ESL Book Club – The Relatives Came

I am a volunteer teacher of English as a Second Language at the church I attend. I started a Book Club that meets for one hour once a week after our regular class to read and discuss books written for children that adults can enjoy.

I read the book to the students first so that they can just listen or read along and hear the book read with expression and correct pronunciation. After sharing initial reactions to the book, we read the book page by page around the table (if it is short enough). Then we discuss questions I have prepared or comments the students want to make. At least that’s what usually happens.

Even though it is fall, I thought that summer travels would still be fresh on our minds and chose a book about visiting relatives. This week’s book selection was a 1986 Caldecott Honor book, “The Relatives Came,” written by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Stephen Gammell.

Before reading the book, I gave the students a little background information about the author and illustrator to set the stage, including this quote from CliffsNotes: “Rylant’s grandparents’ four-room house was on a dirt road away from the main highway. They had no running water or electricity. The house was often shared with cousins, aunts, and uncles. Rylant’s grandparents grew and hunted most of the food they ate. Because the family had no car, Rylant never traveled very far from home.”

Students initially responded by sharing similar memories of family visits. Most looked back fondly on these occasions, but a couple had less than fond feelings about their experience visiting relatives when they were children.

One student paid particular attention to the illustrations and pointed out some things that we hadn’t noticed. Her favorite was the one that included a boy getting a haircut. I had not noticed the unhappy boy walking away who had already been in the barber’s chair. This was particularly funny to me because my husband’s grandfather was a barber and my husband and his brother and their boy cousins always got a haircut when they went to his house – whether they wanted one or not!

As we read around the table for our second time through the book, we stopped to discuss vocabulary and questions about meaning. These included:
station wagon
why did their station wagon smell like a real car?
ice chest
bologna
all the uses of “up” – up from Virginia, ate up, traveled up …
wrinkled
after a big supper two or three times around until we all got a turn at the table
in twos and threes
particular
tend the garden

One student had read the book ahead of time and said that the first time through, he thought it was just an easy story and wasn’t very impressed. He read it a second time and paid more attention to the illustrations. By his third reading, he decided that it is a very good book.

The author writes this story with no proper names, no specified family relationships, and no dialog. It is the perfect vehicle for each of us to enter the story with our own memories, our own family names and relationships. We can recall the words and hugs we have experienced. And maybe even remember the smell of the station wagon as we traveled to visit relatives.

We gave “The Relatives Came” a thumbs up.

******************
I brought a short list of questions for discussion and, since we had not been over any useful vocabulary for discussing books in over a year, I added a few of those too.

Discussion questions:

* Does the story remind you of an experience in your life?
* This book was recognized as a Caldecott Honor Book. This award is for books that combine excellent illustration with a story. How do the pictures help to tell the story?
* What is your opinion of the author’s writing style – no names, no dialog?
* Is this a book you would read to your child or grandchild? Why or why not?

Vocabulary for talking about books:

Author – a person who writes books, stories, or articles.
Illustrate – to explain or decorate a story or book with pictures
Illustrator – a person who adds pictures to explain or decorate a book or story
Fiction – written stories that are about people and events that are not real
Non-Fiction – writing that is about facts or real events
Characters – the people in a book or story
Setting – the time and place in which a story takes place. The setting can also include the mood and social environment.

 

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

Amelia Bedelia – by Peggy Parish

The Tree that would not Die – by Ellen Levine

The Relatives Came – by Cynthia Rylant

The “10 Books” List

Mom reading to Matt and Tina - and Ginger

Mom reading to Matt and Tina – and Ginger

There has been a game of tag being played on Facebook recently. The rules are to list ten books that have had an impact on your life, then tag ten more people to do the same. When I was tagged, my first thought was, “Oh no! If I do this, everyone will know just how little I read!” And, reading the lists of some of my friends, I did feel a bit stupid and ignorant.

I was a reader as a kid. I loved biographies and mysteries and books about horses. Mom would scold me when I tried to read at the dinner table because I didn’t want to put my book down long enough to eat. So what happened?

College.

It seems like college ruined my ability to read for pure enjoyment and entertainment. There was so much assigned reading that I couldn’t find time to read for pleasure. And nearly everything I read was a textbook or non-fiction with the purpose of teaching me something. By the time I got out of college and graduate school, I was seven years removed from popular fiction. I didn’t know what authors I liked to read any more. And there was always a feeling that I should be reading to “learn” something. Sigh.

After a few years, I finally started reading some fiction again and found authors I enjoyed: E. L. Doctorow, John Updike, John Irving, Anne Tyler .. to name a few. And then another reading killer came along – kids! I just didn’t possess whatever it is that true readers have to keep it going once we had kids. I did enjoy lots of children’s literature, though, and once they were old enough for chapter books, I got to revisit my old favorites and read wonderful books that I had missed as a child. I had never read The Boxcar Children series, or Anne of Green Gables, or books by Roald Dahl. How had they escaped me?

These days I actually spend a lot of time reading – but not always books. Every day I read the newspaper and numerous blogs that I follow. Unfortunately, I have not been reading my favorite family history blogs – but I intend to correct that. I’m getting depressed and stressed reading so many current event and opinion pieces. One day I counted the tabs I had opened on my computer of links on my Facebook feed that looked interesting. 22! So, yes, I do read …. but not what the game required.

So I tackled my list of 10 books that had an impact on my life with some reservations and fear of embarrassment. I decided to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start – please, sing along) and proceed through time. Admittedly, I didn’t spend days thinking it through, so my list might be different had I given it more thought. Here is my list of books and why I chose them.

“10 books that have shaped me, changed my perspective, or moved me. Tag 10 friends and me so I can see your list.”

book cover.little engine that could1. The Little Engine That Could – I mentioned this book in a previous post about a few of my childhood books. Undoubtedly, several generations of American children have been influenced from a very early age by its message of success through optimism and effort. If you think you can, you can! And, looking back, I don’t think it was lost on me that the Little Blue Engine that could was female. She may have been small and lacked experience, but she had compassion, optimism, the will to try, and the strength to succeed. Hurray! Hurray!

Brownie Handbook2. The Brownie Handbook – This book, in and of itself, did not have a great impact on my life. But it represents the other Girl Scout books that followed and the many years I spent as a Girl Scout and a Girl Scout leader. In that sense, it had a tremendous influence on my life. One of the truths of my life is that Girl Scouts made my life tolerable and fabulous as a child who moved every few years. As a new kid in a new school in a new town, joining a Girl Scout troop was the first line in making friends. And being empowered as a girl. And singing and playing games and spending time (and testing myself) in nature and serving the community and making decisions. And, as an adult, I enjoyed nearly thirteen years as a Girl Scout leader, taking a group of girls from Kindergarten through graduation from high school. And those wonderful girls are now amazing women whom I treasure.

3. The Nancy Drew series – ah, well. Another smart girl! Enough said? Nancy and Bess and I spent many many many many hours together!

Christy4. Christy by Catherine Marshall – This is the first – and perhaps only – book that I can link with a very specific outcome in my life. As I approached graduation from high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do in life. People often told me I should be a teacher or a nurse. (What else was there to be in the late 1960s – early 1970s?)  But I knew that these professions were not for me. Teacher? I knew I didn’t have the skills or where with all to deal with a room full of kids and handle discipline. Nurse? Are you kidding me? I can’t stand the sight of blood.

Reading Christy, I felt that I had found my calling. But I didn’t know the name for it. I wanted to help people who were disadvantaged in some way access a better life – as Christy had done when she went to Appalachia to teach. It wasn’t until I started reading college catalogs that I found the name for what I wanted to do – Social Work. I studied Social Work in college and graduate school and worked as a social worker for about ten years – until I decided to leave the world of the employed when I had children.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – This one is on everyone’s list. I don’t think it needs any explanation. And, besides, I was beginning to grasp at straws in making my list. Were I making the list today, I might make a substitution here.

DSCN34956. Native Son by Richard Wright – I wasn’t sure if this was the right book, so it stood in for whatever book led me to read book after book about living “black” in America. Maybe it started with To Kill a Mockingbird. Maybe it was The Learning Tree.

Maybe it was Five Smooth Stones – a book I saw on someone else’s list after I posted mine and then remembered how I loved that book; how it stayed with me for years after I read it. I remember trying to find my copy years ago and looking at the library and book store, but it was out of print. I hardly remember the story all these years later. Would it have the same impact today? I don’t know, but I just purchased a copy on Amazon last week and one of these days I’ll get around to reading it and find out.

7. The Color Purple by Alice Walker – Kind of continuing the theme above, only several years later. Very powerful and moving. I love the conversation between Shug and Celie about God.

8. The Bible – I decided my list would not be complete if I didn’t include the Bible. What other book do I return to again and again and have memorized passages from and find new insights in rereading?

DSCN34969. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott – I thought this was my introduction to Anne Lamott and that’s one reason why I included it on my list. I was wrong. I read Blue Shoes first. I’d still include Traveling Mercies, though, because I really fell in love with Anne in the pages of this book. I’ve gone back to read the chapter on forgiveness more than once. It is hilarious and so true. That’s what I love about her. She is hilarious. And serious. And spiritual. She says what she really thinks and feels – and so often you know those thoughts and feelings too. Her books make me wonder if messed-up-life Anne had walked into the church I attend, would she have been welcomed with abundant love and acceptance and nurture and grace as she was in the little Presbyterian church she attends in Marin City, California? I wonder because I would have not been the one to give those gifts to Anne and I sure hope someone in the pews around me is a better Christian than I am!

10. Cane River by Lalita Tademy – I loved this book and need to read it again. Lalita Tademy put skin and bones and emotion and history and connection and faces on the ancestors whose history she researched. It is so well-written I couldn’t put it down. And the family historian in me was overjoyed that she included documents and pictures from her research. Historical fiction at its best, it begins with the birthday of nine-year-old Suzette, a house slave in Cane River, Louisiana.

I heard about this book from my sister because it takes place in Louisiana, where most of my family now lives. In fact, we were in town to visit my parents one summer and decided to stay in a hotel because we were “all” in town. I noticed a group of people in the parking lot wearing matching t-shirts. Later, we were getting on the elevator and some of them were exiting. It wasn’t until the elevator door closed, that I realized their shirts said, “Tademy Family Reunion.” I was so excited, but it was too late to catch them. Of course, they only wore the matching shirts one day, so I missed my chance to ask, “Are you members of ‘The Cane River’ Tademy’s?”

So that’s my list. Other books I almost included but didn’t are:
Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish and Everyday Sacred: A Woman’s Journey Home – both by Sue Bender

The Harry Potter series – many many joyful hours and days spent sharing these books with my kids

The Work at Hand by Carol Flinders, an introduction to the cookbook Laurel’s Kitchen. I know … a cookbook? The introduction? Maybe I’ll reread it and write about it one of these days.

Tag! You’re it!  What ten books have shaped you, changed your perspective, or moved you?