“Love That Dog” by Sharon Creech is a great read and perfect book for introducing kids to poetry (I’d say 3rd and 4th grade would be the best fit) . Written in free verse, “Love That Dog” is ostensibly a series of journal entries by Jack, a student in Miss Stretchberry’s class. They start a year-long exploration of poetry and Jack’s reaction is one of annoyance. In his initial “poetic” entry, Jack flatly informs his teacher that boys don’t write poetry. There are five features I LOVE about this book:
- Jack. If you are looking for a book that effectively portrays a change of heart and mind in a young man, this is a classic. For students who would benefit from opportunities to see how and why change occurs, “Love That Dog” has ample material for explaining the impact of emotions, words, and even sounds.
- The interaction between Jack and his teacher. Jack’s entries are in response to (unseen) questions by Miss Stretchberry or in anticipations of what she might say or ask. Although unseen, I’d say Miss Stretchberry has a gift for drawing the best from her students by accepting them where they are and gently urging them forward, using encouragement and high expectations. For students who need help with perspective-taking, “Love That Dog” can be used to promote an understanding of conversational flow. It also allows the reader to practice making inferences and predictions similar to authentic classroom experiences.
- The emotional impact of the plot. As an adult, I could see where we were heading, but I was still captured by the intensity of the experience. It would be a great opportunity for teachers (and parents) to discuss the issues that Jack tries to avoid. No spoilers, though. You’ll have to read it for yourself.
- The racial diversity of poetry. The author reaches far and wide to select excellent poetry for her class. Miss Stretchberry’s choices could guide many classroom teachers through her expansive collection of poems, which are also printed at the back of the book. This is not a white-kids-only book.
- The book’s layout. Every entry is dated, often a week apart, as the class appears to focus one day a week on writing poetry. Each page is pale yellow with Jack’s entries printed in blue. That format is significant but again, no spoilers here!
The poet who made the most impact on Jack (and me) was the late Walter Dean Myers. Here’s an autobiographical clip, where he refers to his working relationship with his son, Christopher, his years of speech therapy, and his desire to reach kids who live in cities.