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Arts Integration

The Thing With Feathers: Children's Literature for Teaching Hope



The other day, while I was wasting time on social media, I saw another post about a child who committed suicide. According to The Jason Foundation's 2017 statistics, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24. When did we lose our hope? How do we talk to our students about hope and connection?

HOPE is this month's Book Talk-Theme Talk in my podcast group, We Teach So Hard. This theme has become one of our recent favorite podcast episodes, but it also feels timely and necessary. We've chosen some stellar hope-themed literature to share with you.

An Angel for Solomon Singer, by Cynthia Rylant, tells the story of how a poor, friendless man wanders the streets of New York City. He misses his rural life he had growing up and wishes for beauty and meaning in his life. Things begin to change for Solomon when he finds a special cafe "where dreams come true." Solomon discovers friendship, connection and hope in the cafe. 
I'm also recommending Train to Somewhere by Eve Bunting. The central character of the story is Marianne, a small girl secretly dreaming of being reunited with her mother, who promised to return for her after she makes a new life for them in the West. Marianne is left at an orphanage. The picture book begins with Marianne riding one of the orphan trains with other children, all of whom will be placed with families at each stop. Marianne's hopes and anxieties about finding her mother at one of the train stops are palpable. At each stop, all 13 of Marianne's companions are adopted. On the final stop, an older couple waits for her. They were planning on adopting a boy. Instead, they adopt Marianne while comforting her with, "Sometimes what you get turns out to be better than what you wanted in the first place."

Both of these books are fantastic for teaching about mood, as well theme. One of my favorite ways to teach mood is to introduce a plot mountain to my students. We chart the story on the plot mountain. I tell my students to think about the part of the story when the character's struggles seem almost insurmountable. That's the summit of the plot mountain. Everything before that is rising action to that pivotal point of struggle. Everything after that is falling action. 

Then, I play excerpts from 4-6 instrumental music recordings. We discuss which music would make the best soundtrack for the points on the plot mountain. Students think about mood, the emotions of the characters during their struggles. There's something about bringing music to literature that really excites kids. They love creating "play lists" for these picture books.

Because I was a music teacher, long ago in another space and time, I used to have a piano in my room. I would play excerpts for students to build a soundtrack for our picture book read-alouds. 

Another way I've approached this is to provide a list of Youtube instrumental tracks that I've curated. Students explore the list and then create the playlist for the book. Finally, they write a reflection that explains their choices and their thinking. 

The illustrations in both of these books are gorgeous...and wonderfully moody. If you choose not to use a plot mountain with your students, simply pairing music selections with specific story illustrations is powerful, too. 

However you choose to teach your students about hope, my wish for you and your students feel truly connected and valued. I've included a free resource to help you when incorporating music into your other academic subjects. Click the graphic to the left!

Be sure to visit my podcast buddies' blog posts about their hope-themed books and teaching ideas. You won't be sorry!

Bringing Hope in Times of Angst // Tried & True Teaching Tools
Hope is a 4-Letter Word // Socrates Lantern
Finding Hope // Rainbow City Learning


If you're looking for a great podcast episode to round out your week, give our Book Talk Theme Talk Hope Episode a listen! Click the We Teach So Hard graphic to listen.       

If you like my arts integration ideas in this blog post, you may be interested in these other teaching ideas...they're creative, rigorous, and engaging!
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