One of the standards listed in our district for fifth graders is to learn about the four types of story conflicts. Remember them? Person vs. person; person vs. nature; person vs. self; and person vs. society. I didn’t learn about them until junior year in High School when we discussed Huck Finn, Moby Dick, and The Scarlet Letter. That difference, in when we teach certain literary elements, makes me wonder if we aren’t pushing curriculum down too much too fast, but I’ll save that argument for another day. Because kids may someday get “tested” on these conflicts, then teach them we must.
I like to start out just chatting with the students about some books that several kids in the class have read or ones that have been read aloud to the whole group in previous years. They easily realize that Harry Potter vs. Voldermort and the Narnia kids vs. the Ice Queen fall into the first category. Many students have heard about Number the Stars and realize that it falls into the last category because of the people who fought against the Nazi society. Any story of survival against the forces of nature, like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain, is identified as a person vs. nature conflict. Then we discuss several picture books that have been read in the last few weeks and the kids decide that Ish is about the boy gaining confidence with his own artistic abilities, thus a person vs self text.
Over the next few weeks we read and discuss picture books in relation to these conflicts. Below are some ideas you may wish to use.
Person vs. Person:
Dogzilla (Dogzilla vs. the mice army of Mousopolis)
My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother (a Polacco favorite)
The Three Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (a spoof on the 3 Pigs)
The Mysterious Giant of Barletta (giant vs. advancing army)
Suddenly (Preston the pig vs the menacing wolf)
Person vs. Self:
Koala Lou (realizes his mom loves him no matter what)
Owl Babies (conquer their fear of being left without Mom)
Edward the Emu (any story like this works – where the character is not comfortable being who he is and wants to be something else.)
Person vs. Nature:
Brave Irene (fights the blizzard in order to deliver the dress)
Ghost Eye Tree (the little boy fears the spooky tree)
Person vs. Society: Holocaust books work well here (Let the Celebrations Begin, the picture book version of the Diary of Anne Frank, The Lily Cupboard.)
Books about racism towards African Americans: Teammates; Freedom Summer; Freedom School, Yes!
Books about the Japanese Internment camps during WWII: The Bracelet, Baseball Saved Us, The Lucky Baseball, Journey Home
I suppose even the issue of homelessness would be considered a societal issue: Fly Away Home, Lady in the Box.
I’m going to do a part II of this post in a day or two to talk about some questions that arise in discussions with kids around these four story conflicts. Please comment or list some other titles that come to mind that you have used.