I ended up reading Rules of Summer to Year 9s classes and a couple of Year 7s and 8s too. I have varying success, considering it was the last week of term, and six of the classes were on the last day of term. I think the Year 7s engaged with it the most, and really liked comparing the hard copy version with the digital book. The Year 8s enjoyed the book being read to them and asking a million irrelevant questions like, ‘Why is it bad to use someone else’s Apple ID to share books?’, and ‘Where are the pictures? Why are there just words?’ (even after I explained we would look at the story first, then explore the pictures).
Not surprisingly, the biggest range of responses came from the Year 9s. Shaun Tan’s books are amazingly sophisticated, so I always start with that because too often with teenage boys, their immediate reaction to a picture book is that it’s ‘for babies’. I talk about the way Tan is perceived quite differently, as an artist rather than a children’s book writer, in places like France and Mexico. Forcing them to shift their perceptions is important if the lesson is to have any meaning.
Even though I also explain that Tan’s work is open to interpretation, I admit that I did lead the discussion down a fairly clear path. I believe the book is about two brothers and ‘the game(s)’ they play throughout the summer are frustrating to the younger brother, who is constantly on the back foot. I appealed to their own sibling relationships, and most of them were able to identify with at least one page in the book.
We also spent a lot of time finding the crow/raven/bird on each page, and I pressed each class to work out the meaning and symbolism of it being there. Some classes were able to offer insightful ideas, but for some, it was just ‘where’s wally?’.
I moved around every class, letting the students manipulate the iPad, figuring out how to navigate around the app. It was easy to tell the boys who weren’t paying attention, because they had no idea of how to make it work. I am always amazed to see that it is possible to sit in a classroom and completely disengage with what the teacher is doing… (but that’s a conversation for another degree).
Overall, the boys were interested in Rules of Summer, and offered interesting insights. They understood the difference between an e-book and a digital book, they mostly voted for the interactive version over the print, and they accepted that pictures books can be complex and sophisticated.
It’s always good to be able to talk to students about reading. I hope I was able to open their minds to new technologies and new ways to read.