Monday, April 16, 2012

The Princess Brigade

Things are going to get very busy in the next few weeks. I am planning/participating/attending the following events:
  • first annual NE4 FoS Red Maple Celebration
  • Forest of Reading Voting Day
  • spring TDSB GTA Resource Fair
  • NE4 Boys Book Club Celebration
  • TDSB East Region Heritage Fair
  • TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival)
  • NE4 FoS Silver Birch Quiz Bowl and Celebration
  • second annual elementary/secondary GN Club Gathering
  • Manitoba Library Association Conference
Today's blog post will focus on something run-of-the-mill, regular, and routine: kindergarten book exchange.

My kindergarten book exchange routine involves participating in a "carpet activity" (which changes every month) while small groups receive their name card and search for their books to sign out. When everyone's borrowed a book, we clean up the carpet task and then do our lesson for the day. I have a specific group of girls that I allow to choose their books first because it takes them so long to select. In my mind, they are known as "The Princess Brigade" because the only books they want are princess books. They are notoriously hard-to-please. They already know that 398.2 is the number where they can find fairy tales but they are rather particular about the type of princess books they want.

I just finished reading Chapter 6 (Cultural Models: Do You Want to be the Blue Sonic or the Dark Sonic?) of James Paul Gee's great book, What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning And Literacy. The chapter, in Gee's words, "is about the ways in which content in video games either reinforces or challenges players' taken-for-granted perspectives on the world." (page 146).

These 4-year-old and 5-year-old girls have a very precise, well-defined opinion about what a "proper" princess should be. For them, their ideal princess is blonde, blue-eyed, and wears pretty dresses and jewels. The challenge is that many of my books do not conform to their narrow definition of princess. As Gee says, "A number of pervasive cultural models about gender have become conscious to people thanks to the fact that these models have been openly challenged in society." (page 150). Many of my fairy tale books depict heroines of different cultural backgrounds. A lot of the stories portray the princesses as more active, less passive, and stress their intellect and kindness rather than their beauty.

I'm selling and these girls aren't buying.

The class ECE and I will show these girls all of these wonderful stories and the students reject them. I read them books like this year's Blue Spruce award nominee Kiss Me, I'm a Prince, about an enchanted prince who wants a girl to kiss him but she declines because she wants the freedoms of childhood rather than the restrictions of royal duties. They don't want their cultural models to be challenged. Heck, even the latest Disney Princesses like Tiana from The Princess and the Frog does not meet with their approval. They re-borrow the same books over and over again and insist I buy some "better" books.

What's a teacher-librarian to do?

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