The Hunt, and a List of Great Chapter Books

Sometimes strange things happen over which we have no control. And even if we think we’re in control, we’re not.I learned that this week while teaching three mischievous little boys.

I spend every afternoon providing intense reading intervention with small groups of 7 and 8 year-olds. During a half hour period we might use whiteboards, dramatize, play several games, make a phonics chart, and read two or three books. I always keep one eye on the clock, and the other on my lesson plan, to make sure the pace of activity facilitates maximum impact. In other words, I have no time for shenanigans.

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writing letters in quinoa

On Monday, we were reading a story with a mouse as a protagonist. We were almost at the last page when it all started:

“Look, there he is! There’s the mouse!” Cameron yelled in a fit of giggles.

Before I had time to squelch anything another boy joined in, pointing and bouncing in his chair. Then the third boy chimed, “I see it, I see it, I see it, I see it!”

Flustered and annoyed with their antics (we’d lost thirty precious seconds of content coverage), I demanded silence. “Stop it. Stop it right now. All of you sit DOWN. This is enough.”

But they couldn’t sit. They wouldn’t sit. They danced on their tippy toes, tittering, yelping, and completely ignoring me… and that’s when I saw the furry body and smooth tail slip behind my shelf.

In the same moment, the custodian came barreling into my room, holding towels in both hands. “Plug the doorways! There’s a mouse in here!” she shouted, throwing me a towel to batten down the hatches. But the little mouse squeezed under a door before I had time to stuff it with a towel and the screaming that ensued in the hallway indicated its escape route. It wasn’t just the custodian on the hunt now; the secretary, followed by the vice principal, came running from their offices, too. Even I abandoned my lesson plan and grabbed the garbage can Cameron held out to me.

I decided to go for it. Sprinting after the rodent and slamming the can onto the floor, I looked up only to see him zig-zagging a few steps ahead of me. The second time it worked and I just barely captured him–his little black eyes and quivering nose sticking out from under the rim–right in front of thirty students lined up at the library door. Their teacher screeched, “Shut the door!” while the vice-principal handed me a broom to finish the job.

Mrs. Reed took the mouse back outside and set it free was the line some teachers told their students, but my three boys knew better. They had seen me smash the broom-handle to the floor. When we gathered ourselves back in my room, they wanted to know more details, and mostly, why I had killed it.

“Mice and humans don’t get along very well indoors,” I explained, “Now, pick up a marker and write m-o-u-s-e. Which two vowels make the middle sound?”

When I told my daughter, on our drive home, what had happened she wasn’t impressed. “That could’ve been Despereaux!” she cried, swinging her feet and inadvertently kicking my seat.

…Which brings me back to the title of this post. (Were you wondering if I’d ever get there?) In case you weren’t sure, this is all about chapter books; the books we’ve read to our children and loved. Our daughters are currently seven and nine, but most 5-99 year-olds will enjoy these. They’re the kind of books that change the way you think, imagine, and make you mad at your mom for killing a mouse. (See The Tale of Despereaux). I’ve shared a few of these before, but I wanted to make a shortlist of our favourites in one place…

  • Little House on the Prairie series
  • Pippi Longstocking
  • Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter (Another one by Astrid Lindgren–an exciting story of independence, love, and the wilderness)
  • Mrs. Piggle Wiggle (also a series, and a hit with the 5-7 year old crowd)
  • Where the Mountain meets the Moon (A fantastical adventure that Belén especially loved)
  • A little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Boxcar Children
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8
  • Grandma’s Attic Series (True stories of a woman who grew up in Michigan–all tales of the “olden days”)
  • The Belonging Place by Jean Little
  • City of Orphans
  • The Tale of Despereaux
  • Out of My Mind — Devastating/enlightening/hopeful at the same time. My book club (all of us 35+) appreciated it too.

Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light. (From the Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo)

What I wrote at the beginning of this post is true. I had no control of my lesson once the mouse showed up. And it appears I have less control over my writing than I think; I can’t come up with a meaningful way to tie this piece together…What do mice, literacy, fate, our drive to control, and read-alouds have in common? Please leave your existential answers, along with any titles you’ve enjoyed with your family, or as a child, in the comments.

Happy for more book suggestions,
Tricia
*Although I have no affiliation with Amazon (use your local library!) I link to the site because it’s the most user-friendly for synopsis and reviews.

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The Good Life

The other day I asked Stan what he thought about me painting a list on our entry-way walls. For some reason, I love the idea of hand-painted words framing our living space; it seems different than the vinyl stickers available in stories. After I brought the idea up, he reliably countered with the practicalities of dripping paint over our smooth beige walls.

“It would be hard to cover up if you got tired of it… I guess you’d have to sand it all down. Remind me, again, what’s wrong with a canvas?”

I think we’ve had some version of this conversation at least 14 times before. At this point in our exchange I usually admit it’s probably not a good idea. It suddenly strikes me as tiresome, what with sanding and all. I’ll decide to write whatever phrase has caught my imagination in my journal instead, or maybe on a piece of paper and tape it to the wall. Of course, I never get around to doing either and a few months later we repeat the whole scenario.
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My latest wall-painting proposal was inspired by a trip to the library. Even though I walk there at least once a week I often leave feeling amazed, like a kid who finds a half-eaten box of smarties under the couch cushions.

Stan always tells me, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,”, suspicious that I might sign up for a trip to Vegas through some junk-mail voucher one day.* This may be good advice, but it doesn’t hold water when it comes to libraries. Especially ones with online ordering services. In a few clicks of the mouse I can choose enough books that I’ll need my backpack with the hip belt when I go to pick them up.
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I am especially fond of my librarians and feel particularly flattered when they go out of their way to make recommendations based on their observations of my reading taste. It’s comforting to think we’ve become intimate friends despite conversations consisting of “I”ll take your card now”; “Some books came in for you today”; or “Would you like to pay your fines now or later?”

Tonight, I take Belén and Susanna to chose some books for themselves. I pick out a few from the browser’s shelf for myself and then let the girls know it’s time to leave. They slowly move toward me with their heads bent low, hair brushing the pages. I shuffle to the check-out counter and they catch up to me before we reach it. Instead of moving forward, we lose momentum and fall back into our reading, forming a silent clot in the middle of the library. A few pages later I remember we are leaving and revive my entranced companions.

When we come home I tell them they have a choice: extra reading time before bed or a chance to talk for a bit after the lights are out. For once, they agree on something…

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The list I started this post with–the list that never got written or painted–is titled, The Good Life. As you may have guessed, library within walking distance is the first entry.

Enjoy your weekend,

Tricia

*Does this ring a bell, anyone?