By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, Feb 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Fatou and the Kora is a modern West African fairy tale set in Dakar, Senegal. Fatou, a young Senegalese girl, resides in a region where it is thought by many that the kora, or the African harp, is an instrument that is not to be played by girls. Fatou follows her instinct and discovers a generational gift within herself, while also teaching her father an unexpected lesson.
The book is lushly illustrated and heavy with symbolism. After reading through it the first time I came away feeling it really and truly was a modern fairy tale. It had the same qualities of being both a good story and a story with a lesson and, combined with the illustrations, an invitation to revisit it after chewing on it for awhile.
Fatou is a quiet, thoughtful little girl. The rich illustrations that introduce the story show the reader her world and how she sees it. It’s peopled with family and full of vibrant animals and scenery. Fatou spends much of her time observing all that is around her and while observing she discovers the beauty of the kora.
It calls to her and reminds her of her mother when she was pregnant and of Yemaya, a Yoruba goddess. Unfortunately the kora is reserved for men, as emphasized the by the picture of Fatou’s father playing it with his father, then grandfather, and great-grandfather nested inside the body of the kora, each playing the instrument that has been passed down the generations. But when Fatou reflects on it, the kora is drawn as Fatou sees it and you can’t help but agree with her interpretation. Fatou begins to sneak her father’s kora out into the forest to practice everyday after lunch. Her father is dozing and won’t notice she or the kora are gone. Her mother does, however, notice and keeps Fatou’s secret. As in all fairy tales the deception is found out, but with the help of the natural world Fatou has been watching all her life, her father comes to see that Fatou not only has talent, but also belongs to the music and the instrument.
For what it’s worth the book reminds me of Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle in that it’s about a girl who takes up an instrument that is traditionally played by men. The two stories are actually very different, but you could certainly pair them up to discuss breaking out of gender expectations and limitations. For American audiences this would also make an excellent jumping off point for looking at Senegalese (and Yoruba) culture as well as West African history and gender roles and expectations in different cultures. It also shows what appears to be an average family, meaning it gets away from that narrative that everyone in Africa is destitute and pitiful.
One final thought, I love how the book begins “In the West African city of Dakar, not so long ago- in a land once compose of kingdoms and empires that is now known as modern Senegal…”. It’s such a perfect and subtle nod to the fact that “Senegal” is a European and colonial construct and not what once was. It’s also so enticing to hear about kingdoms and empires. It will make readers want to discover more about that. Highly recommend this title. Particularly important if your school or class does a generic Africa unit.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 08, Feb 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
One of the science units in our second grade curriculum focuses on insects. Each student becomes an expert on one insect of their choosing. They read up about it, then they create a presentation that features the information they have gathered. The final piece of the project is creating a 3-dimensional model of their insect with their parents. While it has to be anatomically correct (three body parts, six legs, etc.), they have a lot of flexibility in how they make the model. They can use any kind of material from paper mache to Legos. Some families make enormous bugs others make tiny ones. Some look they were more a project of the parent than the student and some look like the parents weren’t involved at all. Either way it’s usually a lot of fun for the kids and even the adults.
Knowing that this project would be coming up in about a month and a half, I decided to offer two open days in the Makerspace over spring break. Families are welcome to stop in any time during the two Saturdays over spring break and use our space and materials. My husband and I will be there to help clean, welcome people, show people around, and provide snacks (snacks are a must in the Makerspace). Sometimes the project can be really overwhelming for parents who are short on time, don’t like mess, or may feel ill-equipped to get creative. And that is a big reason I decided to have these open days.
My point here is not that you should start an insect project in your school (although that would be pretty neat!), but that you should look for those small opportunities to bring in community members and tap into your curriculum. It will make your Makerspace more relevant and can help teachers begin to integrate the freer thinking of the makerspace into their teaching and curriculum. Next up for me, our first grade has free choice play at the end of most days, I want to schedule them to have free choice in the makerspace one or two days. I can set up stations so it ins’t a complete free-for-all, but still highlights some of the activities and things you can do in the makerspace.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Feb 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Forgive me, but I’m about to get a little passionate about kids and education. We recently had an author come visit our library (shout out to Bruce Hale, he was awesome and we have a lot of budding author/illustrators thanks to him!). He was really great with the kids and had lots of interaction with the audience and at one point asked what some of the kids in the audience wanted to be “when they grow up”. It’s a pretty traditional and mundane question and we got the range of answers: vet, doctor, lawyer, engineer, architect. But we also got a couple YouTube stars. That led to a couple chuckles and a lot of eye rolling from teachers.
I had forgotten that I had heard a rant about this a few months back. I cannot, for the life of me, remember where or who was ranting or anything beyond a collective hand wringing over “kids these days”. But I think we need to stop wringing our hands over this particular phenomenon and need to step up to harness this interest. (I have a lot of choice expletives about getting off kids backs when it comes to things adults deem unworthy, but I’ll spare you that rant for now.)
For starters, “YouTube star” is a pretty nebulous concept, especially for these kids. Why don’t we roll our eyes at lawyer? I mean for a third grader what the hell does being a lawyer mean? Nothing more or less than a YouTube star. It has very little meaning to them. Except it YouTube star DOES mean these kids want to be content creators. We love to spout off about how we’re teaching kids skills for jobs we can’t even imagine. One thing I think we can know about their futures is that they will need to be content creators. Be that writing, report making, building, or scientific research. They will be creating content of one kind or another. So all those potential YouTube stars have a head start over their peers in that they already want to be doing what they probably will be doing.
Instead of rolling our eyes, we need to be harnessing these kids’ energies and interests and showing them how to bring their ideas into the world. Teach them to record themselves, make podcasts, write scripts, sing, play instruments, draw and animate, and make technology a tool (e.g. stop fucking wringing your hands over kids using technology). Teach them to make things and sell them on Etsy. Help them find what they are good at and enjoy and then help them put it out there into the world. Encourage them to be creative. Certainly if you have a makerspace, this is where it comes in and plays a HUGE role in our children’s education. But even if you don’t, that’s okay. Providing them with the support and a few materials is better than all the eye rolling and hand wringing I see going on right now.
As a fairly creative kid I made all kinds of crap. From voice recordings on an old-ass tape recorder we had, to scripts for a TV show I performed in a box, to fully illustrated picture books, to weird “inventions” out of leftover foam, and comic books. I even sold them to my friends and family so I could go to the drugstore after school and buy comic books, candy, and makeup. There is no reason any of those projects couldn’t be updated with modern technology and put online. And no reason why we shouldn’t be encouraging our children to use their creative skills to make a few extra bucks to pay for fun little things. Why should be discourage our kids from doing these kinds of things? Because a few crusty, technology-phobic teachers think kids shouldn’t want to make money or create videos?
YouTube star is probably not a realistic life goal for most of our students, but let’s not lose sight of what these kids are really telling us. Instead of throwing up your hands, help them form that interest into something they can be proud of, even if that involves wacky videos posted to their YouTube channel.