Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Too Much Background Knowledge?

Background knowledge is an important part of comprehension, but what happens when there is too much background knowledge? Can it negatively effect what we read? I just finished Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford and my background knowledge made it a very hard book to finish.

Captain Nobody is about a boy named Newton Newman. Certain events happen in the story to turn him into Captain Nobody. I’ll discuss the story after a little information about my background knowledge and how it impacted my thoughts of this book.

Nineteen years ago my brother was hit on his bicycle. It was a hit and run. He was in a coma for nine days. Once he woke up he had to learn how to walk, eat, etc. He lives on his own now, but has a severe brain injury. During the time Kris was in a coma it tore our family apart. We all felt helpless, and, at times, hopeless. At the hospital I had time to spend with my brother and was present when the doctors spoke with my parents. This experience made it difficult to read Captain Nobody.

Let me start by saying that after I finished the book I realized how much I enjoyed it. Newton “Newt” is a skinny kid that happens to be the younger brother of the star football player. He is the son of parents too involved in their jobs to pay close attention to Newt. He is, also, best friend with two great kids. During the “big game” Newt’s big brother is knocked out and ends up in a coma.

There are many things I loved about the book, and some situations that bothered me. What I liked:

I loved the friendship between Newt and his friends. Newt is very self sufficient. He is a great care giver. Newt is funny, and aware of his short comings. Captain Nobody is Newt’s Halloween costume. The day after Halloween he realizes that he doesn’t have any clean clothes, so he wears his costume to school. The teachers think he is wearing the costume to deal with the family tragedy. A sequence of funny events turns Newt into a real super hero.

My dislikes have a lot to do with my background knowledge. After the accident Newt’s parents spend the rest of the book at the hospital. In their quest not to scare Newt they give him no information. A 10 year old needs the information. There is no adult staying with Newt, just the drive by sleep over by one parent. This is where I’m not sure if my experiences cloud my judgment, or if it is the book. I didn’t like that the principal and the counselor didn’t have any idea who Newt was, even after he met with them.

I am curious to see what others will think about Captain Nobody.


Lauren said...

Thanks for sharing.

One of the many reasons we read is because literature reassures us that we are not alone in our experiences. Finding yourself in a book can be powerful, especially when it touches on something negative, traumatic, or unresolved. Sometimes we feel uncomfortable because the author got it so right that we wonder how they could possibly know... and sometimes we feel angry because the author got it all wrong.

We need books like that - but I think we also need to recognize the effects they have on us and our students.

Unknown said...

Interesting. I'm always having violently negative reactions to books because of my background. It sounds like you're able to be much more fair than I am, usually, though.