Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What is Beautiful?

Title:What is Beautiful?
Author: Etan Boritzer
Illustrated by: Nancy Forrest


What is Beautiful? This book provides parents and classroom teachers with the opportunity to make children critically think about what we all take for granted: that which is beautiful. The book is written following a format of questioning "What is beautiful?" The narrator takes us through the obvious things we see to the not so obvious things that we don't give much thought to. The narrator asks the reader to think about his ideas of beauty. Exactly what makes something or someone beautiful? Is beauty only associated with appearance or what people tell us is beautiful? Is it more about what others think is beautiful? What is the reader's perception of what is beautiful? Children are asked to consider the why behind what they think or label as beautiful. This provides an opportunity for children to express their feelings and ask questions about an abstract concept that is rather difficult to define since "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", which is one of the themes of this book. The narrator asks "can things which do not look beautiful really be beautiful later on?" It allows the children to think about those things or people which they may not initially include in their lists of what is beautiful, and maybe redefine beauty to include them. One of the most interesting and thought provoking questions focuses on how somebody can be beautiful on the inside instead of the outside. The narrator refers to this as "inside stuff". Children can now think about qualities that are not readily seen or heard or felt that would make someone "beautiful", such as being brave, peaceful, giving, loving. The message is to learn about beauty from different perspectives, to be accepting of what others think is beautiful and to redefine beauty to include what is important to each individual.

Element of Respect (#2)
"What is Beautiful" represents respect for each person's idea of beauty, as well as tolerance for ideas that are different from ours. The book does not preach respect, but rather provides opportunity to have dialogue about what really makes someone or something beautiful. It promotes the idea of critically thinking about a concept rather than just accepting what you are told is beautiful. As a result, children can feel OK about perceiving people and things as beautiful even if it is not the norm.

I think this book would be great for grades 3 and 4. Before I read the book to the class, I will have the students write their personal definition of beauty, or what makes a person or thing beautiful on sentence strips. You can put it into a box and have each student come up and pick one out, read it aloud and tape it on the bulletin board. We can have a discussion about some of the definitions making sure that the children give reasons as to why they feel something is beautiful, then I will have them write down three things they consider to be beautiful and save it until after we read the book. We will then start to read the book stopping every so often to discuss some of the questions the narrator asks in order to get the children thinking about beauty in different ways. We will do that throughout the book and now you can ask them if they would change their definition of what makes somebody or something beautiful, and let them rewrite it if they wish.
I would ask them to cut out pictures from magazines that I have on hand or bring things from home in order to make a collage, and after it is finished, break the students into groups where they can discuss how their pictures fit their new definition of beauty.

Click here for another great review of the book!

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