I am just going to share this photograph with you.
I am not, as I would often like children to believe, an actual witch. I have never studied Wicca nor even understand if Wicca is an actual term for witchcraft. I have come across people in my life who study magic (not the Penn and Teller kind) and see themselves as White Witches but the instant thought of, ‘cool’ is usually quickly replaced with heavy scepticism and slight internal mockery. I apologise to these people. It is the fantasy element which I adore so much. I simply cannot wait to see Harry Potter (or as the oh-so annoying film posters name it, HP7 part2. It is NOT a sauce.), I love all things Wicked Witch of the West (next on the knitting list after I have completed my Wizard), I long to be able to cast spells and I have a sinister admiration for ‘the dark side’ (possibly the initial fault of my brother and Darth Vader). My favourite books as a child, indeed my go-to books for teaching literature and literacy in general all contain elements, themes or references to magic, both good and bad. To me, it is a crucial element to a really good children’s story. Add in a few fantastical beasts, winged things and ample peril and I am yours forever.
However, I find myself in something of a pickle, a quandary if you will. Working in the schools I have, there are many hoops to jump through and a ridiculous number of social elements to take into consideration when planning for lessons etc. But Religion has never really been an issue. Being predominantly ‘white deprived’ the only faith encountered, if any at all, has been Christianity. I very much enjoy teaching religion and sharing all the wonders of Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and all the variations in between allowed by the local authority – don’t even get me started on the teaching of culture and religion in this country, it is in a seriously dire state if you ask me. Which you didn’t so I shall cease digressing . . . The beauty of having a class deficient of faith means that the teaching is completely objective, I can openly discuss all aspects of all religions without any risk of embarrassment (let’s be fair, I’m probably not as efficient at teaching Islam as those within the faith itself) or offence. The children can also be comfortable in this knowledge, possibly leading them to ask more probing, thoughtful questions. However, this is completely unfounded as, to date, it is my only experience with faith within the classroom.
I myself am fascinated with religion, I do not count myself as a woman of faith, but I relish opportunities to know more about the choices people make and how, fundamentally, these choices have shaped our world – its the historian in me, I guess. So the prospect of being part of a class with a multitude of religions and faiths is quite exciting, particularly as the children will be of an age to hopefully hold open and frank conversations about their faith culture. Already I have had two rather poignant discussions with pupils about a relatively unknown (to me) religious belief, Jehovah’s Witness.
Despite my interest in these areas and desire to expand my own knowledge I am starting to come a little unstuck. With the combinations of religions I have to suddenly become more aware of the texts I am using in class, and my own references to my favourite of all youthful genres, magic. It has suddenly dawned on me that almost book I would choose to work with or recommend contains at least some elements of magic; JK Rowling, Sally Gardner, Philip Pullman, even my beloved Roald Dahl. As class novels and teaching texts, I would have to find passages or even whole books which do not include magic – I also have to discover to what extent ‘magic’ is taboo; is it everything that magic encompasses? Dragons? Mythical beasts? Fairies? Or simply Witches and Wizards? Can I get away with looking at ‘good’ magic elements without reference to dark/black magic? How do ghosts fit into this mix?Does magic extend so far as to talking animals? If so, I have really limited options.
I was discussing this with Caroline the other evening, hoping that her Waterstones/publishing knowledge would help highlight some books I had not though of, which would prevent children being ostracised. We agreed that adventure books were possibly the safest bet but then could think of nothing contemporary which would fit this genre without the magical element. I cannot bring myself to reach back into Swallows and Amazons or God-forbid anything Enid Blyton. There is nothing enticing or intriguing or even remotely fun in these books, in my rather biased opinion. I detested them as a child and I am certainly not about to change my mind at 29. If I’m not going to have fun teaching it, then the children are surely never going to entertain the thought of learning. Which leads us to genre specific books like Ballet Shoes, but here lies the problem of engaging boys. Can Pirates be covered? Surely I could argue some historical basis for using How to be a Pirate by Cressida Cowell.
I am quite certain that I am being hysterical, that the issue with magic is not a large as I am making it. Afterall, teachers up and down the country are dealing with this every day and do so successfully. I suppose I am just worried that I won’t be able to use my favourite books to full advantage. But it also made me realise how narrow my sense of adventure is when it comes to children’s literature – I am seriously narrow in my choices and all this time have been foisting these preferences on others! It is an opportunity to research new genre variations, to find books which are all encompassing – or at least encompassing enough to drag the reluctant along with some satisfaction. But I could do with some help. So please, think about my desperation in not wanting to find out what the Famous Five did down on the beach or at the picnic or jumping off a cliff (although, I might enjoy that one!) – please, please, please, do all you can today and suggest just one book which will help me care for children in my class. All contributionssuggestions, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated.