The Power of Stories in Literature and Film

byEden C. Stein

Unit Objectives and Overview

Reading and analyzing works of literature is the center of the English Language Arts middle school curriculum.  While films may be shown in class, most often they are seen as cursory complements to a unit rather than studied as core texts.  The main objective of this unit is to study the intricacy of storytelling across literary and visual modes.  According to Stephen Apkton, visual intricacies are primary as they are essential in the oral tradition of storytelling.  In addition, he notes that “every student in this century should be able to critically understand and deconstruct visual media.” 1 Students will be learning to comprehend stories specifically in the case of embedded tales in both literature and film, with particular attention to the question of how filmmakers can achieve this effect.  They will also encounter magical realism, a frequent feature in the oral tradition. The techniques of framing stories allow the inner story to have a different rapport with reality.  The central text and film for this unit were both selected with that characteristic in view. An additional objective is for students to study the use of a fairy tale as a model of complications inherent in conflict resolution.  Common Core Reading Standard of Literature 7, for both grades 7 and 8, involves comparing and contrasting literature with film and analyzing fidelity as well as choices made by the directors; and so this unit enhances the ability to teach material which covers this standard.

The core of the unit is centered on the layers of storytelling in the novel Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond.  The novel is a less well known text which provides many pedagogical possibilities.  It also has the advantage of there not much being available about it on line, so students will be forced to do their own critical thinking.  This winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for Young Adult Literature intertwines four stories which all involve the pursuit and/or return of someone who is lost.  The first one is of a boy named Kit, who as a young teen has moved into the former coal-mining town of his grandfather located somewhere in rural England.  He befriends Askew, the local troubled youth. Askew ends up leaving his community and Kit takes it upon himself to go after him and bring him home.  Kit’s grandfather tells the local myth of “Silky,” a benign ghost of a child who lost his life in the mines, which stokes the imagination of Kit and Askew as well as the stories Kit himself writes.  Silky is always seen running around corners in the mines' narrow paths, ever just out of reach.  Kit writes a lengthy story of a caveboy called Lak which takes up several chapters in the novel and mirrors his and Askew’s conflicts.  Finally, there is the play that Kit’s class is putting on during the winter of the school year.  It is The Snow Queen, their own teacher’s version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.2  Since the vividly told tale of The Snow Queen has inspired many adaptations, it makes an excellent example of such issues as fidelity, invigorated life, and the relevance of themes to changing generations of readers and viewers.  Furthermore, The Snow Queen itself also includes an embedded story.

While “The Snow Queen” only has a small part in the plot of Kit’s Wilderness, the descriptions treating it are quite vivid: “Here’s evil come for good Kit…. Here’s bitter winds to freeze his soul.  Touch my cheek, feel the snow there.  Look into my eye, see the ice there (111).”3  David Almond seems to acknowledge that he has altered the tale to fit his story, as he refers to it as “Burning Bush’s [the name by which they refer to their teacher] version of The Snow Queen.” 4  He even explores the fine line between stories and life when Allie, the character playing the queen says, “That’s why I love it, Kit.  It’s like magic.  I don’t just have to be me.  The world doesn’t just have to be the way it is.  You can change it, and keep on changing it.”5 In fact, Kit himself uses a story that he actively writes and tells to lure his troubled friend Askew back from the brink of suicide to the bosom of his community.  With his hallmark magic realism Almond has Kit wake up with pebbles in his hand given to him by his created character whom he has been dreaming about.  Kit’s experiences writing the tale of Lak seem to be a reflection of Almond’s own experience, evident in an interview following the novel where he explained “Each time I came to a new section of this story, it was really as if Kit was writing it, and I just had to transcribe his words…I had a real sense of peril...I didn’t know if Kit would ever come out again.”6  Students will benefit from viewing the creative process and learning how creating and telling narrative allows the world to be changed for the writer/teller just as it is for the reader/listener.  They can also explore how they can utilize art and story writing to create and establish their own identities.

According to Bettelheim, the purpose of fairy tales is to show children that if one faces life’s obstacles head on, one can overcome them.7  In a fairy tale the author is free to explore the realm of the marvelous without being tied to our world inherent in magical realism.  The Snow Queen is a tale told in seven parts, and the evil Queen goes unpunished.  In the first tale there is a demon who shatters a mirror which makes good people see only evil, and in the second tale of lovely Kai and Gerda a shard pierces Kai’s eye and heart turning him to discontent and causing him to run away.  Parts three through six consist of Gerda’s search for Kai where she encounters flowers which tell her unhelpful self pre-occupied tales, and then encounters three different old women, a robber girl, and crows.  During the last part Gerda actually finds Kai, prisoner of the Snow Queen, who is using some kind of mathematical puzzle (rational thought) to hold him, but the spell is broken by faith and love.  During the unit, students read the original text of The Snow Queen and also view a film adaptation.  This will encourage analysis of the plot, theme, and adaptation choices.

The Secret of Roan Inish is the perfect full-length film to complement this unit on the power of narrative and story-telling.  The film is based on an out of print book, Secret of the Ron Moor Skerry, about Fiona, a young girl whose family has recently moved from a small island to the mainland (Ireland in the film and Scotland in the book) losing her baby brother in the process.  When she is sent to live with her grandparents, Fiona hears several old tales. The first is the tale of her grandfather’s great grandfather who was “saved by a seal and two cows.”8  Later, she listens avidly to a tale told by her cousin Tadhg, of their ancestor who took a selkie as a wife.  Selkies are mythological seal-like creatures who can take the form of a woman.  It becomes apparent that selkies may have taken her brother, which makes an interesting tie in to Kit’s grandfather’s story of Silky.  Fiona’s belief in the tales and her fearlessness allow her to overcome the obstacles and retrieve her brother, in true fairytale fashion. So this story too is about someone who is separated from the community and is followed and rescued by another.  The film also illustrates the power of storytelling as John Sayles “expresses his respect for storytelling by repeatedly embedding stories that are told, so that the film self-consciously navigates its filmic narration as the embodiment of oral legend.”9  The unusual and haunting Sayles film, with its master cinematography by Haskell Wexler, will allow students to analyze the craft of filmmaking as well as the plot, which, like Kit’s Wilderness, is centered on the power of myth and narrative, and the illusionary border between magic and reality.

Teaching Strategies and Lesson Plans

Lesson 1. The Snow Queen

Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale of “The Snow Queen” is best read in class as a whole class activity.  This portion of the unit will take several days, as the students summarize each of the seven parts after reading.  One option is for students to create a “foldable” with seven flaps.  They can also illustrate something that captivates their imagination from each part.  At the end of the reading, the whole class discusses the theme of the tale.  It is also important to discuss the relative autonomy of the first part of this story, the tale of the broken mirror, and use this as an example of a framing story.

Following the reading of the tale the class will view an animated version put out in 1985 by Faerie Tale Theatre and narrated by Shelley Duvall.  This version was chosen because of its relative fidelity to the story and manageable length for the classroom.  Hopefully the dated hairstyles won’t put the students off too much!  After watching the movie the class will discuss the fidelity of the film version to the story and what is lost and/or gained by the decisions made by the director.  Part 1 of the story, about the mirror and it's broken fragments, and part 2, in which we get to know Gerda and Kai, are juxtaposed.  The film uses live actors and actresses against a fantastical background.  Instead of Kai being captured by the Snow Queen when he is playing in town with the boys in the film he falls off the rooftop garden and she comes to rescue him from the evil influence to show that she really exists.  We get our first view of the Snow Queen’s palace early in the story instead of having to wait for the final section.  In the film’s third part she gets information from a tree in the forest who points her toward the Lady of Summer who is the Snow Queen’s sister.  In the original text she is an old woman but they both preside over magical flowers.  In the film, probably for the sake of brevity, the flowers don’t each share their irrelevant stories, but in both versions it is the sight of the rose which breaks the spell and reminds Gerda that she must continue her search for Kai.  Then the film skips over the fourth part of the tale about the crow, the prince, and the princess and goes straight to the fifth part about the little robber girl.  Several times during the film we are taken to the Snow Queen’s palace to see how Kai’s story is progressing.  At this point he is already working on the puzzle that can set him free in the seventh part of the text.  Faerie Tale Theatre also skips the sixth part of the story about the Lapland woman and the Finland woman.  When Gerda finally finds Kai in the original text, it is a Christian verse that breaks the spell of the broken glass but in the film it is Gerda’s hot tears of love that warm his cold heart. Tears wash away the shard of glass from his eye, and Kai solves the puzzle.  Gerda has succeeded in her quest and returns Kai back to their home. 

Students will conclude this portion of the unit by writing a one page essay responding to their favorite part of the five sections of the text in the film by answering the question, How did the film differ from the text and why do you think this was the case for this part of the tale?  Asking the students to focus on one part of the story encourages them to analyze specific details and to compare and contrast them.  Finally, the class should discuss whether the literary text and film version have the same message and what they think that message is.  Did the film illuminate a dimension of the text invisible before?

Lesson 2. Kit’s Wilderness

While the class reads the opening of Kit’s Wilderness together, most reading takes place at home in order to keep this unit moving along at a reasonable pace.  Some background knowledge will be provided to the students about coal mining in England during the early 20th century.  It is important for students to realize that child labor and pit mining disasters are a part of history and essential to the setting of the novel which takes place in the fictional English town of Stoneygate.  The novel beautifully describes how coal is formed over millions of years, trapping the sunlight into a cold dark solid which can then be used for fire and heat.  Coal miners are seen as time travelers, going down into the the depths of the earth to places formed eons ago.  Kit and Askew also become time travelers through Kit’s story of Lak which takes place in prehistoric times.

The class may need to have a discussion about dementia and its symptoms as this illness of Kit’s grandfather plays a large role in the story. Some of the students typically have experience with an elderly family member who is losing or who has lost their memory.  They can explain this phenomenon to the other class members.  Another interesting aspect of the story concerns geology, a subject the characters study at school.  For instance, while some students will already be familiar with the term “Pangea,” it may be helpful to show some picture or actual samples of ammonite and obsidian. 

It must be noted that there is a gruesome aspect to the plot of Kit’s Wilderness to which an occasional parent may object.  In the novel, on a page which is reprinted as the first page, Askew leads a small group of his young peers into an abandoned mine where they play a game called “death,” which consists of sitting in a circle, spinning a knife the way one would spin a bottle, and having the chosen student asphyxiate until they either pretend to, or actually, pass out for a few minutes.  No character in the book is injured or dies.  Obviously, students should be reminded that this is a work of fiction and this type of behavior should never be imitated.

The novel can be divided into six parts, and students will be instructed to read a section every three days, thus reading the whole book in less than three weeks.  For each part students complete a dialectical journal entry.  This consists of copying out an important quote from the book on one side of a journal page and responding to it on the other side.  Students may need to be instructed in the difference between responding and summarizing and given some question stems such as “I wonder why…”.  These types of journal entries provide excellent material for student-led class discussions.

Sometime during the reading of the novel students should be introduced to the elements of plot structure including exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.  Literary elements that they should already be familiar with are also reviewed,  including character, setting, and conflict.  A plot diagram is a useful device to analyze the various stories in the book. Color, weather and seasons of the year are used symbolically in the novel and provide an excellent opportunity for mini-lessons on symbolism.  These can later be compared to the use of such symbolism in The Snow Queen.

Students will not to be forewarned about the role of The Snow Queen in Kit’s Wilderness, but allowed to discover it for themselves.  They can then enjoy David Almond’s descriptions and speculate about the story’s connection to the plot and theme.  Lak’s story begins on page 106, near the end of the third section assigned for reading to students.  Kit is writing this story as the novel progresses; it is printed in italics in the book so the students should recognize it as a separate yet connected entity.  Some students may be intrigued by the story starter that Kit’s teacher has given them and may express a desire for a similar assignment.  Time permitting, this type of assignment would be an excellent extension of the unit into creative writing.

At the end of the Dell Laurel-Leaf (1999) edition of the book there are ten helpful discussion questions that can steer the students to many of the important thematic elements of the story and to issues at the heart of this unit.  The final question about the role of storytelling in the novel will help bring up the interconnection and parallel structure of the four stories told in this complex novel.  We can also assess the way magical elements are able to coexist with real ones.

This section of the unit ends with the students completing a theme target in cooperative groups.  In this graphic organizer students generate and discuss possible themes.  One theme is then chosen by each group and entered in the center of the target. Some time may need to be spent defining thematic statements as full sentences that reflect a universal message which is not a cliché and not specific to the plot of the novel. Subsequently, in the inner circle of the target students write or draw literary elements which illustrate the theme.  In the outer circle, students provide evidence from the text in the form of quotations that reflect these literary elements.  In the corners around the target students can draw additional images from the novel.  The use of both writing and drawing allows differentiation according to individual student's strengths and also reflects a thematic element of the novel.

In order to investigate the connection of The Snow Queen to Kit’s Wilderness, students will be asked to respond to the following questions in a homework assignment:

  1. How are weather, the seasons of the year, and other natural phenomena and objects used as symbols in The Snow Queen adaptation we watched in class? In Kit’s Wilderness?
  2. How does Burning Bush’s version of the The Snow Queen differ from the original text and video version we watched in class?
  3. Why do you think David Almond chose this fairy tale to play a central role in Kit’s Wilderness?

Lesson 3. The Secret of Roan Inish 

The major feature length film viewed in this unit is The Secret of Roan Inish directed by John Sayles.  Prior to viewing the film, students will need to be introduced to the following film terminology:

  1. cinematography - the art of camera work
  2. shots - the image that is on screen
  3. framing - how an object is placed within the shot
  4. wide shot or long shot - the image appears far away (used to provide physical setting distance between characters, or the relationship of characters to their surroundings)
  5. medium shot (provides neutrality or information about relationships)
  6. close up - the object takes up most of the screen space (provides intimacy and detail and controls the viewer’s focus)
  7. tracking - when the camera is placed on a moving object alongside the object being filmed, dissolves - a slow transition where one character or scene is slowly replaced by another (used to make a connection between characters)
  8. low-key lighting - maximum contrast between light and dark (creates mood of suspicion, may be used to dull the border between fantasy and reality)
  9. high-key lighting (bright light with little contrast between light and dark (communicates the absence of threat).10

These terms were chosen as appropriate for the grade level and directly applicable to the film.11  The glossary of terms on the Burns Film Center website can be used to facilitate teaching of this vocabulary.12  The Yale website also provides excellent examples and definitions of these terms.13

Pre-teaching for the film includes images and an explanation of selkies, plus a discussion of oral tradition and oral lore.14  Selkies are mythical creatures who look like and live as seals but can shed their skin to become human and can return to being seals by putting their skin back on.  Here, a connection to Kit’s grandfather and his telling of the story of Silkie should be obvious to the students.  The teacher may want to reinforce how stories which start off being told orally are later written down and subsequently adapted to other media.  It should be pointed out that the film is itself an adaptation, as it is based on the book The Secret of Ron Moor Skerry though the setting was changed from Scotland to Ireland.

Prior to viewing the film, the teacher may want to have students read the exposition of the story in Chapter 1.  They can thus be introduced to the characters and setting as well as the conflict of the story.  Next, they watch the film in its entirety.  Students may need help appreciating the gorgeous, rugged Irish landscape.  The teacher will want to pause the film to allow discussion of certain scenes and aspects of cinematography. The teacher can also prepare a PowerPoint of various shots of the film to be used after the students view the entire movie.  Students may need help identifying how the cinematographer uses closeups to change point of view.  The scene when Jamie is taken by the sea, told in flashback, is excellent for appreciating the point of view of both Jamie and of a seal, achieved with tracking. Emphasis should be placed on the setting on the Donegal coastline and how the weather and shot types can be used to help the viewer suspend reality and actually believe such a story may be possible.  Shots taken from Fiona’s point of view will also be isolated.  The scene where Fiona meets Tadhg could be viewed again (40:00) discussed in terms of characteristics of space as well as how Fiona changes after this point in the story.15 This scene can also be identified as the only truly magical one in the film, and it takes place within a story being told to Fiona.  A good example of a dissolve is at 53:52 when Fiona falls asleep on Roan Inish with the waves providing her lullaby, and dreams of her selkie ancestor.

Figure 1. Dissolve transition for Fiona's dream

Figure 1. Dissolve transition for Fiona’s dream.16

When she wakes up and walks across the field, haunting music contrasts with the high-key lighting.  Another dissolve is at 1:05 when Fiona again falls asleep on the island and dreams, and at 1:23 when she dreams of her mother.  Dissolves are also used liberally beginning at 1:16 for the work sequence when Fiona and Aemon are busy doing the work of adults secretly preparing the cottages for the return of the family.  The scene when the seals return Jamie to his family is shot in high contrast emphasizing the mysterious and marvelous aspects of the phenomenon.

Following the viewing of the film the students respond in writing before discussing their reactions with their peers. This will give them space to dwell in the mood of the film without worrying about judgement by their peers.  In their journals students should be asked to describe a moment when the film had a strong impact on them, and how they think the director and cinematographer achieved this.

Since students have read the first chapter of The Secret of Roan Inish they can compare and contrast it with the opening scenes of the film when key issues are introduced.  Then a class discussion will be conducted focusing on what the film says about storytelling.  According to Sayles himself, he uses various strategies for storytelling in the film, “sometimes you just hear a person tell a story, sometimes they start it and their voices faces out and you see it illustrated, sometimes the voice keeps going through the illustration scenes, the flashbacks.”  The first story, of Sean Michael, who is Fiona’s grandfather’s great grandfather, takes place at 11:00.  It is first narrated, then the viewer sees the flashback illustrating the story as the narration continues.  We see the point of view of the returned-to-life Sean Michael lying on the ground and looking up at the bewildered faces around him.  Finally, the camera returns to the grandfather narrating the story.  It will be interesting to note whether students pick up on these different strategies and can identify specific scenes where the strategies are used.

Students will also enjoy a discussion of how the film was made.  The director’s commentary on the DVD provides informative insight into this.  The film was purposefully kept low tech in order to convey the point of view of a young girl.  Students could be asked when they think real seals were used versus animatronics, and how specific scenes were filmed such as when the seals are pushing Jamie to stay on the land with his family.  The discussion of the film should end with the students identifying possible themes of the film and how the artistic cinematography contributes to them.  Though the story may be seen as a fairy tale, just like the in Snow Queen the children have to work hard in order to get what you want.  During the work scenes of the movie dissolves are used liberally reinforcing the passage of time and many adult tasks the children must perform.

Figure 2. Fiona and Eamon work to prepare the island for their return

Figure 2. Fiona and Eamon work to prepare the island for their return.17

Culminating Projects

At this point, students should be able to discover on their own why Kit’s Wilderness is paired with The Secret of Roan Inish. There are obvious external similarities such as both tales being set on the British Isles and both having some magical elements.  Students will be encouraged to compare the importance of storytelling in the novel and the film, as well as the motif of the protagonist needing to find a lost friend or family member and bring them back home.  The role of embedded stories and how these relate to magical realism will also be compared.

One class period will be spent having students devise and tell their own framed stories using a well known fairy tale as the embedded story.  The Common Core emphasis the need for the Language Arts teacher to include oral communication and this will provide an excellent opportunity for the students to do so.

For their culminating project the students choose a book and related film they are familiar with and analyze the adaptation according to a schema we develop in class.  Allowing each student to choose his or her own book/movie pair maximizes student investment in the assignment as well as making more interesting reading for the teacher.  While it is advisable for students to help develop the schema, the teacher ensures that it includes a comparison of the settings, characters, conflicts, resolution, and themes.  They should have a thesis for their essay that specifies whether the film adaptation was faithful to or changed the mood and or message of the original and how the filmmaker achieved this.

The unit can also be extended by having students write film reviews.  Given the popularity of movies with young people, students will benefit greatly from extending their textual analysis to that of the digital video mode. An alternative extension for this unit is to have students utilize art, writing or even film to tell stories that establish or develop their own identities.  This type of project frequently works well at the end of the school year when high interest projects are necessary.  Young teens typically love to have a chance to present themselves to the world particularly when they are allowed to choose the mode of presentation.

List of Class Activities

  1. Read a fairy tale.
  2. Create and illustrate a foldable outlining the tale’s plot.
  3. Have a whole class discussion on possible themes.
  4. View a short, animated, film.
  5. Discuss fidelity issues between the written text and film.
  6. Write a one page essay on a student-chosen section of the tale.
  7. Connect non-fiction topics such as coal mining, geology, and dementia to a text.
  8. Read a full-length age-appropriate novel.
  9. Respond to the novel in their journals using evidence from the text.
  10. Create a plot diagram for the novel.
  11. Discuss symbolism and storytelling in three different texts.
  12. Complete a theme target.
  13. Respond in writing to text based questions.
  14. Learn terminology used in film analysis.
  15. View and analyze a full length independent feature film.
  16. Devise and tell framed stories.
  17. Compare and contrast a student chosen novel and its adaptation.

Appendix: Common Core Standards Implemented in this Unit

Reading Standards for Literature

- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.  During the first lesson of this unit, students write a one page essay on The Snow Queen citing textual evidence.

- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text.  During the second lesson, students create a theme target for Kit’s Wilderness.

- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.6 Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.  For the film The Secret of Rona Inish, students will study how the filmmakers convey various points of view of the children.

- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.7 Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g. lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).  The students will do this for both films viewed in this unit.

Writing Standards

- CCSS.ELA-Writing.7.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 

- CCSS.ELA-Writing.7.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

- CCSS.ELA-Writing.7.10 Write routinely over extended time frames and shorter times frames for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes and audiences.

In the course of the unit, the students write an essay, respond to questions in writing, and complete dialectical journal entries.

Speaking and Listening Standards

-CCSS.ELA-SL.7.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others ideas and expressing their own clearly.

-CCSS.ELA-SL.7.2 Analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats and explain how the ideas clarify topic, text, or issue under study.

The class will be discussing the film and literature regularly and in a variety of formats (student led and teacher led).

Bibliography and Teacher Resources

Almond, David. Kit's Wilderness. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2009.  The young adult novel of magical realism with embedded stories.  This novel is the core literature read in this unit.

Andersen, H. C., and Edmund Dulac. Dulac's The Snow Queen, and Other Stories from Hans Andersen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976.  This classic fairy tale told in seven parts will be read in class. 

Andersen, H. C., Erik Christian Haugaard, and Virginia Haviland. The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974.  This edition contains all of Andersen’s stories.  Other tales may be of interest to the teacher, such as “The Little Match Girl,” in elucidating Andersen’s outlook on life.

Apkon, Stephen. The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.  This book emphasizes the importance of instruction in film analysis in the classroom for its own sake.

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Vintage Books, 2010.  Bettelheim's classic text discusses how the reading and telling of fairy tales and myths are important to children developmentally.

Bould, Mark. "Fantasizing the Real: The Secret of Roan Inish." Film International 4, no. 6 (11 2006): 28-38. doi:10.1386/fiin.4.6.28.  The article presents important scenes in the movie and presents the various types of storytelling used.

Carson, Diane, and Heidi Kenaga. Sayles Talk: New Perspectives on Independent Filmmaker John Sayles. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2006.  In this book John Sayles is quote discussing his portrayal of storytelling in the film The Secret of Ronan Inish.

Douglas, Kirk. The Broken Mirror. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.  I randomly picked up this book in the library while I was researching my unit only to find that it also uses Andersen’s tale of The Snow Queen.

"Fairy Tale Subversion: Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”." June 21, 2016. Accessed April 01, 2017.  This website provides a synopsis of the story, as well as a review and commentary on its content.

"Film Analysis." Film Analysis. Accessed June 10, 2017.  This website was set up by Yale University graduate students in film.  It is very useful, defining terms as well as providing examples of various techniques in cinematogophy.

Fry, Rosalie K. The Secret of Roan Inish. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1995.  This is the book that the film was based on.  It’s original title was The Secret of Ron Moor Skerry, and it was set in Scotland rather than Ireland.  When it was republished with the movie title the text was not altered in any way.

Golden, John. Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2001.  Here are some ideas for teaching film analysis including a discussion of various classic films.

"Hunt for the Wilderpeople." Featured Visual Glossary | JBFC EDU. Accessed May 28, 2017.  This is another useful website for teaching film analysis.  It also has definitions as well as film clips that illustrate the various techniques.

Latham, Don. David Almond: Memory and Magic. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2006.  The book about the author of Kit’s Wilderness provides incidents of his use of magical realism in his various writings.  The chapter about our text also mentions the author’s use of writing and various forms of artistic expression in helping young people develop their identities.

Sayles, John (director). The Secret of Roan Inish. Culver City, CA: Columbia Tristar Home Video, 1995.  This is the DVD version of the film.  In addition it contains commentary by the director John Sayles which is invaluable for the teacher in providing insight into how the film was made.

"The Secret of Roan Inish." Been-Seen. February 03, 2012. Accessed May 28, 2017.  This brief article discusses the setting for the film and also refers to the acclaimed cinematography.

"The Secret of Roan Inish." The Secret of Roan Inish | JBFC EDU. Accessed April 01, 2017.  The website provide key terms, still suggestions and discussion questions which could be used in the classroom when teaching the movie.

Sims, Lesley, Alan Marks, and H. C. Andersen. The Snow Queen. London: Usborne, 2005.  This is another translation of the fairy tale which may be useful for the teacher to compare and choose the one that is best for his or her classroom.

"SurLaLune Fairy Tales: The Annotated Snow Queen." SurLaLune Fairy Tales: The Annotated Snow Queen. Accessed April 01, 2017.  This is a useful website for analyzing The Snow Queen and illustrating how Andersen’s life and beliefs impacted the story.

Tanyagalloway. "Faerie Tale Theatre 17 The Snow Queen." YouTube. January 13, 2017. Accessed May 29, 2017.  The is the film version of the fairy tale that will be shown in class.  While it is an edited version of the tale the sections told are faithful to the original text.

" ." Digication E-Portfolio :: The Snow Queen :: Welcome. Accessed April 01, 2017.  The website contains the full text of the fairy tale, as well as links to various film, theatre and television adaptations.

Student Resources and Materials for Classroom Use

Almond, David. Kit's Wilderness. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2009.  The young adult novel of magical realism with embedded stories.  This novel is the core literature read in this unit.

Andersen, H. C., and Edmund Dulac. Dulac's The Snow Queen, and Other Stories from Hans Andersen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976.  This classic fairy tale told in seven parts will be read in class. 

"Film Analysis." Film Analysis. Accessed June 10, 2017.  This website was set up by Yale University graduate students in film.  It is very useful, defining terms as well as providing examples of various techniques in cinematogophy.

Fry, Rosalie K. The Secret of Roan Inish. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1995.  This is the book that the film was based on.  It’s original title was The Secret of Ron Moor Skerry, and it was set in Scotland rather than Ireland.  When it was republished with the movie title the text was not altered in any way.

Sayles, John (director). The Secret of Roan Inish. Culver City, CA: Columbia Tristar Home Video, 1995.  This is the DVD version of the film.  In addition it contains commentary by the director John Sayles which is invaluable for the teacher in providing insight into how the film was made.


  1. Apkon, Stephen. The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens, 219.
  2. David Almond was not the first contemporary author to use elements of this tale in his novel. In 1997 Kirk Douglas, in The Broken Mirror, uses the first part of the story, calling it “Satan’s Mirror,” to explain the occurrence of evil in the world. This book is a tale of a boy who has lost his Jewish identity during the holocaust. In the book, the tradition of storytelling is also central as the boy is reading the story to his little sister. 
  3. Almond, David. Kit's Wilderness.
  4. Ibid, 111.
  5. Ibid 135.
  6. Ibid
  7. Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, 8.
  8. Sayles, John (director). The Secret of Roan Inish.
  9. Maureen Turim and Mika Turim-Nygren, “Of Spectral Mother and Lost Children: War, Folklore and Psychoanalysis in The Secret of Roan Inish in Sayles Talk: New Perspectives on Independent Filmmaker.
  10. Golden, John. Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom.
  11. "The Secret of Roan Inish." The Secret of Roan Inish
  12. "Hunt for the Wilderpeople." Featured Visual Glossary
  13. "Film Analysis."
  14. "The Secret of Roan Inish."
  15. Ibid
  16. Sayles, John (director). The Secret of Roan Inish.
  17. Ibid
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