I’ve been eyeing my bookshelves recently. I know I have to pare back. I still have all of the books I used when I taught reading and writing in first, second, third, and fourth grades. And I stopped doing that ten years ago! I even have multiple copies for group reading! Now almost all of my daily teaching is focused on math and I have plenty of math/literature connection books as well. Plus my own kids are both in college, so I’m not using them there. Even my nephews and nieces are in middle school or higher.
The thing is—I love these books. I am having a very hard time letting them go. My favorites are probably the short chapter books I used for read-alouds with my classes. Every day brought another chapter and took us deeper into the story. It was a delight to hear the moans, groans, and pleading to just hear a little more, and even better when students would hunt down their own copies to that they could read on their own.
Some of these great books I fear will disappear. I just don’t see them on the bookstore shelves, on reading lists, or in classrooms anymore, yet they are as good, if not better (in my humble opinion) than some Newberry and Caldecott winners. So for today’s blog, I thought maybe I could mention a book I love, that I hope you will hunt down and read, if you don’t know it already. It’s one of those books we can learn from as writers and enjoy as readers and just plain humans.
From a writer’s viewpoint, it is a book with no wasted words. It has incredible economy. The story moves from page to page with a building tension and excitement. The characters are well drawn, their motivations totally believable and understandable. The writing seems effortless and the writer’s presence is never noticed, something Elmore Leonard mentioned as his acid test for whether he has to rewrite or not.
It's the story of Wharton the toad, who is captured by a fearsome owl. The owl brings Wharton to his home in a tree trunk and informs him that he will be eating Wharton the following Tuesday. Wharton tries to devise a means of escape while at the same time learning about who this owl really is. There is excitement and humor and very realistic detail both in the setting and in the habits and actions of the characters. It is a fantastic story of bravery and friendship. As one reviewer stated, it is a story where “intelligence, kindness, and compassion win the day.” And you have to love a story like that.