I picked up Stanley from the breeder four years ago this New Year’s Eve. He was a tiny bundle of white fluff, full of energy and wanting to play. I’d never trained a dog by myself before so we went to “Puppy School.” Stanley was a stellar student. We gained a “Canine Good Citizens Award” and we contemplated having him trained as a therapy dog. Of course, my friends and family never believed me because he didn’t exhibit those traits at home. Four years later – he still doesn’t.
I know when Stanley is upset with me for working too much – he’ll pee on my computer bag. He knows when I will be traveling again – so he steals pantyhose and undergarments from my suitcase as I pack. And he has lately decided that he is enough a member of the family to join us for dinner – on the table of course. He’s a smart dog – probably smarter than me!! And at the end of the day when he is curled up next to me snoring softly in my ear, it’s hard to be angry with his antics.
So you can see that I have a real connection with Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, written and illustrate by Mark Teague. In fact, I do believe that I hear Stanley’s voice in Ike, who is sent to Brotweiler Obedience School by his owner Mrs. LaRue after several disturbing incidences at home including eating chicken pie, howling while she is away, and ripping her camel hair coat.
In addition to using Ike’s letters to teach about voice, this picture book is ideal to teach about persuasion and the art of exaggeration. For example, as Ike paints a picture of the “warden” and his “severe” punishment for not sitting and staying (shown in black and white), reality is a comfortable environment of happy dogs and a caring teacher shown in color. Students will get a clear picture of how to provide facts to support their particular opinion, as well as how to pull apart the editorials of others to ask additional questions.
The Writing Fix provides interactive activities for students and Scholastic you provides some additional ideas for using Dear Mrs. LaRue with students but a piece you will certainly want to share with students is how the author gets ideas for his stories:
“For Mark Teague, a story starts from his "notebooks full of sketches and scribbles, strange little drawings and phrases…" His inspiration for the character of Ike in Dear Mrs. LaRue came from two dogs in his life. His own dog, Earl, was a master food thief, and his brother's dog, Ali, actually limped when he wanted attention!”
The more we can have students use writers notebooks and write about things that are important to them, the more engaged they will be as writers. And they’ll keep on writing!!
So - what's your pet been up to lately?