Friday, July 17, 2015

Engaging Students in a Visual Reading of Chapter 14 in Number the Stars

Papercuts from Schenker's Little Red Riding Hood
In a fifth grade e-book I am completing there is a unit focusing on analyzing historical fiction. One of the texts is Lois Lowry's Number the Stars (1989).  I want students to see chapter 14 of the text--to feel Annemarie's desperation and uncertainty. You may recall that this is the chapter where Lowry tells the parallel story of Red Riding Hood as the main character, Annemarie, negotiates the woods while attempting to avoid Nazi soldiers. There's great tension here--at the climax of the novel. Annemarie will never be the same innocent she was before this trip through the woods.

I want to slow down students' reading at this point. I want them to dwell in the text as they grapple to see-feel the metaphor.  So after various readings of the chapter, I will engage them with Sybille Schenker's visually stunning version of the Brother Grimm's Little Red Riding Hood (Thank you Tom V. for showing me this book!)

Schenker's laser die-cuts create partial views of the world and in doing so heightens suspense. We are never really grounded anywhere. Secrets are hidden and revealed through the lacy work of die-cuts as we turn the pages. In some ways, this parallels what Lowry did with words.  By having the main character, Annemarie remember variations of the Red Riding Hood story as she makes her way through the still darkened woods, the reader experiences the unsettled environment where nothing is familiar even though the woods and the path through them should be familiar to Annemarie. 

I want the readers--the students--to be unsettled.

from Schenker's Little Red Riding Hood
After the read aloud, students will have the opportunity to engage in art conversations (nonverbal discussion using drawing) through flockdraw (allows you to draw in real time with others). I then plan to invite students to work through Molly Bang's ideas about aesthetics that she outlines in Picture This: How Pictures Work.  Students will learn 10 of Bang's principles and then apply them to creating an image that is made in response to the phrase, Wolf Waiting. I want them to feel the presence of the four Nazi soldiers with their dogs that we meet at the close of the chapter and to feel this within the context of the Red Riding Hood story. 

Wolf waiting. 

Bang asked this provocative question: “How does the structure of a picture affect our emotional response?" It is this that I want students to experience as they compose. To that end, students will be issued four pieces of construction paper (black, white, red, and purple), white glue, and scissors. They then apply some of Bang's principles as they create a visual response to the phrase, Wolf Waiting.

My paper response using Bang's Visual Grammar to the phrase, Wolf Waiting.  (Reilly, 2015)

After this visual work is completed, I'm wondering what transformations students might make of the work. For example, what might happen if some students took all or some of the images and then used these with an online tool such as Animoto to juxtapose and share the work against some music?  The randomness via Animoto might make for some interesting surprises.  Or perhaps other students might like to create a text set using flickr.  I also wonder what might happen if the paper images we made were juxtaposed alongside WWII or Holocaust images.  What stories might such juxtaposition tell?  What would happen if we borrowed Schenker's methods and created die-cuts using historical images and our work? What metaphors might such work reveal?

Endless possibilities. 

A goal here is to mimic the climax of the novel: the point at which the main character's fall from innocence cannot be undone. How might this work we engage in alter us? What transformations might we bear?

Works Cited:

Bang, Molly. (2000).Picture This: How Pictures Work. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. 
The Brothers Grimm. (2014). Little Red Riding Hood. Illustrated by Sybille Schenker.  Translated by Anthea Bell. London, UK: Michael Neugebauer Publishing, Ltd. 

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