Saturday, August 31, 2013

Archives in Literature: Teaching With the Example of Author Ransom Riggs

Ransom Riggs, the author of the popular book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, built his original novel around orphaned images he found in flea markets and borrowed from other "collectors".  I have written in the past about the value of orphan photos to strike imagination. Riggs' work is a prime example of what one can do with these unique and curious materials. This past summer, I took a class on young adult and children's literature. The course was part of my path to achieving certification as a library media specialist. My final class paper focused on Ransom Riggs' unusual novel and the ways a teacher / librarian can use it to teach about information sources.

Though I have worked as a librarian and archivist for twenty years, my transition to school librarianship allows me the opportunity to share ideas about information with young people and I am very excited about it. An archivist is an unusual person to find in a high school library, but I see plenty of opportunity to inject a broad view of information into my students' learning opportunities.

My joy when discovering the book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children relates to the book's melding of literature and archival sources. This book will serve as a standard for me to explain how archives and literature serve as compatible and balancing information sources. Information specialists exploring a wholistic view of information can use such diverse sources to explain how humans record, think about, and invent their world. The worlds of archivists, librarians, and museum professionals should not be separate and this is especially relevant for the library media specialist. (In fact, Ransom Riggs' book pivots on characters in a local museum. This can be used to the information educator's advantage, as well.)

My class paper argued that Ransom Riggs' novel serves as a breakthrough in the genre of fiction, allowing us to question the reality we know. Riggs' work focuses on imagery that on the surface is inexplicable when considered, as presented, without context. Riggs uses the unusual to  build a storythat offers us an alternate reality. The photographs in the book include subjects such as a boy covered in bees, a girl in a glass bottle, one child with two reflections, a girl hovering about the ground...when considered independently, one can conjecture about the reality of each photo's creation - double exposures, children working at unusual tasks (bee keeping?) and more can logically explain situations. Yet, when Riggs takes all of his images and puts them together, he molds a world of fantasy that we can easily get sucked into.

What is real? What is visually altered? Is any of what Riggs tells us truth? (He does base his story during World War II and one of the main characters is escaping from the Holocaust as a Jewish boy.) How can we adequately judge real from not-real?

As an educator, Riggs combination of archives and fiction gives me an opportunity to explore these ideas in a novel way with my students. And this week, as in last week's post about Local Archives in the Classroom: Supporting the Common Core, I am presenting some questions related to Riggs' book that can support the CCSS. I hope that archivists get a sense of how the materials in their care can support both fiction writing and teaching. Below is the handout I created for my class. I am seeking a proper venue to publish my paper on The Breakthrough of Ransom Riggs: Orphan Photographs as Illustration, as it is too academic for this media forum. Yet, I think that the handout may be useful to some of my blog readers, so I offer it here.

[My esteemed colleagues at the Library as Incubator Project have encouraged me to address Riggs' example in using primary sources to artistically influence his writing. Stay tuned for that posting, coming soon, over on their site. Thanks ladies!]
Teaching Critical Literacy with Ransom Riggs’ Orphan Photographs - Handout

What are “orphan images”? According to the Society of American Archivists,“‘Orphan works’ is a term used to describe the situation in which the owner of a copyrighted work cannot be identified and located by someone who wishes to make use of the work in a manner that requires permission of the copyright owner” (SAA, 2009). Images found at flea markets, like those that are used by Ransom Riggs are usually “orphaned.” They have no provenance and little, if any, identifying information.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children can be a useful tool for helping to teach critical literacy. Orphan images can be used on their own for close reading exercises or can be considered with the text to discuss the nature of information. The following is a list of some questions that can be considered when using Riggs’ work to align with English Language Arts Anchor Literacy standards of CCSS (Common Core State Standards Initiative).

·         Consider the title Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. What does the title tell us about the content of the book? How do the book’s photographs emphasize the tone first set by the title?
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

·         Ransom Riggs uses his photographs to tell a rather “creepy” story. Examine two of the images from the book without their accompanying text. What other stories can you create to explain what is happening in the images?
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

·         How do the images in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children add to the sense of the fantasy, horror, adventure, mystery and history in the story?
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words

·         How can we tell if the images in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children are “real”? (Hint: Consider this question beyond the images themselves. Examine the text of the whole book for information and research additional sources to back up your conclusions.)
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

·         Compare how images are used in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children versus The Emigrants [Sebold, 1992].  Discuss how the use of images is similar and how it is different. Incorporate a discussion of how both texts use the Holocaust as a backbone to their stories.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

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