Claire Alexander's book "Back to Front and Upside Down" is a pleasurable
example of writing that delivers a great story along with the message.
Filling the book with somewhat childlike pictures of a classroom with animal
students and teachers, Ms. Alexander has created a friendly, recognizable
environment for the child reader.
The story is of Miss Catnip's classroom
on the day the principal, Mr. Slippers, announces it is his birthday. (Of
course Miss Catnip is a cat, and Mr. Slippers is a floppy-eared,
glasses-wearing dog.) The students decide to mark the day with birthday
cards that they create in class.
Miss Catnip writes "Happy Birthday" on the board, and each student
(sheep, goose, pig, rhino, bunny and kitten) begins a card. Stan (the puppy)
is excited until he realizes the task involves writing! That is difficult
for Stan. Even though he tries very hard, his letters end up back to front
and upside down.
As he looks around the classroom, all the other students are busy
working. He thinks about asking Miss Catnip for help, but he is afraid all
the other students will laugh at him. Soon he is so upset he is feeling
sick. This part of the text is quite powerful for even nonreaders. It
depicts Stan, all alone, slumped at his desk, ears down, in a corner of a
double-page spread on entirely black pages.
Stan finally shares his problem at recess, when Jack (the pig) realizes
Stan is crying. Jack reminds Stan that all of the students need help from
Miss Catnip sometimes. After recess, Stan does ask for help. He even finds
that Mimi (the kitten) is having trouble as well.
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Again Ms. Alexander exhibits a good understanding of children and
educational techniques as Miss Catnip has the two students practice
their letters in sand, with paint, with chalk and with pencils. Miss
Catnip demonstrates and gives encouragement as they practice over
and over until it is easier for them to form the letters correctly.
All the students proudly give their cards to Mr. Slippers at his
birthday party. Stan and Mimi continue to practice their writing,
being sure to ask Miss Catnip for help when they need it, and almost
always getting their letters to turn out right.
This is a great story to share with all young learners. It can
calm their fears of being different or asking for help from their
teacher. It encourages understanding that everyone needs help at one
time or another. Ms. Alexander does not preach, she instructs, just
like all good teachers do.
For this and other stories about school, come see us at Lincoln
Public Library, 728 Pekin St. We will gladly help you find a story
that could be a perfect fit for you.
[By LOUELLA MORELAND, youth services librarian,
Lincoln Public Library District]
Ms. Lou's blog: