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National Editorials & Columns

Literacy weaves itself into our lives

Last week I encouraged you to thank a teacher. Hopefully, there was a teacher or other person in your life who taught you to love reading and/or writing.

You may remember a class that taught you things like: recognizing an author’s purpose; using context clues; seeing relationships/analogies; predicting outcomes, and more. You most likely did not appreciate learning them, but what you may or may not know is that you use those skills every day without the labels.

Think about times you have needed to evaluate a project in your home or work life. Our success often comes from learning to analyze well. Literacy weaves itself into our lives.

You may or may not remember learning about what is referred to as inferential comprehension which means understanding the author’s purpose, drawing conclusions, catching character formation, and anticipating outcome. It would be a funny world if you took everything literally and it could have some serious consequences.

Have you ever been given directions as you drive? They said, “Turn left.” To be sure you understood, you said, “Turn left?” to which they answered, “Right.” I long ago learned to say “correct” so the message didn’t get confusing and perhaps dangerous.

So you know you need more than literal interpretation to understand and you know you need more than interpreting through words, body language, etc. to see underlying meaning. The more challenging aspect of literacy is called critical evaluation, which doesn’t mean you criticize. It means as a reader you analyze ideas and information in the story or material and compare and contrast it to what you already know, and then you reason with it.

This skill can be lost if you don’t continue to work on it. It means you have to interact with the material and try to discover hidden meaning. You connect A with B and then to C, etc. Any symbol or logo needs this type of evaluation. Being literate also means choosing to make stereotypes diminish and vanish.

November is “Native American Month,” and since I belong to the Potawatomie nation, I am interested in learning about other Native American nations.  American Indians are actually part of nations, though people often think of them as tribes or they lump all Native Americans together. 

There are more than 500 “nations,” some on reservations, but most not. Each nation has its own history and traditions. People sometimes identify a craft with a nation, such as turquoise jewelry with the Navajo Nation.

Literacy helps us realize that a people are more than what they are known for, so I encourage you to read with children and for yourself and expand your understanding.

Each week during November I plan to share a few Native American books in each age category. The Newton Public Library’s Children’s Librarian gave me some good sources to check out. Like any list, it is overwhelming, so I can really only pick out a few and hope that you will read some books from the Native American perspective and learn some new things and get rid of some stereotypes.

Usually, when I say I am part Potawatomie, people are surprised because I don’t look that heritage. Then they often start treating me differently which in our day and age surprises me. Though we may look different or not, we all need to be proud of all of our heritages.

This week I’d like to highlight a few board books. Board books are for the very young reader and are sturdy so they can be handled, by little hands. They are usually beautifully illustrated and the words are impact information.

My very favorite one is Debby Slier’s “Cradle Me.” I fell in love with this one at the library. Each page has a photo of a Native baby sleeping, smiling, etc. and a blank line to write down that word in another language. The final pages identify the tribal nation from which each baby belongs.

Each of the books I list this month are written or illustrated by a Native author or illustrator, and in some way indicate specific Native American nations. Several other board books I find exciting are: 

• “Baby Learns about Colors,” by Beverly Blacksheep. It is one of a series of eight bilingual books with Dine (Navajo) and English text that feature a baby girl, her growth, and things she learns in a tribally specific context. Other books in the series are “Baby Learns about Animals,” “Baby Learns about Seasons,” “Baby Learns about Senses,” “Baby Learns about Time,” “Baby Learns about Weather,” “Baby Learns to Count,” and “Baby’s First Laugh.”

• “I See Me,” by Margaret Manuel

• “Our Journey,” by Lyz Jaakola, illustrated by Karen Savage-Blue.

Enjoy investigating a new area with a child in your life.

Until next week — Christine Pauley

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