“The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws . . .”
As the cat explores the world, it encounters a boy, a dog, a mouse, and several other creatures who each see the cat in a different way. The illustrations are bold and beautiful and clever. Children and adults will love this book. It’s in the same orbit as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where the Wild Things Are. But will seventh graders like it? How can you use the book to introduce them to media literacy?
I think a lot about teaching my students to evaluate information sources. Like many school librarians, I talk more about exploring a source’s perspective and less about identifying bias. There is a time and place for both, but discussing perspective leads to richer conversations. I credit the wonderful T. Bergson-Michelson (@researchwell) for pushing my thinking in this direction.
Seventh graders enjoy debating whether or not it is ever possible for a news story or a journalist to remain unbiased. They get it. We sit on opposite sides of the football field, see the same plays, and have very different reactions to what we see. Much of it depends on who we came to the game with. Bias feels like a critique, but we all have a perspective. (Incidentally, in this football game analogy I am the apathetic kid wondering what all the fuss is about, drifting toward the snack bar and looking for a better bathroom. No matter which side I’m sitting on.)
Dig into the concept of perspective with middle school students. Tell them you are going to read them a picture book. Watch their eyes roll. (Trade Secret: Middle and high school students secretly love to be read to.) Tell them you appreciate their patience, that it won’t take long, and that it might actually surprise them. Watch light bulbs go off as Wenzel’s genius is revealed. Hear them say, “I get it!”
Then you get to ask, “Get what?”
It gets better. You can ask questions like:
What do you think Wenzel is trying to say with his book? How does he say it?
How can there be so many ways to see the same cat?
Who saw the cat correctly? None of them? All of them?
What factors affect how we see things?
Do any of the animals really know the cat? Is the cat even knowable?
Does the cat see itself as others see it?
Is there a right way to see things? If so, who gets to decide?
Adjust this conversation either direction depending on student age. Elementary schools already have it. Make sure it is on the shelves at your middle or high school. When you discuss perspective with your students – how it influences news, our media production and consumption, or how it applies to source evaluation – read them They All Saw a Cat. You’ll be surprised how many times that cat walks back through your room.