But seriously. A great kid's book - chapter or picture, it doesn't matter - has an ability to capture a topic, portray emotion, pull a kid into something in, and allows them to easily understand and take part in something bigger and deeper than themselves. It can change how a student thinks or help them get perspective on something that's happening to or around them. It does in a few words and pictures, simply, what many authors for adults try to do in hundreds of wordy pages. And the end result touches adults just as much as it touches kids.
It's a difficult art, and I admire it greatly.
So when I come across a great book, especially one for kids that doesn't portray bratty kids as the heroes, I tend to want to share it.
On our read-aloud list for Sonlight, the curriculum I'm using with the 5 year old missionary kids this year, was the title Gooney Bird Greene. I was a bit worried - we had tried reading a couple of other recommendations earlier in the year and they had gone right over the kids' heads. So I did what every elementary teacher does. I grabbed the book and brought it home to read as my nighttime reading before bed.
And, unexpectedly, I kept reading more. And more. Good thing it's a short book or it might've been a late night. If you've ever been in a classroom, you'll connect with this book. If you have kids, or have ever been around a group of them, you'll get it. And especially if you've ever taught lower-elementary? You'll feel right at home in this classroom the minute you open the book. Here's a glimpse at Mrs. Pidgeon's second grade class:
“Our class has been learning about what makes good stories, haven’t we?” Mrs. Pidgeon said. Everyone nodded. All but Malcolm, who was under his desk cutting something with scissors.
“There are many stories that don’t need a book,” Mrs. Pidgeon said pleasantly, “aren’t there, class? If your grandma tells you a story about when she was a little girl, she doesn’t have that story in a book, does she?”
The class stared at her. All but Malcolm, who was still under his desk, and Felicia Ann, who always looked at the floor, never raised her hand, and never spoke.
Beanie said, “My grandma lives in Boston!”
Keiko said, “My grandma lives in Honolulu!”
Ben said loudly, “My grandma lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania!”
Tricia shouted, “My grandma is very rich!”
“Class!” said Mrs. Pidgeon. “Shhh!” Then, in a quieter voice, she explained, “Another time, we will talk about our families. But right now – ” She stopped talking and looked at Barry Tuckerman. Barry was up on his knees in his seat, and his hand was waving in the air as hard as he could make it wave.
“Barry?” Mrs. Pidgeon said. “Do you have something that you simply have to say? Something that cannot possibly wait?”
Barry nodded yes. His hand waved.
“And what is so important?”
Barry stood up beside his desk. Barry Tuckerman liked to make very important speeches, and they always required that he stand.
“My grandma,” Barry Tuckerman said, “went to jail once. She was twenty years old and she went to jail for civil disobedience.” Then Barry sat down.
“Thank you, Barry. Now look at what I’m writing on the board. Who can read this word?”
Everyone, all but Malcolm and Felicia Ann, watched as she wrote the long word…"
p. 4-5 Gooney Bird Greene, by Lois Lowry
I love that the two-time Newberry Award winner Lois Lowry decided to write a book about a girl who loves to tell "absolutely true" stories. It's brilliant. My kids are cracking up the whole way through, and yet are still learning basic elements of creating a story. But more than that, they're connecting with the characters themselves. Just like Gooney Bird's classmates, they're anxious to discover what crazy outfit Gooney Bird has on, love it when the days of school in the book coincide with the day of school in real life, and are excited to guess which story she's going to tell next.
Perhaps even better? It's a book that teachers (and parents!) will enjoy themselves. :) Even after reading it aloud a few years in a row.
Side note: Just found out there's a series! Now if only there was a Barnes and Noble in Musomaland... ;)