10 episodes

The Children’s Literature Podcast is a grown-up discussion of children’s books, aimed not at kids but at grown-up book lovers, teachers, parents, and maybe even a few savvy teenagers. This podcast looks into the background and cultural context of a story, helping educators and parents to deliver deeper understanding to the kids they teach. With each episode you’ll find lessons, activities, and fun that can bring a story to life whether it’s being read at home or taught in the classroom.

The Children's Literature Podcast T.Q. Townsend

    • Education
    • 4.3 • 4 Ratings

The Children’s Literature Podcast is a grown-up discussion of children’s books, aimed not at kids but at grown-up book lovers, teachers, parents, and maybe even a few savvy teenagers. This podcast looks into the background and cultural context of a story, helping educators and parents to deliver deeper understanding to the kids they teach. With each episode you’ll find lessons, activities, and fun that can bring a story to life whether it’s being read at home or taught in the classroom.

    The Music of the Trumpet of the Swan

    The Music of the Trumpet of the Swan

    The Trumpet of the Swan is an extremely musical book, though it’s not until about halfway through that the soundtrack kicks in. Every song or composer mentioned in the story is real, and this provides subtle encouragement to young readers to go and discover great music. There’s one exception: a melody written by E.B. White called “Oh, Ever in the Greening Spring” which in the book is a love song written by Louis the Swan for his sweetheart Serena.

    Learn a bit more about the songs mentioned in The Trumpet of the Swan, including the several numbers that were recorded by Louis Armstrong, the after whom the trumpet-playing Trumpeter Swan in the story is named.

    Recordings of some of the songs played by Louis in the book as well as sheet music can be found at childrensliteraturepodcast.com/music. These recordings can be played while reading the book so children can hear the tunes, or the sheet music can be used for a live performance.

    Activity: Louis’ Repertoire

    Have students research one or more of the songs or composers mentioned in The Trumpet of the Swan. Students could produce a written report, give a presentation, or give a musical performance.

    Composers mentioned:

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Ludwig van Beethoven

    Irving Berlin

    Johannes Brahms

    Stephen Foster

    George Gershwin

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    Jean Sibelius

    Songs mentioned:

    “Beautiful Dreamer” by Stephen Foster

    “Cradle Song” by Johannes Brahms

    “Gentle on My Mind” by John Hartford

    “Mess Call”

    “Now the Day is Over” by Sabine Baring-Gould and Joseph Barnby

    “Oh, Ever In the Greening Spring” by E.B. White

    “Ol’ Man River” by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II

    “Reveille”

    “Summertime” by George Gershwin

    “Taps”

    “The U.S. Air Force” by Robert MacArthur Crawford

    “There’s a Small Hotel” by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart

    “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”

    • 16 min
    Top Five Children's Book Adaptations

    Top Five Children's Book Adaptations

    Since school is nearly out here in Britain and already out in many other places, I thought I might make some suggestions for a fun movie night with the kids during the summer holidays. I’ve chosen my top five favorite adaptations of a children’s book into a film or TV series to share with you.

    What are your favorite adaptations of a book written for children? Let me know by writing to letters@childrensliteraturepodcast.com.

    Activity: Movie Night!

    Pop some popcorn. Get the comfiest blanket in your house and cuddle on the couch with your kids while you enjoy a film together, preferably one you watched as a child and which your own kids have not yet seen. Don’t engage in any kind of discussion or analysis of the film that your kids don’t initiate. Enjoy every moment.

    • 19 min
    Island of the Blue Dolphins: Feminism and Environmentalism

    Island of the Blue Dolphins: Feminism and Environmentalism

    Scott O’Dell researched and wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins in the late 1950’s and published the book in 1960. The feminist and environmentalist themes in the book, while quite uncontroversial today, were incredibly groundbreaking for their time, being published a few years before books such as Silent Spring or The Feminine Mystique.

    The fact that this book was published at all in 1960 is amazing. At the time, no media featured a female protagonist who never has a romantic partner, whose most significant relationship is a friendship with another woman, and who is capable of providing for herself without needing help. In fact, the first publisher O’Dell approached rejected the book because he thought it should have a male protagonist.

    Using Karana’s direct, reasonable observations, O’Dell critiques the idea of banning women from employment or exploiting the natural world to the point of unsustainable degradation. Island of the Blue Dolphins can absolutely be appreciated as a straightforward survival story. But by understanding a little bit more about he context of the environmentalist and feminist movements in California in the 1950’s, readers ready for a deeper understanding of the world can delve into its themes and learn about how we can be better to one another and the world we live in.

    Activity: 20th Century Environmental Efforts

    Today it is generally accepted that we should use the resources of the earth in a sustainable manner, avoid creating excessive pollution, and treat animals humanely. But in the 1950’s this was a very new idea that was strongly resisted by politicians and leaders of industry. It was more attractive to dismiss concerns about pollution, habitat loss, and animal extinction than to make less profit by doing things sustainably.

    Students can research an environmental cause of the 20th century in which scientists and conservationists turned out to be correct, and fixing the problem turned out to be expensive and difficult. Students can present their findings as a written report, a skit, or a multimedia presentation. Some examples of topics include:

    Lead Poisoning

    The chemical and petroleum industries deliberately misled the public for a long time about the dangers of lead, blaming parents when children became ill or died from exposure to the metal. Clair Cameron Patterson was the most prominent scientist to campaign against the use of lead in consumer products, resulting in improved health and longer lives for countless people.

    DDT

    DDT was sprayed on plants to kill insects. It is a highly powerful poison that lasts a long time when it gets into water, soil, and the bodies of animals. When mother birds were exposed to DDT, the eggs they laid had shells that were too thin. The eggs would break before the baby birds could be born, leading to a sharp decline in the numbers of birds in North America. The California Condor nearly went extinct because of DDT.

    The Sierra Club and Environmental Laws

    The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 and has continuously worked for laws that protect public land so that it can remain beautiful, healthy, and enjoyed by all visitors. Students can research one of the Sierra Club’s many successful efforts, such as working to pass the Wilderness Act in the US Congress or establishing Earth Day to raise awareness of environmental concerns.

    • 22 min
    Island of the Blue Dolphins: Survival and Forgiveness

    Island of the Blue Dolphins: Survival and Forgiveness

    This episode covers the themes of survival and forgiveness in Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. Although these themes are timeless, it also helps to consider them in the context of the Cold War, which was rising to frightening prominence in the years during which O’Dell researched and wrote this book. As a veteran of both world wars, the author would have understood what was at stake if humanity, like Karana, could not learn to forgive mortal enemies and turn them into friends.

    Karana would have been unable to survive physically without healing herself emotionally and letting go of those she had lost and her hatred of those who did her great wrong. Somehow, for reasons even she can’t fully understand at first, she does not take revenge when she has the chance. Her acts of empathy allow her to befriend Rontu, the leader of the dogs who killed her brother, as well as Tutok, a girl who is a member of the tribe that slaughtered most of her people. Karana’s ability to not just forgive her enemies but actually learn to love them provides a hopeful example for young readers, whether considered in the book’s Cold War context or the present day.

    Activity: Why Did Karana Forgive Rontu?



    Ask students to respond to the following prompt. This activity could be completed as a discussion in small or large groups, a brief written reflection, or a full essay.

    Karana made a logical plan to kill the wild dogs that had killed her brother. Yet, after she had wounded Rontu, she was unable to finish him off. In fact, she took him home, healed him, and he became her beloved pet. Why do you think Karana held back from killing Rontu? Why do you think she forgave him? Do you think she would have done the same thing if she had had the chance to kill the Aleut who killed her father?

    • 22 min
    Island of the Blue Dolphins: Lost But Not Forgotten

    Island of the Blue Dolphins: Lost But Not Forgotten

    This is the first of two episodes about the Newbery Award winning novel Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. This book is a work of speculative historical fiction that imagines what the life of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas might have been like. It is not and never could have been a work that reported history accurately, because the history can never truly be known. But O’Dell did his best to research what he could, and his novel ignited interest in researching the life of the Lone Woman that still burns bright today. Because of Island of the Blue Dolphins, not only is the Lone Woman not forgotten, but she and her lost culture have be the subjects of some of the best historical and archaeological research in the world.

    This episode summarizes the most accurate information currently available about the life of the Lone Woman. Whenever Island of the Blue Dolphins is taught, kids want to know how much of the story is real. There are a lot of scraps of information you can find online, and very little of it is accurate. We now know that the stories recorded in the nineteenth century ranged from mostly true to flat out fabrications by people who never even met the Lone Woman of San Nicolas. Parents and teachers can use this episode to help them feel confident about answering kids’ questions about what we do and don’t know about the Lone Woman, or Karana as she’s called in the novel. The next episode will focus on the fictional story in Island of the Blue Dolphins.

    Reliable Sources for learning about the true history of the woman that inspired Island of the Blue Dolphins

    Channel Islands National Park guide to Island of the Blue Dolphins

    Channel Islands National Park YouTube Channel

    Islapedia

    Articles written by the following people about San Nicolas Island and the Lost Woman of San Nicolas are very reliable:







    * John R. Johnson, an anthropologist with expertise on the languages and cultures of coastal and island tribes of Southern California

    * Susan L. Morris, a researcher who examines original documents such as maps, letters, shipping documents, company records, and newspapers to re-create an accurate timeline for the period of the Lone Woman’s life.

    * Steven J. Schwartz an archaeologist who worked for the US Navy doing excavations on San Nicolas island

    * René L. Vellanoweth, an anthropologist at California State University who has also led expeditions to sites on San Nicolas island

    * Carol Peterson, the education coordinator for Channel Islands National Park







    Activity: What is a Reliable Source?

    Talk with students about the definition of the word reliable: “consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted.” When doing research for school work, students should only use sources that are reliable.

    Reliable sources:







    * Are written by someone who is an expert about the topic

    * Have information that is accurate and up to date

    * Do not express opinions without strong evidence behind them

    * Do not try to persuade the reader to agree

    * Are published by well-respected groups or people who have a good record of sharing accurate information







    On a piece of paper or whiteboard, make two columns, one titled “reliable” and the other “unreliable.” Ask students to suggest sources of information that are reliable. They should come up with ideas like museums, scientists, researchers, teachers, librarians, experts, academic books, and so on. Ask students to also suggest sources which are unreliable sources of facts. They should list things like articles without an author, gossip, rumors, advertisements,

    • 19 min
    Halo: Modern Mythology

    Halo: Modern Mythology

    School’s out this week, so this episode is more on the fun side. Students twelve and up are often introduced to an ancient legend such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, or Beowulf. But the ancient language style of these stories and the extinct cultures they depict can sometimes seem alien to students. Ironically, a story with actual aliens in it might seem more familiar. Students already know a lot of the patterns of epic literature if they’ve seen the original Star Wars trilogy, read The Lord of the Rings . . . or played the first three Halo video games.

    Master Chief fits perfectly in the pattern of a legendary hero. He is physically imposing, although his superpowers come from science rather than the gods. Like most heroes, including the Spartans for which his type of soldier is named, he’s laconic, speaking only to say something short, witty, and to the point. He fights monsters and fights with total loyalty to protect humanity — even if he’ll never have the chance to be part of human society himself.

    By beginning with a hero students are already familiar with, it’s quite a lot easier to then recognize the characteristics of heroes from unfamiliar legends. Whether ancient or modern, we all need heroes to look up to and bring out the best in us. That means that as parents and teachers we should recognize that the methods of storytelling may have changed over time, but great legends are still told and should be recognized as such.

    Activity: Traits of a Legendary Hero

    Before this activity, students should be familiar with the basic story of the first three Halo video games. Assign each student or group of students a different hero from a great work of epic literature. Examples include Gilgamesh, King Arthur, Sigurd, Beowulf, Odysseus, Achilles, and Hercules. Provide each student with the worksheet below. Students can research their ancient hero and compare him to Master Chief. After filling out the sheets, students can report back to one another and assemble a list of traits common to heroic characters in epic literature.

    Worksheet: Traits of a Heroic Character

    Music in this Episode



    “Shenandoah.” American Folk Song.

    • 23 min

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