norman Webber and Beatrice Irene Jensen were married March 27, 1927 in Tyler, Minnesota.

Webber, John Norman wedding 1927

Norman was the first child of Myron David Webber and Dorinda Rebecca Strange. He was my grandmother Abbie’s older brother and my great-uncle.

This quote from a Webber family newsletter sheds light on how Norman, who lived in Iowa met Irene, who lived in Minnesota:
Their first summer in Iowa City, Myron, Dorinda and 6 of their children lived in a tent in City Park – with no sleeping bags. It was a momentous summer – here in the park, Norman met Irene, who was in town visiting her cousin Phil Norman.

And here we have a picture of Irene, Norman, and a woman whom I would guess is Irene’s mother. The photo is identified with these words:
1926
In Tyler
Showing my ring
Irene
Webber, John Norman and Irene 1926 Tyler, MN Showing my ringIrene looks really happy, but she’s not giving us a good view of that ring!

Twenty-three guests signed the memory book at the wedding. There are no names from Uncle Norman’s family.

N-Guest List wedding Norman&Irene Webber363 (1)

Attendees of the wedding of Norman and Irene Webber

Cousins have been emailing back and forth the past few days helping me by sharing information and documents. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!) Some had heard that there was a rush to the altar, but no one knows for sure. Whether or not this was a “shotgun wedding” – perhaps due to a false alarm – it was a marriage that lasted and all agree that their love for one another was genuine.

The photo on the left was taken on their 1st Anniversary. The photo on the right on their 22nd Anniversary in 1949.

1st-anniv-1928 (1) copy                22nd Anniversary

And here we have Norman and Irene opening gifts on their 25th anniversary at the home of Ersel Webber Addis and Laird Addis.
Webber, John Norman 25th wedding anniversaryUncle Norman was known to have rather unruly hair.

Norman and Irene lived in West Lucas Township, near Coralville in Johnson County, Iowa for many years. They appear there in both the 1930 and 1940 census. Norman and Irene lived a simple rural life as described in this undated story by Norman:
Webber, John Norman writings pg 1 This is our home, 1927_20170325_0001

"Goat Island"

“Goat Island” Click to enlarge

Uncle Norman may not have given a monetary value to his home, but the 1930 census taker valued it at $300. To give some context, other homes on that page were valued in the thousands. Uncle Norman earned his living as a plasterer and it was not full-time work.

I love Uncle Norman’s sense of humor and writing style. “After leaning lean-tos completely surround the house and lean-tos leaning lean-tos to the lean-tos, we are beginning to feel just a bit crowded again. Shall we repeat the cycle?”

Norman’s words: “We have learned to live with the two of us” seem to echo their sense of loss in having no children. But this story also makes clear that Norman and Irene felt great joy in having nieces and nephews come to visit and be a part of their lives. As cousin Yvonne wrote in an email, “We are their children.”

In later years, Norman and Irene lived with Norman’s parents in Iowa City. They also lived in a house on the property of Norman’s sister Abbie and her husband Charles (my grandparents). I wrote a little about their home and business in Charles’ and Abbie’s Place.

One more story for this wedding anniversary post. As a wedding gift, Uncle Norman gave one of his nephews and his bride a “kissing stool” because of their height difference. As you can see, Uncle Norman was well acquainted with this particular problem.
n-i-6 copy

 

Election Day 2016

I felt the need to wear some inspiration on this election day, so as I hurried out the door, I grabbed a few accessories. Perhaps I am a bit mismatched, but oh well.

img_3074-1

1. The peace symbol necklace was a gift from my great-grandmother, who was a devout Christian and a staunch Democrat. She loved us and she liked us. I wear it for all the matriarchs and mothers who have given me an inheritance of love and strength.
2. The earrings are a gift made by an ESL student from Mexico who is now an American citizen. I wear them for the immigrant community in Austin and in the United States, for refugees in peril, and for my immigrant ancestors.
3. The bead necklace was brought back from Iran by one of my students. I wear it for those who are marginalized, ostracized, or victimized because of nationality, religion, skin color, sexual orientation, language, custom, or disability.
4. My Wendy filibuster shoes. I wear them for all the women who stand when they are too tired to stand, don’t eat until others are fed, and who work tirelessly. I wore them when I filibustered cancer and I wear them today for all who need affordable and accessible health and reproductive care.
5. To complete my outfit, I’m wearing jeans because there is a lot of work to do for justice and mercy and because there is a lot of playing to do too.
6. I’m wearing my white shirt for the suffragettes and feminists who struggled before me and who continue the work today.

Now back to that peace symbol – that is my deepest wish, intention and prayer for us today. May we seek peace, may we find peace, may we share peace.