This is the second post covering the Tell Me Framework. Click here to be directed to the introductory post.
Have you ever noticed what usually happens when someone asks you about a book you’ve just read? I know that I usually answer by offering one of three responses:
1. “It’s about ______________( fill in the blank).
2. “It was really good.”
3. “It was really bad.”
Chances are, when someone asks you about a book, you think in terms of the overall story: you either liked it or you didn’t like it. If someone asks you for more detail, you give them an overview of the plot. Simple, right? Well, Aidan Chambers states that these blanket responses about literature actually drive children to give simple answers when discussing books. In Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk, Chambers points out the notion that children generally hear adults talking about books in terms of the general story, not about the significance of the story. Instead of focusing on a reader’s enthusiasm brought about by a piece of literature, much book-talk is minimized to merely a discussion about the plot. But (as we know from high school literature classes), books offer so much more than that! But why don’t we talk about the other elements books have to offer us as unique human beings? Dare I say that perhaps this is why children don’t want to talk much about books either?
Luckily, the Tell Me framework is all about encouraging enriching and meaningful discussions about books for children and adults with methods that are quite simple, yet very revealing and effective. For example, Chambers points out two types of EXTREMELY HUMBLE enthusiasms that children can share when discussing books: likes and dislikes.
When an adult asks a child about his specific likes and dislikes concerning a book, it is not a request for a regurgitation of the plot. Instead, the adult is asking the child to engage in a discussion about their personal fervor for elements of the story that surprised, pleased or displeased them. While the request is simple, the internal engagement a child must undergo provokes complex and detailed responses about their individual reactions and how their enthusiasms apply to their own lives.
In Honey for a Child’s Heart, Gladys Hunt states the power books have in allowing families to communicate: “Knowing someone means sharing ideas, growing together. It means not being embarrassed about feelings or being yourself” (76). I think that Chambers’ framework for sparking conversations about books feeds into this notion of communication. When an adult asks a child to share his likes and dislikes about a particular book, additional conversation topics will come to the surface that won’t just reveal more about the book, but about the child himself. This is of great benefit to parents and teachers when trying to encourage thoughtful responses in class or around the dinner table.
I challenge you to ban the question, “Did you like it?” when asking a child about a book he’s just read. Instead, request that the child TELL YOU about what he liked. Then, about what he didn’t like. If more thoughtful engagement ensues (or even if it doesn’t) please comment below!