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Two picture books | Class #5, 2016

 arrival    The Wall

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Scholastic, 2007)

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís  (Farrar, 2007)

Though not the typical purview of adolescents, sophisticated picture books such as these offer rich rewards for readers/viewers with an experienced eye. Consider prior knowledge older students can bring to these works and connections they might draw, as well as new information or perspectives to be gained through their exploration.

Lauren Adams About Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.

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  1. Naomi Forman says:

    While reading both of these illustrated books, I couldn’t help but imagine how they’d inspire deep and engaging discussions in the classroom. Students who struggle with reading might particularly appreciate them, as reading level is not so crucial to understanding and interpretation. In order to engage students in close analysis, teachers could open to a particular page and ask students to interpret and explain the visuals they see. In the Peter Sis book, for example, I can imagine the pages that show the Spring of 1968 (I don’t see any page #s…) providing great springboards for picture analysis and discussion. Teachers might ask how each of the mini drawings on these pages represent freedom and/or rebellion against the Communist leadership, or why the colors are significant. I also would consider using this book as a companion text to books that deal with government control and rebellion, like Animal Farm or Brave New World.

    The Shawn Tan book provides important opportunities to tap into students’ personal experiences and family histories. Students could share their own immigration stories, or those of their grandparents and great-grandparents, and compare those stories to the one in The Arrival. Teachers could ask students to draw parts of their own experiences or represent them through other creative media.

  2. Karen Tlili says:

    I thought that the Shaun Tan book was especially poignant for me following our project on Adolescents in War. The books I read were both about refugees and I thought that The Arrival would pair with these books so well. It would help adolescent readers sympathize with the immigrant experience. I thought it would also be a great book for immigrant and/ or ELL readers to be able to access a text, both because of the content area and the wordlessness of the book. Students with limited English could read and respond to the text in their own language or it could be used as a shared reading and writing activity to expand literacy skills.
    I also loved the use of non-English characters and unidentifiable places, animals, and food. At first, it was really off-putting for me. But then, it really brought forth the alien-like feelings of being in a new place that is so different from what you are used to. Within this alien landscape, people were able to find each other to help guide them on their journey. It was a very powerful message and it helped me to think about the journey from another person’s perspective.

  3. Kate Cunningham says:

    I needed to “read” both of these books a few times, because each time I looked at them I was able to glean something new. The amount of ideas that Shaun Tan is able to portray without words was incredible – to Karen’s point, at first the unidentifiable places and creatures confused me, but looking through the book again I realized what I was feeling was just a small fraction of what an immigrant might feel when he sees language, customs and places that are completely unfamiliar. Like Naomi and Karen, I am also a fan of wordless books. I think they work for struggling readers and ELL students not only because reading difficulties aren’t a barrier, but also because they promote language practice when students share with each other what they are seeing and learning from a picture. I can imagine “The Arrival” works really well for this purpose for adolescents.
    Where to start with “The Wall?” So intricate and clever and so rich for issues adolescent readers can talk about – the use of only black and red to depict life in Communist Prague and then bursts of color to depict life in the West; the portrayal of the secret police as pigs; subtle changes in facial expression to show emotion. I was also amazed at how clearly Sis was able to use both his drawings and short descriptions to explain a period in history that can be confusing to understand, even for adults. I can’t wait to hear what others thought!

  4. Sophie Blumert says:

    I really had to spend a lot of time with “The Wall” and would carefully study all of the images to make sure that I was getting a full comprehensive story. Peter Sis does a great job contrasting multiple stories – the one of a boy who loved to draw, the other about the development of communist Russia, the influence of Western culture in people’s lives, and then tying them all together. I also loved the use of bright color to represent freedom and rebellion against the very bland backdrop of Russia during this time in history.

    Adolescents in the context of the classroom may have learned about the Cold War in their history classes, so they will likely have some background knowledge about this time period of history. However, history is often told through an American lens, meaning that we focus more on how this time affected the United States rather than other countries involved. So learning about the Cold War from a different perspective provides adolescents with a new type of exploration and an opportunity to understand a person that is not from the same place as them, to see more than one side to the story. And like the previous comments mentioned, the use of the picture book to describe this era is incredibly useful, since it was such a complex period of history that I even still struggle to understand. Using illustrations and telling from the point of view of one boy growing up in Russia gives the reader another level of understanding.

  5. Natalie Nihill says:

    While reading both The Arrival and The Wall, sound-clips from recent presidential debates resounded.
    “A HUGE Wall! Immigrants from scary places! Fear mongering of the “other”! Critiques of capitalism, free-speech, and militarization!”

    These historical/magically altered-historical stories and their themes, seem especially salient and transcendent. As a teacher, I am always trying to find engaging entry points through literature, for students to explore history’s universal truths and contemporary realities.
    I agree with the comments above the both texts could be used in aiding ELL’s reading comprehension skills. The detailed illustrations allow students to use other reading comprehension skills like inferring, meta-cognition, critical thinking, perspective taking, etc. and don’t require reading grounded in vocabulary knowledge or knowledge of English language decoding skills. Still, Sis’ text requires quite a bit of background knowledge, which could be accessible to an ELL student from a former-USSR state, but could be difficult to access for a US born student with no knowledge of the USSR.
    For me, The Arrival, is really a unique text that I can see to be used with so many different students, gifted, LD, ELL, immigrant-non-ELL, low-achieving, and any combination of the former category. By removing language or a context secured in reality, every reader’s comprehension is formed through the glass of windows and mirrors. The value of background and vocabulary knowledge as every reader is entering the text on an almost equitable level. Inequitably lingers in the cognitive development of higher order thinking skills that can be developed through among other things: exposure to direct instruction and practice of those skills sets, neuro-biological/developmental predispositions, etc.

    Nevertheless- I think about the usefulness of stripping away text, which we may take for granted, and considering how our we would acquire knowledge and interpret the world. This also ties into the themes of “knowledge affords power,” and the question of “how do we acquire knowledge?” that are strung through the novels of “One Crazy Summer,” “Far Far Away,” and “Feed.”

    I could go on and on. Can’t wait to discuss!

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