Helping Primary Students Learn Through Fantasy: Finding the Truth in Life

by Irene Fountas

Writers of fantasy explore complex ideas through a variety of symbols.  They use the elements to show truths about life and thoughtfully explore many philosophical issues.  At the heart of fantasy is truth about ourselves and our world.  For example, students learn the importance of patience and apologizing when you hurt someone’s feelings in Henkes’s Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse or they learn that everyone makes mistakes and it’s important to take chances from Henkes’s Chrysanthemum.

Stories of low fantasy take place in the real world but have magical elements, such as Henkes’s Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web or A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.  Stories of high fantasy include information or experiences from the real world but place them in other worlds.

Consider an author study of Polacco’s modern fantasy books such as:

  • Appelemando’s Dreams
  • Just Plain Fancy
  • Welcome Comfort
  • Aunt Chip and the Triple Creek Dam Affair

You may also explore fantasy through a study of Henkes’s picture books:

  • Chester’s Way
  • Owen
  • Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse
  • Wemberly Worried
  • Chrysanthemum
  •  Sheila Rae, The Brave

When you immerse your students in fantasy, you can engage them in discussion of how even though the story doesn’t take place in the real world, it shows a lot about life.  The analysis and discussion of the elements and structure of fantasy stories helps them learn how to read other fantasy books on their own with deeper understanding.

Create baskets in your classroom library for fantasy series books or collect multiple copies for guided reading or book club lessons.  Here are some suggested Series for Younger Readers:

  •  Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  •  Arthur by Marc Brown
  •  Commander Toad by Jane Yolen
  •   Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel
  •  George and Martha by James Marshall
  •  Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant
  •  The Secrets of Droon by Tony Abbott
  •  Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka
  •  Sideways Stories for Wayside School by Louis Sachar

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