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I fell in love with Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate last year. Not because of the vibrant, purple cover and the lure of a ginormous cat, but because this story manifests the one thing that gets us through the tough times in life-LOVE.
This is a story about a family that has fallen on hard times. Jackson’s dad was a construction worker until he became sick with M.S. When his body can manage the pain he works odd jobs, which is not often. Jackson’s mom was a music teacher but with budget cuts the school had to eliminate her position. She works two waitress jobs and cashiers at a drug store.Lacking extended family support, they depend on each other to get by. Shortly after Jackson finished first grade, they were evicted and had to live in their minivan for a couple months. That was when Crenshaw was invented in Jackson’s psyche. Once they settled into an apartment, Crenshaw disappeared. Life was back to normal for a few years. Now Jackson is in fifth grade and money problems are sneaking up on them again. And so is Crenshaw.
The story is heartbreaking yet hopeful. While reading you just know that Jackson and his family are going to be okay. Because of their love for each other, perseverance, and optimism, Jackson and his little sister, Robin, are going to grow up to be well-rounded, successful, loving adults. Phew! (The book doesn't literally tell us this. We use our inference skills to predict their future.) The reader finishes the book feeling nothing but admiration for the family and appreciation for their own blessings.
Crenshaw is well-written with just enough robust vocabulary (more on robust vocabulary click here) for intentional teaching so students can add to their mental word bank with the goal towards long-term memory and application. In other words, the more kids hear and read robust words in relevant context, the more likely they will use them in their everyday speaking and writing. Sometimes authors use too many complex words in their stories which can overwhelm the reader. Doesn’t apply here. In addition, there are plenty of examples of “showing” and not “telling” the story which allows ample opportunities to guide students’ written responses in creative ways. Also, there is a plethora of Text-Dependent questions (more on text-dependent questions click here) that can be extracted from the text. Students have opportunities for close reading by going back into the text and providing specific examples and/or page numbers to support their answers. For older readers, text-dependent analysis can be practiced using examples of how the story would change if told in different point of view and/or setting, etc.
Crenshaw is a great read and teaching tool. Not only does it instill a love for reading, but also covers the Language Arts Standards…vocabulary, writing, reading, text-dependent and text analysis, plot development, character development and of course the most important teachings-compassion and empathy for the human race. We learn that instead of being quick to judge, be quick to show kindness and love no matter how the circumstance may appear to you. With completion, the kids were asked to demonstrate understanding by designing a book cover. The bottom line. . .KIDS LOVE IT! And I plan to read it with next year's third graders, too. Hooray, Crenshaw!
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