In our first lesson on The Story of Ruby Bridges, students previewed the book and made some predictions about the story based on an analysis of the title and cover illustrations. In today’s lesson, we’ll continue to preview the illustrations with a focus on the author’s perspective regarding the story’s characters and events.
I open the lesson by telling students that I want to share with them a magazine article that I read recently entitled, "American Kids Aren't Getting Dumber; They Were Just Never That Smart." After reading the article aloud to the class, I tell them that first reaction to the title was anger that someone would say this about young people like my students. But when I considered the facts the author had included to support his argument, my anger changed to worry. I started to wonder if maybe my students really do spend too much time playing sports. Should they be studying more instead?
By this time students are either upset or worried along with me—that’s the response I’m looking for. I draw them in further by asking questions such as, “What did you think about the article? Do you agree or disagree with the author? Why? What reason might the author have had for writing the article?”
After a brief discussion, I explain that when authors write, they can use language—and illustrations and graphics of all sorts—to influence readers to think and feel the same way they do about a topic or—if they are writing fiction—a character, or a narrative event. What an author thinks and feels is called the author’s perspective. This is the author’s opinion, or point of view, or attitude toward a subject. An author’s ability to make readers think and feel a certain way is called the author’s influence.
I draw a two-column chart on the board and enter Author’s Perspective and Author’s Influence as column headings. I tell students that we are going to look at the illustrations throughout the book to see if we can begin to identify the author’s feelings about Ruby and what he wants us to feel about her.
After a quick review of the previous lesson, I have students open their books to the title page, which includes an illustration of Ruby’s family. I ask for thoughts about what is happening in the illustration. I encourage students to examine the characters’ facial expressions and body language for clues to what they might be feeling. Students may need to be prompted to articulate the reasons for their conclusions in this kind of analysis. I also have students examine details of setting and action: “What are the people wearing? What are they doing? What season does it appear to be? Does this look like the city? a town? the country?” Eventually, I lead students to the conclusion that the illustration shows a farming family, possibly poor, and living in the country.
Now we move on to the first two-page spread. (We’ll return to the dedication page later.) The illustration here shows a small girl sitting alone beside a car or truck. I want to encourage students to think about the use of color in illustrations and the effect of color on mood and ask, “What part of the picture stands out?” (the girl) “Why do you think the illustrator used brighter colors on her than in the rest of the drawing? (to make her the focal point of the drawing) I ask students why they think the girl is sitting there and what she appears to be feeling. (She or someone is going away and she is sad and/or worried.) To help them make a connection to the text, I ask, “When and where have you seen boxes and suitcases and a truck being used?”
Here, I distribute the Authors Perspective/Influence chart - students will not use this yet, but I want them to see it. I model filling in the chart on the board. Under Author’s Perspective, I enter “Ruby is sad because she has to move.” Next to this, under Author’s Influence, I enter, “Readers feel sad because Ruby is a little girl and doesn't have a choice.” (Note: Instruct students to leave space under each new entry in their individual charts. Later, they will come back and add text evidence.)
Now we move on to the next two-page spread and examine the illustration. This shows a mother tucking three young children into a single bed. I ask questions to elicit the information that the family is probably not wealthy—the children have to share a bed—and that their house is small. Some students may live in similar circumstances and make a personal connection to the illustration. I’m careful not to show bias or negativity towards the living arrangements shown and emphasize the care, love, and closeness portrayed in the picture. I ask students what the author wants readers to feel about Ruby’s family. (The family is close and loving) Students may understand this intuitively, but these ideas can be difficult for them to articulate.
At this point in the lesson, I ask students to leaf through the book and identify other feelings portrayed in the pictures that might help them understand how the author feels about Ruby and the events that occur around her. I prompt them to look at the use of color, characters’ facial expressions and body language, and details of setting. I want them to preview illustrations before reading the text because this helps to build understanding of the author's perspective and influence on readers in a familiar and relatively simple way.
As students preview the illustrations, I have them make potential Perspective/Influence chart entries on Post-It notes rather writing directly in their charts. I give each student 4-6 Post-It notes and limit the exercise to 10 minutes. On each note, a student writes the page number of the illustration they are considering; a P and what they think the picture shows about the author’s perspective, and the aspects of the picture that show this; and an I and a description what the picture makes them think and feel. Students sign their notes before handing them in. (I have students use Post-It notes for several reasons. These are fairly tough concepts for students to grasp: many are not yet at the point where they can clearly identify and describe examples of author’s perspective and influence. Using Post-It notes adds a bit of fun to the exercise and encourages students to complete it. And by having students add their Post-It notes to the class chart on the board, I can summarize their responses and lead them to more accurate perceptions.)
After students have submitted their Post-It notes, I bring the class back together and ask “What do you think the colors used for Ruby in the pictures show about the author’s feelings towards her?” (Ruby is dressed in pink and white. She looks somewhat angelic. The author seems to like her and presents her, through the illustrations, in a positive way.)
I then probe further by asking: “Based on the illustrations, which statement best describes the author’s attitude toward Ruby? Is she is a young girl who is scared of going to school? Is she is a brave girl who wishes to do well in school? Or is she is a shy girl who wants to be left alone?
I want students to realize that, without even reading the text, they already feel like they know something about Ruby Bridges and what she is like. They may already feel something for her. Once we’ve articulated that understanding, I reintroduce the concept that the author’s perspective, his attitude toward Ruby, has, through the illustrations, influenced the students’ feelings toward Ruby.
Now we return to the dedication and the introductory quote by Ruby’s mother following the title page. I ask students what the statements show about the author’s and Ruby’s mother’s feelings toward Ruby. I then ask why the author placed these statements before the story. What is he trying to get us to think and feel?
I close the lesson by restating the lesson objective and telling students that in our next lesson we will read the entire book and learn more about Ruby. If time permits, I might also have students look at other books Robert Coles has written and challenge them to identify his themes. (children, caring for those who have less, changing the lives of oppressed people)