Recently I posted a blog about working with upper elementary students on the four types of story conflicts. As you continue to read other picture books and have discussions about the type of conflict they exhibit, you may come across some of these issues.
Sometimes students get confused when the ‘person’ is actually many people. A few students thought that the army in The Mysterious Giant of Barletta represented ‘society.’ They eventually came to realize that ‘person’ can mean one, two, or a whole group of people, or even animal characters. Later when we discussed ‘person vs. society’ they realized that that type of conflict had more to do with ‘societal issues.’ Many students had read The Giver and we talked about how that future society was set up in a different way than what we are used to today. At first the main character was excited to receive his job on the day the assignments were given out. But as the story continued, we get a real sense of a ‘person vs. society’ type of conflict. In the end, Jonas is ready to separate himself totally from the society.
Oftentimes it’s not really clear which category the book falls in. But those discussions with the students just take their thinking to a deeper level. In Amazing Grace the class is going to put on a Peter Pan play. When Grace wants to play the part of Peter, some class members point out that she can’t be Peter because she is black or because she is a girl. Some students thought the text was a ‘person vs self’ text because Grace gains more confidence in her dancing ability and convinces her classmates that she is indeed the best person to play the role. But others felt it was Grace against those other classmates and therefore it was ‘person vs. person.’
And what about The Big Orange Splot? Is that a conflict of one man against society because the community in which he lives believes that all houses should look exactly the same? Or is it a person vs person conflict of the main character against all his neighbors?
We found the ‘person vs self’ type of conflict to be the hardest to find examples of. We first saw Owl Babies as this type of conflict. The baby owls try to get over their fear by telling each other reasons why the mom has disappeared; then they gather together all on one branch to protect each other. Some argued that it was more of a person vs nature story because the owls are feeling scared because of many of the things in the dark woods.
In the book Suddenly, Preston is constantly almost being attacked by the Wolf. It seems obvious that it’s the pig vs the wolf. But is it really a person vs. person conflict if Preston, the pig, never actually realizes that the Wolf is about to attack him? He doesn’t escape his conflict by his own strength or cleverness; it’s always just a coincidence.
There were many books that the students examined during independent reading time —Jumanji, Stega Nona, Big Anthony and the Magic Ring, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Caleb and Kate – to name a few. Students will notice that the main character in each of these books has a problem; he is in conflict with something. But most of these books made us wonder if there shouldn’t be a fifth story conflict of “person vs magic.” And to that I say, “Why not?”