Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Red-Faced Fiasco

Each grade level kindergarten through twelfth grade, as a whole, has a distinguishing personality.  First grade students, with a year in elementary school conquered, walk the hallways with more confidence in their steps.  What they say and do comes straight from their heart; emotional responses come quickly.

During one of my first grade story times as we were all gathered together with book buddies, comfy on the rug, leaning toward one another and letting the story surround us, one of the students became suddenly ill.  The other students scattered as I moved to assist.  When the class returned the following week, I quietly asked the student how they were feeling.  We looked at each other, smiled and then laughed out loud.  It was a joke we shared until their graduation from high school.

When you create a welcoming atmosphere in your classroom students feel more comfortable.  This sense of ease allows learning to flourish.  It also makes for some interesting conversations.  First Grade Dropout (Clarion Books, July 7, 2015) written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Matthew Cordell depicts an incident happening in classrooms everywhere over and over on a daily basis.

I've been lots of things.

Our narrator proceeds to list five things in his short life span which are irrefutable truths.  His sixth statement reveals his current dilemma.  There is no way, no how; he is going back to school.

His sense of compassion for others is duly noted especially when they do something embarrassing.  He did something so embarrassing others forgot to be kind.  Everyone laughed at him, even his best friend Tyler.  How can he possibly return to his classroom?

Perhaps a bit of magic will help, turning back the clock or a clever disguise.  His thoughts are interrupted by his sense of humiliation in recalling the incident again.  As his thinking continues he does recall when some laughter slipped out of his mouth after Tyler had a costume failure at school.  How was Tyler able to come back the next day?

Without revealing the exact nature of the event with each recollection he feels worse and worse.  His only choice in his mind is to become

a first grade dropout.

Imagining what he will do and thinking about friends he will miss as a dropout, he remembers how Ms. Morgan tried to bolster his spirits telling him others have done the same thing every year.  He still feels miserable.  This guy is down in the double dumps as he walks on the field for soccer practice.

Tyler is there with some other teammates.  Our guy waits for the laughter.  Bravely he shares his plan with his friend.  Friendship, the best kind of friendship, allows for bloopers, mishaps and laughter.

Readers can readily identify with the characters born from Audrey Vernick's mind.  The narrator's voice is authentic to a fault.  The emotional low and high notes are a pitch-perfect portrayal.  Vivid descriptions of embarrassing moments have us laughing with the boy and his friend rather than at them.  This passage sums up the little guy's assessment of the moment.

It was quiet.  Then it started, all at once,
like a big marching band of laughing people.

Rendered in pen and ink and watercolor Matthew Cordell adeptly captures every mood of our narrator on the matching dust jacket and book case as well as all the interior pages.  The look on the boy's face explicitly proclaims his current mood.  It's a nice touch to have the text First Grade placed upon the paper used to teach letters and early writing.  On the back, to the left, on a canvas of white with a light blue wash, a few clouds and a bird flying in front of a sun, the avian adviser announces Stay In School!  A darker hue of the writing paper (the boy's hair color) covers both the opening and closing endpapers.

Full color images on a background of white grab our attention.  Cordell's interpretation of the text is hilarious.  He, like Vernick, has tapped into his inner first grader.  For the words Soaking wet he shows the character standing in a pouring rain storm holding an umbrella, broken and inside out.  Clearly the boy has had his share of bad days but nothing to date tops his status in this story as Cordell shows us.

When the boy is thinking or remembering, the visual is surrounded by loosely drawn cloud shapes.  The placement of the pictures and their size supplies emotional significance.  The series of images at the soccer field demonstrate this exceptionally well.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the double-page spread for the partial text noted above.  A twenty-piece band in uniform with a drum major is marching from edge to edge.  The members are dressed in red jackets and hats with plumes and blue gray pants.  Banners on the hats display the embarrassing moment.  Amid the colorful confetti is an equally colorful chorus of the word HA.

Every single reader has had embarrassing moments but the humorous narrative in First Grade Dropout written by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Matthew Cordell sums it up with first-class style.  The value of having a genuine friend, through thick and thin, will have you doing mental high-fives.  I guarantee you'll be smiling from the first page until the last.

To discover more about both Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell follow the links attached to their names to access their websites and blogs.  For the pronunciation of Audrey Vernick's name follow this link to TeachingBooks. net.  

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