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Harnessing Curiosity to Grow Literacy and to Change the World

Featuring The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs

Written by Kate Messner

Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

It starts with one…”

If your school, or your child’s school, is like most, literacy is developed through instruction and immersion in three main genres and their related subgenres: narrative, informational, and opinion. As readers, children ascend through the skill progressions necessary make meaning from the texts that live inside of these genres. They learn to identify key details, make important inferences, and to synthesize and analyze information. They may learn to talk deeply with others about what they read and to write thoughtfully in response to text. They may learn to research or maybe perform successfully on a standardized test. 

Yes. All of this is important. 

But, what is it really all for? How are we (schools, educators, parents) engaging children in literacy experiences that will shape who they become, and in turn, how they shape the world? If teaching and parenting through this pandemic has taught us anything, it is to find what is most essential, what is most human, most impactful, so that we can collectively grasp and hold on tight.

Like most, my school’s third graders are partway through their non-fiction units in reading and writing. They have transitioned from learning how to take notes, identify text structures, and determine the main idea. While to many, this unit may seem dry, it is anything but for our students. The most important practice that is taught, practiced, and developed in our third graders, is curiosity. Our students learn to activate and harness their own curiosity as a launchpad for non-fiction studies and a single point of entry, to make their mark on the world.

It starts with one”

Our 8 and 9 year-olds sparkle with curiosity. They comb through their notebooks for their own fierce wonderings, search for inspiration in art, music, literature, and their role models. All in search of one spark that will ignite their desire to read in search of the information that might solidify into a foundation for change, a personal passion, or a high interest topic in which to dive.

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe was like flint for our steely students. This biographical picture book tells the story of one man who was driven by curiosity throughout his life. As a young boy, Ken Nedimyer was intrigued by the ocean. After observing changes in the local coral reefs and the life that inhabited them, he became curious about these changes, so he studied, observed, and immersed himself in the ocean. As an adult, Ken learned that from one piece of coral, he could spawn many. That it was possible with one single one act, to bring life back to the reefs. Ken was one man, who quickly inspired many, to dive in and save the reefs.

It starts with one”

This is our job as parents and educators: To provide the space in a child’s day to find that one sparkle of curiosity that will lead them down a path of inspired reading…reading with purpose. We will teach them the skills that they require to learn from reading and to communicate through writing. However, we must ensure that when they do so, it is authentic and that it matters to them. 

Kate Messner consistently brings true stories to life in ways that engage and tantalize young readers. Enhanced by Matthew Forsythe’s breathtaking illustrations, The Brilliant Deep does not disappoint. Our third graders were riveted to every page. (See student reactions below). After reading, they were inspired by the core message. All it takes is one gamete to start a colony, one person to change the world, and one brilliant flash of curiosity to change your life.

And this is why we are in school. This is what it is really all about. If we honor who our children are. If we enable them to grow their curiosity and use it as their vehicle for learning, the world, like Messner’s writing, Forsythe’s art, and Nedimyer’s reefs, will become more brilliant.

It starts with one”

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