This year I read it with my third grade lunch-bunch/book club. One of the students in this group is a child with autism. Like many children with autism he is a very literal thinker. Only a few pages into the book he was going crazy with how "dumb" Tricia, the main character is. "Why doesn't she just try harder?" he exclaimed with frustration. "Stop drawing and start working! If I was her father I wouldn't let her draw anymore, I'd lock her in her room until she started reading!"
No matter what I said to him, or what his sympathetic peers said to him, we couldn't convince him that Tricia wasn't dumb just because she couldn't read. One third grader even got into the concept of right brain and left brain and how people have different strengths but he wouldn't let it go. "Whatever," he replied, "My brain doesn't work like that. Everyone just has one brain and it's either smart or dumb."
I think I died a little inside.
I'm also a huge fan of the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, and my school has put a significant emphasis on adapting the culture of Mindset into our daily work. We actively work on embedding Dweck's theory into our routines, our teacher language, and how we talk to kids about their work. Most of our students get embrace the culture.
My friend that day did not. In fact he was so upset about the book he told me he didn't want to come to lunch bunch with me anymore if we were going to read a book about "dumb kids". This kills me because it is a conversation we need to keep having, especially to encourage empathy with the other friends in the class. I have a feeling we will be building slow, baby steps towards breaking down the black or white thinking around intelligence, but I'm determined we can get there. More open and honest conversations about books- more character talks- more books with surprising twists to character development- but we can do it.
|My moment with Patrica Palacco|
*If you aren't familiar with the story it is about a young girl who loves to draw but struggles with reading. She tries to hide her reading difficulties but she believes she is dumb because of them. Once a teacher intervenes and helps her read and begins to see herself as a reader. The best part? (spoiler alert?) The ending reveals that it is a true story about Patricia Palacco herself. I love watching children's faces when they realize that it's true.