If you have ever taken a look through some literature books, you have probably noticed that, like most books, they cannot all be classified into one category. There are a variety of types and purposes for literature. Also, as with any genre, some books in literature are higher quality than others. For my classroom and for my instruction, I do not select just any book to use. I select all books that I present my students with intent to help them reach one of my instructional goals.
In evaluating literature, I look for a variety of elements. One element I evaluate in literature is the visual aspect. This is a natural inclination for me because art has always been a big part of my life. Before I taught language arts, I was an art teacher. However, you do not have to be an art aficionado to evaluate the visual elements in a book. You must be able to look at what the illustrations do to enhance or tell the story. The colors and illustrations can help shape the visualizations that students make about the story. When my students read chapter books, they are on their own to make those visualizations and sometimes that is OK. However, there are times when I want the illustrations to shape their thinking.
There are many books where the story is partially or mostly told through the pictures. One such book is Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. The full page, colored pictures in this book are so beautiful that the words of the story may not be the first thing you notice. I love the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words because what it is really saying is that in one picture, there are so many stories. For my students, I like the opportunity for a picture to let their mind make inferences about the story. They can read the words, but the pictures can help their minds go further. Through reading literature with quality pictures, I am able to help my students accomplish the goal to think beyond the text.
Another quality to evaluate in literature is the story itself. The content of the story, the way in which it is written, and the connections the reader makes to their lives are some of the qualities I seek in the story. I enjoy the way that literature can meet these qualifications in unique and interesting ways. Take Tea with Milk by Allen Say for example. This book at first may strike you as a book for children. The reader may believe that there will be a simple message or theme to be told. However, during the reading, it is easy to see how complex this story really is. The story of a young girl finding herself is told in a very original plot. A child and adult alike will be able to make connections to the story in one way or another. These connections help the reader to shape the story. They make meaning about what they have read when they make strong connections. Literature like Tea with Milk can do just that.
For my students, I enjoy the way that everyone can connect to literature in different ways. Present a group a book and you will have many...