Saturday, April 12, 2014

Creating better citizens...

NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults finalist author (of picture book The Three Bears...Sort Of), Yvonne Morrison, spoke eloquently on radio the other day about her interest in teaching children 'critical thinking'. The text of her terrific picture book, with great illustrations by Donovan Bixley, directly encourages children to question everything, and children should. Blind acceptance of everything we are told is a dangerous path to tread and it is never too early to start encouraging children to ask why. Along with a love of reading, critical thinking is a tremendous gift to give our children. If they can question, and ask why, seeking clarity and truth, and a greater understanding of the world around them, we have given them an essential tool to take through life.

The meaning, the resolution, the underlying themes of picture books, shouldn't have to be dominated by closed, concrete thinking. Think The Lion in the Meadow - a book that turns on the idea of 'the potential', 'the possibilities', 'the magic' of our imagination, and even our existence. What if? we want children to ask.

And as children grow into young adults we want to extend their critical thinking while developing their empathy. Our recent 'roast busters' case demonstrates a serious need for a greater sense of empathy amongst our teens. Books for young adults should reflect their experience or challenge them to understand the experience of others. Not everyone lives a secure and happy life. If you do, you are very fortunate, but you become a better member of society if you acknowledge that others may be faced with hard choices, difficult situations and harsh experiences. To pretend that teens aren't exposed to alcohol, drugs, violence and sex does not help teens at all. Folk worry that such content might be too mature for teenagers but research shows that reading what is often deemed as 'controversial content' can help create better citizens, rather than resulting in increased antisocial behaviour as some adults fear might happen.

New Zealand YA author Mandy Hager is in London en route to her writing residency in Menton and dropped in on the London Book Fair. You can read about her experience here. She was fortunate to attend a talk by UK Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman who had many wonderful things to say about how good young adult literature can help teens figure out the world and their place in it. That's a very valuable thing.

1 comment:

Jane Bloomfield said...

You've really peeked my interest in 'The Three Bears....Sort of'. TTB is one of my favourite fairy tales.
One side of teaching critical thinking for children is giving them the confidence to question authority. Most children go through a stage where they just wouldn't dare.