Saturday, January 26, 2008

Themes, Morals, Lessons

The moral of this story is, "Let them talk during read aloud."

In reading workshop, we've been working on finding the themes/morals/lessons that an author may or may not intend for us to extract or infer from his/her story.

In read aloud the other day, we had a bunch of fun finding silly themes/morals/lessons in 3 picture books.

How could we not read parts of Squids Will Be Squids by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith? Besides remembering or learning what a fable is, we also had a great discussion about why Scieszka can get away with writing a run-on sentence a whole paragraph long (in the Serious Historical Foreword), and fourth graders can't. Or should I say...and fourth graders are required to chop it into sentences, because some of my students CAN (and do) write whole paragraphs and pages without punctuation!

I read "Grasshopper Logic," and the conversation turned to the other things that are not good to say to a "hopping mad Grasshopper Mom."

Next, I read "He who..." because I knew they would be able to fill in the moral on their own. They could. ("He who smelt it...")

The last one I read, my own personal favorite of the entire collection, was "Straw and Matches." They started getting the double entendres and puns from the very beginning: "It was the end of summer vacation. Straw had done everything he could think of. He was bored. So he went over to play with someone he had been warned to stay away from." They groaned with laughter when they heard the moral and knew it was both about choosing one's friends and about playing with fire.

I didn't read any more from "Squids Will Be Squids," because my goal was for them to want to read more on their own. (It worked.)

Next came Jane Wattenberg's version of Henny-Penny. (How did it happen that this book got so old so fast! It's from seems-like-yesterday, but in-reality 2000!)

I read the whole book, because how often you get to shout, "CHICKABUNGA!" during a regular school day?

I swear, this class found more in Wattenberg's illustrations than any class ever! Not only that, but they could identify nearly every world landmark the flock of fowl visits in the course of the story. (Only the Coliseum and Stone Henge stumped them.) And one student knew what a cave would be like it it was "dank." WOW!

A few morals of this story? "Don't leave home until you lay your egg." "Stranger Danger -- Don't follow someone you don't know into a dark, dank cave." "Check to see what hit you in the head before you run off to tell the king the sky is falling." And here's mine: "Sometimes it's best to be the last one in the cave, because you might be the only one who makes it out!"
We ended with The Wolf Who Cried Boy by Bob Hartman. They knew the moral before I ever started reading, so this one, too, was more about the puns and word play. (Lamburgers, Sloppy Does, Chocolate Moose, Boy Chops, Three-Pig Salad, Baked Boy-tato, Boys-n-Berry goes on and on.)

After read aloud was over, one of my students asked if I had The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Sadly, I only have the variant. I will have to correct that soon. A day later, the same student came back from the book fair with The Dog Who Cried Wolf.

I love it when I get them started and they keep going on their own!


  1. What a terrific workshop! I'm curious: did they find any morals that they thought the author might not have intended? And a recommendation: we like the Hennessy/Kulikov retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf (Simon and Schuster, 2006). I hope the students do, too!

  2. A great new version of THE BOY WHO CRIED WOLF is WOLF, WOLF by John Rocco. Beautiful illustrations and funny to boot! I read it to third graders this week and they loved it.
    Carol Wilcox

  3. Thanks for the great suggestions! I'm off to the bookstore and library to see what else I can find!

  4. I know i'm little late in the game, but... do you by any chance remember the illustrations inside that Wattenberg's Henny Penny? Are there any pictures of the fox eating birds?


  5. Reese, the fox eats a duck -- you can see just the duck's feet sticking out of the fox's mouth. Just curious...why do you ask?

  6. Thanks for you answer, Mary!

    To answer your question, in fact I'm doing little research about potential "violent" childrenbooks with scary illustrations that could scare some (perhaps more sensitive) kids. Right now, I'm mostly looking for old classic fairytales like "The three little pigs", "Red riding hood", "Chicken Little", "Hansel and Gretel", "Gingerbread man" etc.

    Therefore your answer was a great help for me. If only I could get those illustrations... Anyway, if you can think about any similar children book, I'd be even more grateful. Cheers,



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