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The Children's Literature Podcast

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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. Continue Reading >>
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. << Show Less
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Little Red Riding Hood Cautionary tales about the dangers of encountering a predator &#8212; especially ones targeted at girls and women &#8212; have been around for centuries. In this episode we take a look at various versions of Little Red Riding Hood from the middle ages to the present day to see what these stories have to say about  how to protect vulnerable young people from the predators out there in the world.
Warning: while this episode contains no explicit language, it does discuss sexual predators and retells a medieval story with some gruesome parts. Parents may wish to review it before sharing with teenagers or listen to it when little ones are not nearby.
Newest Audio
Much Ado About Teen Drama The characters in Shakespeare&#8217;s comedy Much Ado About Nothing &#8212; and the social drama they create &#8212; will be very familiar to high schoolers.  The young people in this story bicker, gossip, rush to judgment, send friends to handle tricky conversations for them, and fail to consider the reliability of information before repeating it.
The characters in the play mostly come in pairs. The most interesting character contrast happens between Benedick, who is patient, thoughtful, mature, and his good friend Claudio, who is hot-headed, impulsive, and easily manipulated. Teenagers studying this play can look at Benedick and Claudio for excellent examples of who is boyfriend material and who is not, considering how their actions would affect real life relationships.

Activity: Claudio&#8217;s Apology

Claudio never apologizes to anyone for his mistakes and bad behavior in Much Ado About Nothing. He feels sorrow, but he never actually says he is sorry. Have students write a letter from Claudio to Hero apologizing for what he did to her. In the letter, he should not make excuses for why he acted as he did or try to shift blame elsewhere. He should take responsibility for his actions and accept the consequences, explain what he should have done, and offer to make what amends he can.
After writing letters, students can share what they have written with one another.
Activity: Should Hero Take Claudio Back?
In Much Ado About Nothing the happy ending is very satisfying. The wicked plot to break up Claudio and Hero is exposed, the good guys are laughing and dancing, and the bad guys have been hauled off to jail. However, if the story happened to young people in real life, everyone may have reacted quite differently.
Ask students to consider the following questions about actions that characters take in this play. Students may use the questions as prompts for discussion or answer one or more of them in writing.



* How do you think you would react if you were treated the way Hero was when Claudio accused her of cheating on him on their wedding day in front of all of their friends and family?
* At first, Leonato believes the accusations against his daughter. He shouts at Hero about how disappointed he is and even says he wishes she would die. How would it feel to be treated this way by a parent? How should Leonato have acted instead?
* Do you think Hero should have resumed her relationship with Claudio  after he had caused her so much harm? Why or why not?
* What punishment would be appropriate for Don John?
* Is it ethical for friends to scheme to get couples together, even if the intentions and outcome are good?



Activity: Modern-day Beatrice and Benedick
Choose a scene from Much Ado About Nothing in which Beatrice and Benedick have a &#8220;merry war&#8221; of words between one another. Rewrite the scene, using the same style of insults and teasing but with modern-day English. The scene could be written as a theatrical script or in prose.
Music In This Episode
&#8220;I Care Not For These Ladies&#8221; by Thomas Campian from Philip Rosseter&#8217;s A Booke of Ayres (1601)
&#8220;Breake Now My Heart and Dye&#8221; by Thomas Campian from The Third Booke of Ayres (1617)
A Cinderella Story from Ancient China &#8220;Ye Xian&#8221; is a story first published over 1,000 years ago, but it follows the familiar pattern of Cinderella stories from all over the world. People often mistakenly think that Cinderella stories are just about pretty dresses, going to parties, and depending on a man instead of taking care of yourself. But what these stories are really about is social and economic power, featuring wise young women who make the best choices available to them to escape from a bad life into a better one.
This story contains many classic elements of a Cinderella tale &#8212; an orphaned young woman mistreated by abusive relatives, magical assistance to help her enter the world of the wealthy and powerful, and finally an escape from her desperate existence due to her own good virtues. There&#8217;s even a missing shoe!
The story can be understood easily by modern readers, but learning a little about traditional Chinese beliefs and the symbolism of certain colors and animals can help readers have a deeper appreciation for this charming story from long ago.
If your kids want to hear the story of &#8220;Ye Xian&#8221; on its own, it can be found on the Folk Tales page with other stories from around the world.
Activity: What Can Modern Builders Learn from a Yaodong?

As land grows more expensive, houses become more difficult and costly to build, and building materials have to be shipped ever longer distances,  home ownership becomes unrealistic for more and more people. We ought to consider ways that houses can be made less expensive, create less pollution, and cause less long-term damage to our world. Sometimes it helps to look back in order to know the best path forward.
The setting for &#8220;Ye Xian&#8221; is in an area where people lived in a type of home called a yaodong. The word directly means &#8220;house cave,&#8221; but these are not natural caves. They are comfortable homes cut from rock using very old and very effective engineering techniques. Students can investigate the ways a traditional Chinese yaodong might help builders create modern homes that are beautiful, comfortable, affordable, and don’t damage the environment.
Have students search for images of traditional and modern yaodongs. There are two styles, both usually cut from a kind of terrain called loess. The most common style is cut directly into a natural hillside. Another style involves excavating a square pit, shaping it into a courtyard, and then cutting caves into the walls. Students can research the engineering of both styles of yaodong, comparing the traits and advantages of each style. Students can learn about the following concepts in building:
Insulation – Cave homes keep a steady temperature because rock does not heat up or cool down quickly.
Energy efficiency – Cave homes use less fuel to keep people warm or cool because of the cave&#8217;s good insulation. This saves money and reduces pollution.
Soundproofing – Cave homes are quiet because sound waves don&#8217;t travel very well through rock.
Weatherproofing – Cave homes, when built correctly, do not let water or wind into the home.
Sustainable – Because cave homes are carved directly out of rock, very few building materials need to be brought in from other places. The excavated stone can be crushed into gravel for roads or used as building blocks for other structures. This saves money and means less pollution is created by making building materials and transporting them to construction sites. Fewer trees need to be cut down to build a yaodong, since wood might only be used for doors, window frames, or furniture.
The results of research can be shared in a written report, class presentation, video, or art project.
A French Lesson with The Fables of La Fontaine Generations of French children have grown up reading and memorizing the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine, and these stories have had a huge impact on the French language.

You can’t really be fluent in any language unless you know certain stories, songs, and figures of speech, most of which are learned in childhood. Native speakers of French are almost automatically familiar with the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine, who collected and retold 239 fables in twelve books. Each story contains pithy phrases and morals that show up repeatedly in common speech, news articles, political cartoons, and even scientific papers.
This episode takes a look at one of La Fontaine&#8217;s Fables &#8212; Les Animaux Malades de la Peste, or Animals Sick with the Plague. Originally written by Aesop, this is a deeply political tale that is sadly still relevant today with its moral warning that it is easy for the powerful to escape justice, instead heaping blame upon a weaker &#8212; and innocent &#8212; scapegoat.
Activity: The Moral of the Story . . .
Have students read one of the Fables of La Fontaine. If you or your kids are able to read French, the original versions can be found here:
www.la-fontaine-ch-thierry.net/fables.htm
A selection of the Fables translated into English can be found here:
en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Original_Fables_of_La_Fontaine
After reading a fable, have students fill out this printable worksheet, which has spaces for the following:





* Name of the fable
* Origin of the fable (Aesop? Horace? A French folktale?)
* Most interesting sentence in the fable
* What is the moral of this story?
* How can you use this moral to improve your life?





Students can then share their findings with one another.
Activity: Translating Important French Phrases from the Fables
This activity is appropriate for kids who are learning the French language and have enough ability to engage in short translations. Below is a list of some commonly quoted phrases from the Fables de La Fontaine. Alone, in pairs, or in small groups as appropriate, have students translate one or more of the phrases into their native language. Then, ask the students to try to figure out what the moral means. It may be necessary to read the fable from which the quote is derived in order to get good context. Students should then share their findings with one another.



Title of Fable – Book, Number
Quotation


La Cigale et la Fourmi – I, 1
Eh bien ! Dansez maintenant.


Le Corbeau et le Renard – I, 2
Apprenez que tout flatteur, vit aux dépens de celui qui l&#8217;écoute.


Le Loup et l&#8217;Agneau – I, 10
La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure


Les Frelons et les Mouches à miel – I, 21
À l&#8217;œuvre on connaît l&#8217;artisan.


Le Lion et le Rat – II, 11
On a souvent besoin d’un plus petit que soi.


Le Renard et le Bouc – III, 5
En toute chose il faut considérer la fin.


Le Petit Poisson et le Pêcheur – V, 3
Petit poisson deviendra grand, pourvu que Dieu lui prête vie.


Le Petit Poisson et le Pêcheur – V, 3
Un Tiens vaut, ce dit-on, mieux que deux Tu l’auras.


Le Lièvre et la Tortue – VI, 10
Rien ne sert de courir; il faut partir à point.


Le Chartier embourbé – VI, 18
Aide-toi, le Ciel t&#8217;aidera.
Disability in The Trumpet of the Swan Louis the Swan from The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White is a character whose disability (he can&#8217;t speak) is just part of his life instead of what defines it. It can seem very tricky for a writer to portray a character with a disability in a way that is empathetic but not patronizing, but it’s actually quite simple. So long as the character is treated like a person first rather than just a disability, it will all work out just fine.
For Louis, his inability to speak was absolutely a problem, making it very difficult for him to communicate with other swans. But once his father came up with a creative workaround – stealing a trumpet from a music shop in Billings Montana to serve as a prosthetic voice – Louis was able to have everything he could have hoped for and more.
Featured Online Find: Miwa&#8217;s Japanese Kitchen
It can be hard to keep your family healthy in today&#8217;s culture, which makes it normal to eat processed food and sweets more than once a day. Miwa&#8217;s Japanese Kitchen helps make it easy to feed your family simple, healthy, and delicious meals. Her recipes are heavy on veggies and big on flavor, with an emphasis on very fast and easy preparation. I have been watching her videos for some time and have been impressed with the work she has done to build her small business despite being a busy mom. Check her out! She&#8217;s got great ideas. You can find Miwa here:
Miwa&#8217;s online cookbook: shinagawa-japanese-cooking.com
Instagram: miwajapanesecookingclass
YouTube: youtube.com/c/MiwasJapaneseKitchen
Activity: Musicians with Disabilities
Have students research a famous musician who has a disability. Students may present their findings as a written report or presentation. Tell the students to remember that the disability is just one part of a person&#8217;s life, and that there are many other things that define him or her. Students should find out whether the disability was congenital or due to illness or injury. They should also find out how the disability affected the musician&#8217;s ability to learn and perform music. Sometimes the modifications a musician makes to technique because of a disability results in creative new ways of playing music. If this happened, students should explain what happened.
Some examples of famous musicians with disabilities:
Rick Allen
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ray Charles
Tony Iommi
Turlough O&#8217;Carolan
Django Reinhardt
Hank Williams
Stevie Wonder
Sources
The audio clip of a Trumpeter Swan call in this episode is from Xeno-Canto and was recorded by Andrew Spencer.
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&#8217;s one exception: a melody written by E.B. White called &#8220;Oh, Ever in the Greening Spring&#8221; 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&#8217; 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:
&#8220;Beautiful Dreamer&#8221; by Stephen Foster
&#8220;Cradle Song&#8221; by Johannes Brahms
&#8220;Gentle on My Mind&#8221; by John Hartford
&#8220;Mess Call&#8221;
&#8220;Now the Day is Over&#8221; by Sabine Baring-Gould and Joseph Barnby
&#8220;Oh, Ever In the Greening Spring&#8221; by E.B. White
&#8220;Ol&#8217; Man River&#8221; by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II
&#8220;Reveille&#8221;
&#8220;Summertime&#8221; by George Gershwin
&#8220;Taps&#8221;
&#8220;The U.S. Air Force&#8221; by Robert MacArthur Crawford
&#8220;There’s a Small Hotel&#8221; by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart
&#8220;Row, Row, Row Your Boat&#8221;
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&#8217;t engage in any kind of discussion or analysis of the film that your kids don&#8217;t initiate. Enjoy every moment.
Island of the Blue Dolphins: Feminism and Environmentalism Scott O&#8217;Dell researched and wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins in the late 1950&#8217;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&#8217;Dell approached rejected the book because he thought it should have a male protagonist.
Using Karana&#8217;s direct, reasonable observations, O&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;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.
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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;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?
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&#8217;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&#8217;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&#8217;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: &#8220;consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted.&#8221; 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 &#8220;reliable&#8221; and the other &#8220;unreliable.&#8221; 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,
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