Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“You Made Me Look Like a Genuis”

Wow wee!!  You can’t imagine the tingle of excitement when a MT student said exactly that – “you made me look like a genius”.

He was referring to a picture book that I’d recommended, The Rabbits by John Marsden (823 M351R PIC BK).  It proved to be a successful choice for his grade three/four class to introduce the idea of Europeans settling and expropriating land from aboriginal peoples. (This is part of the grade 4 Alberta social studies curriculum where the settlement of the West and the impact on First Nations people is taught.)

The Rabbits, stunningly illustrated by Shaun Tan, relates the story of strange newcomers (dressed in European, colonial uniforms) arriving in a foreign world.  The story is told from the perspective of those already living in this world.  Early contact is fairly benign but doesn’t last long as the rabbits take and occupy more and more land, building their own enterprises, taking the children of the indigenous peoples, and ends with the question ‘Who will save us from the rabbits?’

The grade three and four students were pretty ‘bummed out’ about the sad ending that the rabbits had taken over and the original inhabitants were now suffering because of it.  But the teachable moment came when the student-teacher asked how things might have been different.  What ideas could the kids come up with that would allow the natives to live peacefully with the newcomers?  The kids were right in there debating whether it would be better to divide up the land, share resources, have a sports competition to decide who get the land or come up with a written agreement.

And teachers from other classrooms were asking to look and use it, as well.

This isn’t the only time that I’ve had positive feedback about The Rabbits, either.  Earlier this year a student working in high school reported that her students had also enjoyed this book.

Perfect.  A picture book that works from elementary to high school, encompassing a lot of big ideas and inviting the sort engagement that generates discussion and even excitement about what some perceive as a fairly dry subject – history, colonization, imperialism, rights of native peoples, war, conquest, human rights, dismantling cultures, etc.

And just to fill you in and to add another layer of interest to this book, is to know that the author John Marsden is Australian (as is Shaun Tan) and that rabbits, a non-indigenous species with no natural predators, were introduced to Australia on a whim by early European settlers and subsequently have caused major damage to the land due to over population.

A winning combination – great resource and fantastic initiative from the student-teacher.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post

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