By AMANDA VENDER
Every person, newspaper, TV show and even every storybook has a message, whether we realize it or not. This message reflects the author’s bias (opinions about something or someone). We all have opinions based on our background, experiences and values. Smart readers ask questions to help them uncover hidden messages in books. See what messages you can find in the books you read, and then decide for yourself whether or not you agree. Here are some questions you can ask as you read:
THINK ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND THE MESSAGE:
1. Who is the author of this book? What is his or her experience with this subject?
2. Why did this person write the book? What is the message and purpose of the book?
ETHNIC DIVERSITY: About 33% of people in the United States are not white.
1. Who are the main characters and whose stories are missing?
2. Are characters who are not white ever the hero or do they only play a supporting role?
3. Look for stereotypes: For example, are Native people portrayed as primitive?
GENDER: About 50% of the world’s people are girls and women.
1. Look for gender stereotypes. Are girls portrayed as victims in need of rescue, or are they strong characters? Do the characters accept traditional gender roles, or do they challenge them?
2. Are girls shown doing passive things while boys are doing active things?
DIFFERENT ABILITIES: Nearly 20% of people in the United States have one or more type of disability (Source: 2000 U.S. Census).
1. Do you see people with disabilities in the books you read?
2. Are characters with a disability portrayed as helpless, or as strong individuals?
Fire from the Rock
By Sharon Draper
This is a historical-fiction novel about a 14-year-old African-American growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1950s. During that time, schools were segregated between white and Black students, and Sylvia is chosen as one of the students to integrate (mix in with) the all-white Little Rock Central High School. Sylvia has a hard time deciding whether or not to be one of the first to integrate. Her family and friends and the townspeople pull her in different directions, everyone giving their opinion on what she should do.
Sylvia’s experiences of racism are based on true events, which makes the book very emotional. To find out if Sylvia decides to go to Little Rock Central or not you will have to read the book! We highly recommend this book because it is more complicated than most fiction books and highlights the civil rights movement, one of the most important movements of the past century.
By Ryan Gomez & Kayla Robledo, 5th graders at P.S. 34 in Manhattan, New York
How to Steal a Dog
By Barbara O’ Connor
Frances Foster Books, 2007
Here it is: A young girl trying to live a good life with her little brother and a mom who works constantly. Georgina’s mom is working two jobs and her dad left the family. They ended up as a depressed, hard working family living in a car. Georgina, embarrassed by all of this, said, “I pretended like I hadn’t washed my hair in the bathroom of the Texaco gas station that morning.”
One day Georgina saw a sign that read, “If you find our dog we’ll give you a five hundred dollar reward.” Wait! That’s enough money to get a house for the family.
This book is challenging yet fun, and it is great realistic fiction. One of the messages is don’t be afraid to tell others who you are.
By Rose Marsh, a 4th grader who lives in Takoma Park, Maryland
Davy Brown Discovers His Roots
By Keely Alexander and Velani Mynhardt Witthoft
Big Tent Books & Keely Velani LLC, 2009
A white schoolboy named Davy Brown is assigned a special project for school. The students must make a family tree with flags for each of the countries of their heritage. At first, Davy thinks because he’s white and “just an American” that he won’t be able to find any flags for his family tree. He’s discouraged when he sees that most of his classmates are recent immigrants with interesting family trees.
Davy tries to fake a family tree, but his teacher gives him a second chance. This time, he phones his grandmother and asks his parents for help. The next day, he wows everyone with a tree full of flags. Davy’s tree is “the most colorful of them all.” The authors make it seem that Davy’s story is superior to his classmates’, but everyone’s immigration story is different; no story is better than the others.
This book shows kids how to learn about their ancestry. It tries to celebrate diversity but ends up making the white character seem better than everyone else.
The book also portrays the United States as a safe, welcoming place for immigrants. It ignores illegal immigration. In reality, many people cannot immigrate to this country legally, so they come illegally and live in fear of being sent back to their home country.
By Zazil Davis-Vasquez, age 15, from Queens, New York
What’s Your Opinion of The Three Little Pigs?
Although The Three Little Pigs is usually seen from a “fairy tale perspective,” from other eyes it may not be. For example, what if the pig with the brick house couldn’t afford the brick house? And if the pig couldn’t afford the bricks, would it be his fault he got eaten by the wolf? Whatever you think of The Three Little Pigs, it’s your opinion.
By Pedro Lahoz Wolfe, age 9, from New York City