Book of the Week: Olly and Me

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions. I hope you find this useful, and please leave a comment with any suggestions or additions!

Olly and Me, by Shirley Hughes

This book is out of print, but we do have two copies in the mentor text bag in the bookroom. Although it looks like a regular children’s book (perhaps in the style of Eve Bunting), it’s actually a book of poetry. If you’ve been searching for a solid collection of free verse poetry, you’ve found it.

The author, Shirley Hughes, is apparently a household name across the pond in England. Her book Dogger was featured as The Guardian’s Classic of the Month in 2004.

The Guardian also posted a lengthy interview with Ms. Hughes in 2009, the best quote from which I believe is, “The idea that pictures are sternly removed from you as soon as you learn to read is a truly terrible one.”

I’d love to use this book to bridge from personal narrative writing into poetry, especially helping students realize the ideas they’ve generated for narrative can be transfered to another writing form.

One poem features a visit to the Natural History Museum. Poetry would be SUCH a neat way to reflect on a field trip!

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggested lessons:

Accuracy

  • Use beginning and ending sounds. The poem “Happy Birthday, Dear Mom” features a goodly collection of B words, without being a ridiculous tongue twister. In primary grades, this could be a good authentic text to pull /b/ sounds from.

Fluency

  • Voracious Reading. Voracious readers choose books written by both US and foreign authors. It could be worthwhile to talk about how a British accent might change the rhythm of poetry — sometimes rhyming words won’t rhyme if you say them in a standard Midwestern American accent. Many of our students have accents as well. How do our individual accents impact our oral and silent reading? This might even be an entry point into examining whether students are subvocalizing when they read silently.
  • Use punctuation to enhance phrasing and prosody. I’m not gonna lie, I still really struggle with figuring out how to read free verse poetry out loud. Do I stop at the end of the line? This runs counter to what we teach younger readers when they’re reading blocks of prose text. Or do I stop at the punctuation marks? What if there are no punctuation marks? If you need more practice like I do, The Writer’s Almanac often features non-rhyming poetry in its daily broadcast. Click on the “Listen” link, then fast forward to the end of the recording, which is when Garrison Keillor reads a poem out loud.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!

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