Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

“April 26

Sometimes

when you are trying

not to think about something

it keeps popping back

into your head.

You can’t help it

you think about it

and

think about it

and think about it

until your brain

feels like a squashed pea.”

Jack hates poetry.  He doesn’t want to read it, and he certainly doesn’t want to write it.  However, he is in the same situation as many children: you do not get to choose what you want to do in school.  And so, in a series of assigned poems over the course of a school year, Jack dutifully records his feelings.  In the beginning, they’re short and grumpy poems, like “I tried. Can’t do it. Brain’s empty” or “I don’t want to because boys don’t write poetry.  Girls do.” However, once he reads the poems of Walter Dean Myers, who is 1) not a girl and 2) not writing about roses and romance or wheelbarrows, Jack begins to feel differently.  He begins to write about the death of his beloved dog in poem form.  He even musters up the bravery, with his teacher’s encouragement, to ask Walter Dean Myers to visit his school.  Poems? They may not be so bad after all.

Does anyone remember the William Carlos Williams poem about the red wheelbarrow?

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

As a young child, that poem filled me with rage.  Really?! I thought. You’ve got to be kidding me. You know what? No.  So much does NOT depend on wheelbarrows.  Why am I reading this? I’ll admit it freely, friends.  Until someone taught me about symbolism and brevity and the distilled emotions of poetry, I had absolutely no patience or interest in it. (Now, I am a happy subscriber to the Poetry Foundation magazine and spend many hours reading poems-that’s the truth! I even became a literature major-there is hope for all you who do not yet love poetry!) Anyway, when Jack opens his book with a complaint about the wheelbarrow, I laughed out loud!  In an authentic voice, Jack manages to display his distaste for poetry, but creates some very moving poems while doing so.

The best part of this book is its intertextuality-a fancy word that means “references to other books”.  Not only does Jack chronicle his appreciation for the young adult superstar author, Walter Dean Myers, he also discusses several famous and important poems.  These poems are included in the back of the book, so you can read them, too. The book is like a bunch of arrows pointing to other great books and poets and authors, so it makes you want to read more!  This is an excellent way to introduce a poetry unit in the classroom because it acknowledges the common complaints against poetry, discusses why poetry is important (without preaching, friends, because you know that is really something I can’t bear in a book-kids smell that a mile away!), and then gives us some clues for new things to read.  Furthermore, anyone who has ever lost a pet will be moved by Jack’s poems about his dog.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.sharoncreech.com

Creech, Sharon. Love that Dog. HarperCollins: New York, 2001. 86 pp. Ages 8-12.

If you liked this book, and it made you crazy for poetry and now you want to read it all the time, like me, you might want to try the sequel to this book, called Hate that Cat.  Home of the Brave is a poem-story about a young Sudanese refugee settling in Minnesota, and Out of the Dust is the story of a young girl living in Oklahoma during the Great Depression.  And of course, everyone should read everything Walter Dean Myers has ever written!

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A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

“Was everyone playing a trick on me? Of course numbers had colors.  Were they also going to tell me that letters and sounds didn’t have colors? That the letter a wasn’t yellow like a faded sunflower and screeching chalk didn’t make red jagged lines in the air?”

Mia sees the world differently than most people.  She has a rare condition called synesthesia, which is a disorder that involves the brain’s processing of sensory information.  For Mia, letters, words, numbers, and some sounds have their own colors.  For example, her name is candy-apple red with a touch of avocado green.  However, after the episode in the quote, where she realizes that her other classmates don’t see the colors that she does, she keeps her condition a secret, even from her parents.

Aside from her condition, Mia lives the life of an ordinary thirteen-year-old.  She loves her cat, Mango, and spends a lot of time squabbling with her siblings.  She forgets homework assignments and disagrees with her friends.  She worries about fitting in.  Through all of this, she deals with algebra problems that don’t make sense and bad Spanish grades.  It’s pretty typical stuff, just with extra colors.  I especially enjoyed her experiences with acupuncture (it really intensified her synesthesia) and her developing relationship with Roger.

Spoiler alert:  Mango dies near the end of the novel, and a lot of space is devoted to how she processes grief.   Because of her extreme sadness, she temporarily loses her synesthesia.  I was more emotional than I thought I’d be when I read that part, and anyone who has ever lost a pet will understand.

This is a calm story about a girl with an interesting condition.  It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it’s very pleasant.  Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.wendymass.com/

Mass, Wendy.  A Mango-Shaped Space. New York: Little, Brown & Co, 2003. 224 pp. Grades 5-8.