There are many short books appropriate to bibliotherapy. The Friendship, by Mildred Taylor, is an excellent selection. Part of its force lies in the fact that it is only 56 pages long. We are concerned with the themes of he book, not the reading level. Picture books are available that work exceptionally well with youth. They are quick to read, and good quality illustrations capture the attention of our TV generation. Poetry can also be used with great effect.
How do you develop lessons using fiction? There are three phases to preparing this type of session:
- Reading the book. This may seem obvious, but unless you read a great deal of children’s and young adult literature you will be surprised at the variety and quality available to you. Books that address the need to belong to a social group while maintaining one’s own identity are important to middle and high school students.
- Plan discussion questions related to the book. Questions will probably come to mind as you read the book. Keep a note pad handy to write them down. They should focus on the themes in the story and build to applying ethics to specific situations. Questions should be open-ended. Avoid “yes” or “no” answers. Have a “menu” of questions available. Some will work better than others depending upon your group. When you go to a restaurant, you are not obligated to order everything on the menu. The question menu works in the same way. Select those questions that are best suited to the moment and the themes under discussion. Do not try and include all your questions just because you have them written down. The menu follows these stages:
a. The story itself. What are the feelings of the characters in the story? What strengths do they have to help them cope? This may or may not be spelled out in the story.
b. Student reaction to the story. How do you feel about what happened in the story and to the characters? This is a perfect time for, “What would you do?” questions.
c. Moving outside the story to insight and into life application. Discuss situations focusing on the most important concepts for that lesson.
- Lead the discussion as if on a nature walk. Allow the conversation to flow where the group wants to take it. Stop periodically to examine topics in depth. You may have a terrific question that you are anxious to ask; however, if you force the discussion to soon it may fall flat and you will not receive the response you wanted. This does not mean that you should allow your group to get off the path of the book. You can always pull them back by asking another question. Allow everyone an opportunity to talk without forcing students to share. It is a discussion, not a debate with right and wrong answers.
The more you use literature with youth the more comfortable you will become with the process. You can lead students through life’s stages by providing them information and guidance in problems and challenges.