Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Detectives ~ Mirette on the High Wire


For this month's (parent-child literary analysis) book club selection, we read Mirette on the High Wire, a Caldecott Medal book written by Emily Arnold McCully.

Rather than discussing characters, setting, plot, conflict, and theme, however, we tried something new. We used part of the "invention" process from The Lost Tools of Writing. Invention is the first of Aristotle’s five canons of rhetoric. (The other four are arrangement, elocution, memory, and delivery.) (We didn't delve yet into the five topics of invention, but you can read about them here if you are interested.)

We started by saying, "What questions can we ask about this story?" Once the kids got used to the idea that they got to ask the questions and we weren't answering them (we just wrote them on the white board), they really embraced the spirit of the discussion and participated enthusiastically.

Our questions were:

Should Mirette have been eavesdropping?
What did Mirette's mom think?
Should Bellini have trained Mirette?
Why was Bellini scared?
Why did the author name her Mirette?
Did Mirette fall at the end?
Is the story true?
Why did Mirette want to learn how to walk the high wire?
Where did they travel with their show?
Should Mirette have gone up to join Bellini on the wire at the end of the story?
Why were Mirette's feet unhappy on the ground?

Then we asked if we could change any more of the questions to "Should __(character)__ have__(action)__?"

We changed a few:

Should Bellini have been scared?
Should Mirette have wanted to learn how to walk the high wire?
Should Mirette's feet have been unhappy in the ground?

Then we voted on which "should" question we wanted to talk about. And we turned it into an "issue" to discuss.

"Whether Bellini should have trained Mirette" was the issue we settled on.

We set up our "ANI" (annie) chart with three columns on the white board:

A for Affirmative. N for Negative. I for Interesting.

We listed all reasons he should have trained her under "A." All reasons he shouldn't have trained her were listed under "N." Any miscellaneous comments or questions were acknowledged and written under "I."

I had no way of predicting the outcome of the discussion ahead of time (especially since it was my first time ever leading by this process). It was a smashing success. Everyone participated, and somehow we ended up with a perfectly even 13 reasons in each column.


She could follow her dreams
He could pass on his skills
She could be happy
She could inspire him
He could train her correctly and safely (since she was trying it on her own in the beginning anyway)
It's fun
She showed responsibility with her other duties
She had passion and perseverance
Learning to overcome difficulties
Teaching children benefits adults
She got a career/travel/adventure
She healed his fear


She wasn't ready to learn
She might fall
Her feet would never be happy again on the ground
Not fun
He lacked confidence
He needed to hide his fear
He wanted to hide his identity
Chance of fear or failure
He didn't have permission to train her
He was a stranger
He didn't want to waste his time teaching a kid


(We ended up with a few more questions rather than comments.)
Why didn't she ask someone for help at the end?
Was she lonely?
Did she have a dad?
Why did she want to walk on the high wire?
Did her mom travel with her?
How old was she?

And that was it for this book club meeting. I'm looking forward to digging deeper into invention each month!


Hannah said...

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing, Heidi. You've given me new food for thought as I consider running a few Book Detectives sessions here in England this year. I'm hankering for a good discussion!

Unknown said...

Hi Heidi! I've been stalking your book club adventures for the past few weeks. Love it! It was recommended by someone on the Well-Trained Mind forums since I asked for ideas about the Homeschool book club I'm starting through our local library. I had a couple quick q's, if you don't mind (forgive me if I missed the answers somewhere in your posts)...
1. I'm considering whether or not to use themes for each 6-week session. I noticed that you don't do a "theme," other than using great books. Any particular thoughts on that?
2. I was planning on giving the parents the time off, but having at-home review stuff and a copy of the book for each family to borrow (love our librarian's help!). Do you find the parents to be actively engaged? And do you have littles that come, too, or do you keep it to just the parent & school-age child combo?
Thanks for your input and the sharing you've done through the posts! Someday I hope to blog track our stuff, too. Looking forward to seeing more about your adventures in the coming school year!

Heidi said...

Hi Jennifer!

I think themes would be a great idea. I've used random good books because I'm not organized enough to plan ahead. ;)

I know that parents would appreciate the time off (because I would!!), but I've loved having the moms sit in on the discussion, and I think we adults have learned more than the kids. :) The moms try to give the kids lots of space to participate, but they also chime in--particularly when the kids are having trouble with a question or idea.

I've asked that younger kids stay home. There isn't a bunch of space, and I know how distracting younger siblings can be for students and parents alike. We do have a big range now of kids (I think 2nd-7th grade), however, and everyone participates in discussions.