Learning to cope with issues using books
Books have been shown to be one of many excellent sources needed for the intellectual growth of the human race. By engaging ourselves in reading different types of literature, we become conscious of things we did not know before. Furthermore, the more we expose ourselves to different types of genres, created by millions of authors, the better we become prepared to handle certain situations that come with life. Children’s Literature is believed to be the foundation of a child’s introduction to certain issues in this world, for they are able to relate their experiences with characters from any given story. For example, when faced with difficult situations, children often depend on adults to solve their problems. Because children learn best through examples, a book would be perfect in terms of exposing them to alternative solutions
needed for problem solving. One of the most useful books that deals with a highly universal issue we all know as "teasing", is indeed found in Kevin Henkes’Chrysanthemum. Not only does Chrysanthemum deal with teasing, it also brings forth the definition of pride, emotions, and the overall concept of accepting differences in other children .
Primarily, the main idea of Chrysanthemum is of a little mouse who loves her
name, but questions its uniqueness after being teased by other students at school. According to Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of human learning, "every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (inter-psychological) and then inside the child (intra-psychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals"(1978). Thus, the first level of Vygotsky’s theory entails that the interactions between children and other people (whether children or adults) is highly effective toward how they view specific aspects of themselves as individuals. As for Chrysanthemum, she begins to view her name in a positive manner due to her parent’s continuous praises to how perfect it is. Because her parents view
their newborn as absolutely perfect, they decide to give her a perfect name—Chrysanthemum.
As a result, Chrysanthemum begins to feel proud of her name. She acts upon this self conscious emotion by repeating and writing her name several times over. Thus, this book would be a great choice to use when introducing the many self conscious emotions that children are capable of having. By understanding their own emotions toward themselves, children become better able to understand and read the emotions of their peers. "Accuracy in reading emotions is an important social skill (Cook, 2009)" as well. However, Chrysanthemum’s feelings toward her name soon changes when she begins school.
The very first day of school is thought to be one of the most intensively exciting
experiences that a child faces, for it is sometimes the first time he or she will spend an entire day in a new environment with new people. It is quite normal for children to feel scared on the first day of school, but this fear may grow if the child feels embarrassed or excluded by the other children. Feelings of embarrassment or exclusion often come from teasing. Though the parent(s)
of a child may teach him or her that their differences from others is what makes them special, a child may think differently when he or she is exposed to the opinions of their peers. In Chrysanthemum’s case, the unexpected negative reaction that her classmates express after hearing her name causes her to view her name negatively in terms of it being too long.
In addition, the other students begin to contrast the quality within their names to the "oddness" of Chrysanthemum’s name. For example, one student believes her name to be superior than Chrysanthemum, so she states sarcastically "I’m named after my grandmother, you’re named after a flower" (Henkes, 1991). As a result, Chrysanthemum begins to believe that her name may be too long, as well as silly because it is also the name of a flower. However, the circumstances begin to change when a music teacher, who is also named after a flower, comes
into the picture. During this particular part in the story, one is able to make a connection between the support given by Chrysanthemum’s parents and teacher with Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems theory (1989). Bronfenbrenner’s theory focuses on the different factors that play a certain role in a child’s development. These factors interact within the context of the system of
relationships that form the child’s environment. In addition, Bronfenbrenner’s theory also brings forth the definition of each complex layer, as well as the interaction between factors in the child’s maturing biology, his or her immediate family/community environment, and the social landscape fuels that steer his or her development.
Lastly, changes or conflict in any one layer will ripple throughout other layers. In order to study a child’s development, one must look not only at the child and his or her immediate environment, but also at the interaction of the larger environment as well. In the story, Chrysanthemum’s feelings toward the teasing of the other children brings her to the point of wanting to change her name. Because her parents defend the value of her name, Chrysanthemum begins to feel proud once again. Thus, the amount of energy within the interaction in the home and community environment, whether positive or negative, has great impact on how a child develops his or her self-image. For example, a child who differs greatly from other children may feel more comfortable if he or she meets someone who feels completely comfortable, or rather proud, with their unique quality. Mrs. Twinkle, the music teacher in the story, is one who can relate to Chrysanthemum, for she also has a long name and is named after a flower. When the other students realize that their talented teacher has the same difference as Chrysanthemum, they begin to see Chrysanthemum as special rather than different.
I believe this book to be highly suitable for the recommended age of children 4-7 years old, for this is the stage in which children are beginning to interact with other children.Whether in play dates, daycare, or school, children are introduced to different qualities in peers of their new social environment. Since we all come from different cultures, our children are bound to notice specific differences within themselves and other children, such as names, clothing, etc… Because we are referring to such a young age, it is expected for young children to react in
various ways towards meeting someone with a different name. One of many reactions towards something different in a person is to emphasize that difference through the use of teasing. As adults, we are all aware of the fact that it is wrong to make someone feel belittled by teasing them. However, children at this particular age do not realize the difference from right and wrong.
According to Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, "moral development is a
continual process that occurs throughout the lifespan (1981)." Moreover, Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development entail that children at this young age are still within the pre-conventional morality level. The pre-conventional morality level are the first two stages of moral development, children in stage one obey certain rules merely to avoid punishment, while children in stage two
obey rules solely when their own interests are being served. By introducing children to books like "Chrysanthemum", we begin to teach them about acceptance. It is our responsibility to teach our children that being different does not signify inferiority between two individuals, rather it defines each and every person as having special qualities that make up who they are.
All in all, children’s literature is highly beneficial in terms of introducing children to issues within their new social environments. Not only are children’s books capable of having academic value, they are also capable of having social and emotional merits. As a person who loved to read as a child, I believe that books have great power in terms of helping one cope with difficult situations, such as teasing. I can’t imagine how I would have handled certain situations of my childhood if it weren’t through the use of certain books, such as Chrysanthemumby Kevin Henkes.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1989). Ecological systems theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.),
Annals of child
Development (Vol. 6). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Cook G., Cook J.L. (2009). Child Development. Principles and Perspectives. (2United States: Allyn & Bacon Press.
Henkes, K. (1991). Chrysanthemum. New York: Greenwillow Books.
Kohlberg, L., & Power, C. (1981). Moral Development, religious thinking, and the question of the seventh stage. Cambridge, MA: Harper & Row.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.