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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Monster by Walter Dean Myers

“Miss O’Brien looked at me-I didn’t see her looking at me but I knew she was.  She wanted to know who I was.  Who was Steve Harmon?  I wanted to open my shirt and tell her to look into my heart to see who I really was, who the real Steve Harmon was.

That was what I was thinking, about what was in my heart and what that made me.  I’m just not a bad person.  I know that in my heart I am not a bad person.”

Hi from library school in Montreal, friends! Look what I have for you: a fast read, an incredible story, written by an author you should definitely get to know, if you don’t already. You are going to go crazy about this one!

Steve Harmon got mixed up in some bad business.  Felony business.  He’s a 16-year-old who grew up in Harlem, and he agreed to be the lookout for a friend who was planning to rob a drugstore.  The robbery went south, the owner was shot and killed, and Steve finds himself looking at 25 years to life in prison if he is convicted.   The story follows his trial, from his own perspective.  He talks about prison, and his deepest fear: everyone looks at his brown face and hears about the crime, and thinks he is a monster.  Deep inside, he’s afraid that everyone might be right.

See all those shiny medals on the cover?  Those are the biggies: Printz, National Book Award Finalist,  and Coretta Scott King award.  Plus, Walter Dean Myers has been awarded the Margaret Edwards Award, the one given to honor lifetime achievement.  That’s only handed out to one author, once a year.  Big stuff, guys!  Of course, there are amazing books and authors that go unrewarded out there, too, but the awards are a great guide if you’re not sure what you want to read.

So, awards aside, the beauty of this book is its gritty story, simpler language, and unconventional format (a pastiche of journal entries and film script).  The format makes it especially appealing to ELLs, or older students who may need a really good hook and a fast-paced read, as well as anyone not looking for a straight-up, novel-style read. ( However, while it may be a quick read, Myers definitely does not sacrifice emotional impact or plot.) I finished it over the course of a week, but that was because I was interrupted by an international move, and after the furniture-assembling, apartment-cleaning, grocery-st0re-finding-missions, and hours-long Skype phone calls, all I could do was read for a few minutes and fall asleep with my cheek smashed into the pages.  Thanks for being patient-I really did want to get this finished and share it with you!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website :http://www.walterdeanmyers.net

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. 281 pp (but it reads quickly!). Ages 13 and up.