Gleitzman portrays characters just below the age of hormones and this makes his books the perfect stimuli for children’s art activities.
Jacobs Process and consequently the text Global Citizen has been influenced by writers like Di Morrissey, Peter Westoby and Eberhard Muehlan. They were chosen because their work has a particular flavour that I call communicative action. All of these artists work fits with the slogan, Seek first to respect, then to understand.
Now we turn to the work of Morris Gleitzman for inspiration. Gleitzman portrays characters that are just below the age of hormones. He said in an interview with Peter Thompson in 2009, that this middle schooling age is a great target market to write for because the young people have not yet moved into the time when hormones flow and they are still very switched on to the idea of learning about the world and justice.
“Whatever it is in their life that they’re grappling with, that they’re trying to make better, either for themselves or for people they love, there’s always a moral dimension to that, a personal – a dimension of personal morality. And they are free to give that their all without worrying if it’s going to make them look uncool to girls or boys or whatever and that might be part of it.” (Thompson 2009)
The topic ‘child youth detention’ is typical of the heavy nature of the stories that Gleitzman pitches to a tender and yet fearless age and yet he manages to do this in a humorous way. Who could not laugh at a young girl out in the desert digging under the razor fence of a detention centre with a spoon? His books are chockers with imagery and this makes them very resourceful books from which to construct Visual Arts lessons.
Balancing an Unbalanced View of the World
He says in the same interview, that he has been propelled to write in this humorous but meaningful way as a response to media bombardment that surrounds young children with “thousands of decontextualised images” which represent the very worst of human behaviour. He goes on to say that the media portray a very unbalanced view of the world. By acknowledging and exploring some of the tough aspects of life through narrative, Gleitzman can bring out the love and friendship between characters, through his stories. “This exposes the very best that we’re capable of doing as a species too,“ he said.
In the book Global Citizen page 153, it says ……In general, younger people form flashbulb memories more readily than older adults. The main predictor for encoding flashbulb memories among younger students will be emotional connectedness to the event. Around Year 3, it is thought that emotional connection will be the prime mover for engagement in creative narrative activity. Older, middle year students are unlikely to reach the same intensity and will not reach full engagement and retention. They will need much more exciting material linked with “consequence” for the strategies to work well.
So again we see why this age group proves an attractive recipient of the strategies associated with Jacobs Process.
Understanding Both Sides Makes for a Better Story
Story tellers focus on both sides of any issue so that they build a convincing scenario that has breadth and dimension. Gleitzman says that portraying what it is to be human, requires communicating grief and anger and that he thinks showing “our dark side is always more interesting and more illuminated when the good stuff, the joy, the spontaneity, the anarchy, the funny stuff, is right next door and vice versa.” (Thompson 2009)
Moving to Australia at a Young Age
In the article Autobiographical Interlude: The Background of Peter Westoby, we spoke of the kind of experiences that shape artists and researchers. Often people who have encountered migration or disenfranchisement in their developmental years may bring to the topic of emancipatory education a different focus. (forced or otherwise) If you think of the experiences of Paulo Freire for example, his early formative history was one of dispossession and exclusion from which he recovered. Ghandi too experienced rejection by others with regard his primary culture, especially when he was in Africa.
Again, Geiitzman talks of the dislocation in a humorous way. “When I was 16, my parents announced that we weremoving to Australia to live which, to me, was an appalling idea.” and he continues the jokes about his early very unhappy days at school. What comes through the interview is the part that narrative played in making these days bearable and even fun.
“But one wonderful teacher who changed my life, an English teacher called Mr Walsh, who, for the whole of the first year of secondary school, threw the curriculum out the window and told us a story. It was the story of three jewel thieves and their adventures and misadventures and he did that thing that they tell you in Hollywood to do as a screenwriter which is to show, not tell. So instead of giving us a year of, sort of, theory, making us read literature and then theorise about how stories and literature worked, he demonstrated it to us.”
No wonder then, that Gleitzman has been chosen as one of the authors from which to fashion cretaive arts actvities for Global Citizen.
- Gleitzman, Morris (2004). Girl Underground (Kindle Locations 1622-1631). Penguin Australia. Kindle Edition.
- Murphy,J. (2013) Autobiographical Interlude: The Background of Peter Westoby. Westoby wrote a PHD thesis about the sociality of Sudanese resettlement and the text has been highly influential in the development of Jacobs Process. A little about his background is outlined here.
- Murphy,J. (2013) Old Afghan Camel Drivers – Symbol of Support for Struggling Afghanistan
- Murphy,J. (2013) Seek First to Respect and then to Understand. This story about a painting in a Kabul prison illustrates how reverse graffiti can be an act of the deepest respect.
- Thompson, (2009) Peter Thompson talks to Morris Gleitzman whose writings about bums, warts and belly-flops have made him a best selling childrens author. Talking Heads. ABC.
Copyright Jo Murphy