The books my students are reading now in their book groups are all chosen to reflect a theme of two cultures meeting, and either valuing one another or devaluing one another. In King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, a prized Arabian stallion is sent as a gift to the King of France — but no one sees value in such a small and delicate horse when he arrives, and no one knows about his noble pedigree. In The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce, a girl in modern England is intrigued and baffled by two Mongolian brothers who have arrived at her school and ask her to be their guide in England. In When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park, a brother and sister grow up in Korea under Japanese occupation during WWII and are forbidden even to learn the letters of their own Korean alphabet.
Every story is affected by the person telling it, or through whose eyes you see it, no matter how reliable the narrator is. In King of the Wind, the story is entirely focused on a horse and the mute child who cares for him, and their powerlessness changes the way the story is experienced and imagined. In When My Name Was Keoko, the brother and sister narrators have different roles, due to their gender and age, and have very different personalities as well. Sun-hee is indoors a great deal and loves reading and writing, so she notices a lot of things connected to writing and school; Tae-Yul loves machines and notices every plane that flies overhead. The Unforgotten Coat is all about the fascination of the narrator, Julie, with the two Mongolian brothers who have moved to her English town and her attempts to get to know them. She sees them as a tremendous mystery, a link to a more interesting place.
On Tuesday, we started talking about point of view by drawing on a story we read aloud together: Watership Down. The kids enjoyed imagining how the story would be different if it were narrated from Fiver’s point of view or Bigwig’s: what different events would be experienced, how the whole tone of the story would change. Their experience with the fully drawn characters in Watership Down helped them understand point of view in the books they are reading.
Since no one is more than half way done with their book group novel, we started our conversation by talking about setting, reviewing what the setting of a story is and then identifying the setting of each novel. Then we got down to discussing the point of view of each novel’s main characters. In the end, each student drew a picture of the world (the setting of the story) as viewed through a character’s eyes. In talking about how to do that, we started with the physical, in terms of where each character spends their time and what sort of people or things they are likely to see.
We moved into the metaphorical when one student asked if they were allowed to draw something the character wouldn’t physically see but which would show their point of view in a different way — she wanted to draw many closed doors to represent the lack of choice offered to Agba, the slave boy. From there, I could see imaginations really take off. I love the results; they show both an understanding of the concept and the way each student artist connects to the story through a particular character.