Let’s face it…we all have favorites. Favorite authors, favorite bits of curriculum, (favorite patrons…shhh!). I am at a favorite point of teaching with my second graders right now.
We have been embarking on an American Tall Tale Study. I use Mary Pope Osborne’s American Tall Tales, as well as several stand alone picture books, including Osborne’s New York’s Bravest, and Isaacs’ Swamp Angel with the children. We talk about geographical truths and wild exaggerations. We talk about humor and fear. We talk about who tells the stories and who is represented.
At the end of our study, I ask the children to create their own tall tale character who would fit into the world of Paul Bunyan. Fun, right?
Turns out, in the past, it has been super hard for some students, and I figured out that I wasn’t being clear enough about world building. 7 and 8 year olds are sometimes a bit contrary, and the moment I tell them they get to create a tall tale character, the hands shoot up and inevitably I get asked, “Stacy! Can I make a character who is 5 inches tall?“, “Stacy! Can my character be from outer space?“, “Wait…does it have to be human?“. This year, I really set the scene talking about setting, place and similarities with my students. We spoke about the realities of the time period, as well as the fact that the characters don’t have super powers like we know super powers…rather they tend to have exaggerated human abilities (though of course there are exceptions).
When it came time to start designing their characters, the students had to think about things like age, gender and size. But this year they thought more carefully about naming their character, and about where their character would live based on the special abilities they wanted the character to have. One student even said, “I think my character would be better friends with Paul Bunyan than Davy Crockett because he’s a hard worker — not a bragger”.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember we have to slow down and really set the scene for young readers. When we do, the outcomes are often head and shoulders above what have come before.