Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reading: Henry and Mudge (The First Book - Picture Book)

Henry was lonely.  He didn't have any brothers or sisters or friends on his street.  But when he asked his parents for a dog, he received Mudge, Henry's perfect, floppy-eared, short-haired companion that grew out of seven collars before reaching the great height of three feet!

When I taught first grade in Charlotte two years ago, my students loved Henry and Mudge!  The use of sight words and predictable, repetitive text made the books easy for students to read, and the stories between the covers made the books engaging!  Even as a third grade teacher now, I find that my students still love Henry and Mudge, and I have used some of the books for my struggling guided reading groups, along with a dog craftivity on which the students retell the book in a sequence.  I'd never actually read THE first book until this analysis, and as I did, I took note of what elements make it so popular among children.   
What child wouldn't want to have a lovable,
loyal, GIANT friendship like the one shared
between Henry and Mudge? 

First, as I mentioned briefly already, Henry and Mudge is a manageable read for children just learning how to read due to its repetition.  For example, in the beginning of the book, Cynthia Rylant wrote, "I want ____," he told his parents.  "Sorry," they said.  These two lines are repeated three times on the first few pages.  This sort of repetition is used throughout the book, and I think students will want to read it over and over again because of that.  

While Henry and Mudge is labeled as a "Ready-to-Read" book by its publisher and does contain mostly simple language, the story is still interesting to young audiences.  Further, it includes the common elements seen in a fiction book: characters, settings, a small problem, and a simple solution. Thus, it's an excellent choice to teach summarizing with students, and there are opportunities for students to predict what will happen next as they read through a suspenseful scene in the book. 

Henry and Mudge is a book that children will be able to relate to.  Henry is a young boy that wants a friend.  He finds a friend in his pup!  Most children that I have worked with love dogs and either have a pet canine or wish to.  They enjoy seeing a child just like them getting to take on this responsibility. Additionally, the series of Henry and Mudge lets children take a deeper look into the friendship of Henry and Mudge so that they, too, feel a part of it. 

Of course, this book also feels special for students because it is probably one of the first "chapter books" that they will ever read.  It shows them what a Table of Contents is and gives them direct experience using it.  

Pointy-eared dogs are special, too!  
Well, I can't very well share one
pup and not the other!
Lastly, Henry and Mudge shows how sweet it is to have a friend.  Before Mudge, walking to school was scary.  With Mudge, walking to school became a happy task!  My only wish is that Henry wouldn't have listed what he didn't want in a dog and would have refrained from telling Mudge, "I'm glad you're not short."  No matter how he looked, Mudge proved to be a loyal companion, and loyalty is more important in a friendship than ideal looks!  Further, with so many shelter dogs needing homes just as they are - straight-eared, curly-haired, short, some with disabilities - and with many dogs being bred in unhealthy ways just to be "cute," it's important to teach children to be loving towards all animals.  That was the only moment that sours this book for an extreme animal cuddler like me, as I currently sit with one of my floppy-eared, curly-haired, kind of short, squirrel-chasing dogs on my lap!  Mudge loved Henry, lemon hair and all, and I think Henry would have loved Mudge even if he did have pointy ears. 

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