(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)
I love Love That Dog, a short novel in poems by Sharon Creech, and yesterday, I began reading it aloud to my sixth graders as part of our poetry unit. A few have read it on their own before, but most had not. They were mostly quiet as I read — taking in the story of a young boy (Jack) who does not like poetry but is asked by his teacher to keep a journal, reflecting on the poems he has heard, read and written.
The story begins with Jack stating outright that “Boys don’t write poetry. Girls do.” (That got a few laughs … from the boys)
But slowly, he opens up his eyes to the possibilities of poetry, and Jack’s story of his dog and what happened slowly gets told through journal entries told in Jack’s endearing voice. The journal entries themselves are poems, and Jack watches as his teacher — Miss Stretchberry — types them up and puts them on display. It is through this that Jack realizes the power of his writing, and then digs deep to understand a tragedy that happened in his world.
Throughout the book, Creech shares the poems that Jack is learning about, so the reader gets to peruse Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, William Blake, and others in the poetic canon.
Yesterday, I stopped at the point where Jack is all excited about Shape Poems (poems where words take the shape of the thing the poem is about, is how Jack puts it) that have a humorous bent to them. The one in the book — called Apple by S.C. Riggs (Creech herself) — shows an apple with a wormy worm in the center. Jack creates his own poem about a dog, with a tongue dripping drool and the tail wag-wag-wagging. We then began creating our own funny shape poems (I did a football with grass stains and air hissing out of a hole).
I had more than one student ask, this is poetry? Yes, I said, this is poetry, and isn’t it fun? They are so used to prose and sentences and paragraphs that they are surprised by the freedom of poetry. Too many students balk at poetry because they think everything is about rhyming. I hope they are learning that poetry is about exploration and questions, not answers. (This was made obvious by our discussion of William Carlos Williams’ The Red Wheelbarrow, which confused the heck out of them).
We’ll continue reading the book out loud again today and likely finish up tomorrow, and I always get a bit choked up at the moment when we learn the true story that Jack is struggling to tell and only finds his voice through poetry. I often have a few kids with tears in their eyes. There is an emotional resonance to Love That Dog that any middle school student, or older, should experience.
Peace (in poems),