Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Children Reading Folktales

I was asked. So I gave some answers.

At what grade level are folktales being read and studied?

Folktales can be appreciated by readers of all ages. The truth about leveling and recommending reading materials for children to read and study is for purposes of order and organization. This is more for the use of adults working with children. Children have varying needs and interests. It is true that children go through stages of learning and development, but to offer and provide them with reading and learning materials only for their level is unfair. They do not deserve to be boxed or pegged in a hole. As a children's librarian, I believe that reading and learning children must be given options and choices.

As for the readership of folktales among children, it depends on the treatment of theme or subject matter and how the folktale was rewritten, adapted or originally done. Augie Rivera is the first to achieve writing an original folktale (correct me if I'm wrong).

His Alamat ng Ampalaya is an original. He conceptualized the whole story. He researched legends and folktales on the ampalaya and found none that was written on the sour veggie. Then again, since folktales are oral in roots and tradition, who am I, or who are we to claim of its originality. What matters is the rendering of the story. Is it fresh or clichéd? Stereotyped or evolutionary?

Using Ampalaya as an example, notice that the story is simply narrated and uses a sequential plot that young children can easily follow. The exposition begins with a community of veggies all happy and living in harmony. Then comes ampalaya, sprouting from somewhere one day but it was not explained why and how. No need to justify its sudden existence. Now ampalaya is entirely the opposite of all the nice, pleasant, fun loving and good-natured veggies. All of ampalaya's malice and envy led to his being the bitter fruit we all hate or love to eat. It was a result of his intent, a consequence of his actions that made him all bitter and shriveled.

Alamat ng Ampalaya is one folktale I always use as an example for preschool teachers and early primary grade teachers as a good read aloud story to share in class because of its simple rendition of a story - beginning, middle and end - its honesty, its drama, and its very Filipino flavor.

What subjects are 'taboo' in the elementary years? (death? broken families? sexuality?)

Again, only the adults think of taboo subjects. Children may appear to be vulnerable and incapable of facing such realities, but it is too often that adults are the ones afraid to expose them to such realities. I sometimes wonder if Tscriptwriterrs, MTV show producersmoviemakersrs, advertisers ever think of these taboo subjects that children may see and witness. I think that with reading, taboo subjects need not be avoided. Taboo subjects are part and parcel of life. Children, as they grow up will eventually experience death, loss, sexual awakening, separation, stress, bullying and all the stuff that Pandora unleashed.

Children's writers of fiction or non-fiction can at least respect the child reader. The book or story maybe about divorce or bullying but if it was written in a fashion that empowers the child to overcome his or her own inner obstacles, how can it be considered taboo? Or is the story written to help the child cope and enable him or her to become a better person? Are there events or instances in the story that empowers and enables the child reader? What insights, reflections and thought process can a child reader derive from the story?

For us in the business of teaching, writing and working for and with children, we still have a lot of inhibitions, concerns and issues to thresh out when it comes to taboo subjects and children's story writing. Regarding folktales, however, a reader must understand this genre of literature. Children MUST be instructed or taught of the different genres of literature - humor, horror, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, folk literature, realistic fiction, etc - to fully appreciate reading it. If this is impossible, at least, a frequent and repetitive exposure to such will help. Research on user needs analysis among children show that when they know and understand the genre of literature that they are reading, it results to better comprehension and better choices of reading materails.

Check out these titles of books and stories for children that deal on (taboo) issues - Papa's House, Mama's House on separation; Denie (Judy Blume) on masturbation; Forever (Judy Blume again) on sex and contraceptives; Sandosenang Sapatos (Luis Gatmaitan) on handicapped; Pambihirang Buhok ni Raquel (Gatmaitan) on lukemia; Xilef(Rivera) on dyslexia; Federico (Evasco) on down syndrome; War Makes Me Sad (Ordinario) on Muslim and Christian relations - oh, I could go on. For a betetr bibliography, I will post the list in my library blog about Filipiniana and foreign books for children that discuss issues and problems.

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