While I have blogged about novels and finding the perfect one more than once, I find that throughout the school year it is a challenge. It is essential that we keep books in our students’ hands and their brains active with great literature. One strategy you can try is to select novels with dogs as one of the feature characters.
Like everything else, different years bring different students. Some years bring motivated to read students, while other years I have students that love to disclose that they have never “really” read a book from beginning to end by themselves. Nothing will send a teacher to the bookshelf faster than a line like that!
While I tend to read about 5-10 novels with my students a year in small groups and through whole group instruction, I struggle to read the same ones over and over. Again, each year brings different students, what worked with one group is not the perfect text for another. Some years my students are highly motivated and are willing to tackle any text I present, other years I have to work a bit harder and find a new title and create a new novel unit. I do love when this happens because I LOVE a challenge.
My favorite upper elementary to middle school authors are without a doubt, Sharon Creech, Gary Paulsen, and Jerry Spinelli. There are other authors I share with my students, but these authors have really nailed the ability to reach this adolescent group. If you have not read ANY of their books because you are a newer teacher, have been living under a rock, or have to follow some other reading resource, Google this bunch in order to find a few titles and race to your local library to read them as quickly as possible.
Because our Reading Street series at the 6th grade level has a snippet from Old Yeller as one of the very first texts to share, I find out a great deal about students that have dogs. FYI-the chapter that is included in Reading Street is not the end, it is where Old Yeller protects Little Arliss from getting attacked by the bear. I quickly learn that most of my students are pet people and adore their four-legged friends.
This is helpful in connecting my students to more books. A favorite that I love to share with my students to extend their text-to-text connections with dogs is the novel Love That Dog. Have you ever read this book? To be honest, the first time I picked it up and paged through it, I put it right back down. I read a few pages and I couldn’t figure out how or where to utilize it with my students. Then I attended a workshop where the presenter shared it as a read aloud, and it hit me that this was the perfect book to share with reluctant writers, poets, and dog-lovers.
This novel by Sharon Creech is written in a journal format from Jack’s first-person perspective. He hates poetry and the fact that his teacher is trying to make him write it on a consistent basis. Finally we learn that the reason he doesn’t want to write a poem about his “pet” is because his dog, Sky, was hit and killed by a speeding, blue car. It is an amazing book about how a boy shares his sadness through his writing and over the course of the year, comes to love poetry. If you have students that are not fans of poetry, this is a must read.
Here is a unit I created to go along with this text. It is the perfect resource to get your students writing and analyzing poetry. They are responding to Jack in the novel as his teacher, Miss Stretchberry, in journal format and will be analyzing each poem that she shares to enhance their understanding of poetry. Your dog-loving students will not want to put this text down.
Some other great dog texts and novels that I have shared with my students are:
Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle
This is the story of a dog that was an Iraqi war dog who was befriended by Major Brian Dennis. Your students will love reading or hearing this story of how far a desperate dog will go to find his TRUE owner.
This is a novel about Gary Paulsen’s road to becoming a musher. Your students will love reading about his adventures through the Minnesota woods with his crazy pack of sled-pulling dogs. See my Woodsong novel study unit.
Because of Winn Dixie
Because of Winn Dixie is a realistic fiction text about a girl named Opal. She moves to Naomi, Florida with her father and finds a fast friend in a dog she meets at and names Winn Dixie. It is a story about how she learns about her mother, who left her at the age of three, as well as how she learns to move on in her life despite facing challenges. See my novel study unit here.
If you are like me and have dog-loving students, get these books for your classroom library or into student hands from a local library. I promise you will have enthusiastic and inspired readers!