Sharon Creech?s children?s book, Love That Dog is a rare gem, in that it exposes children to several of the great poets without boring them or making them feel that they are being dragged through a lengthy poetry lecture. This is a strength rarely found in children?s poetry books, which often fail to include topics that relate to the audience members? lives. The main character, Jack, gives thoughtful (if sometimes reluctant) responses to the poetry he reads in class. While sharing his ideas about poets such as Robert Frost, he effectively introduces the audience to a famous poet and a few of his works without forcing that audience to read and analyze Robert Frost. According to Tunnell, author of Children?s Literature, Briefly,? children who perceive a book or work of poetry to be an assignment will resist reading that writing and will fail to appreciate the qualities that led to the teacher suggesting it in the first place. Children tend to perceive poetry as boring and they cannot easily relate to many poets. They are , however, likely to relate to Jack, the protagonist of Love That Dog. His negative attitude towards poetry parallels the attitude shared by many children, making it all the more significant when his opinion begins to change. His growing enthusiasm for poetry may very well attract new kids to reading poetry. The poems themselves are available to read in the back of Love That Dog. Children who find themselves curious about the poetry in which Jack finds his inspiration can find the original works and use them as their own starting point for writing poems. The poets featured in the book are all deemed ?great poets? by the experts, and yet many of them are poems that children are reluctant to read. By first reading Jack?s interpretation and his poetry inspired by a certain author, other children open to the poems in the back of the book with a positive attitude. By feeling this eagerness to read great poetry, the children? will set themselves up to appreciate and enjoy other poetry more than had they been forced to read words and had a negative experience. One of many significant passages is a touching description of Jack?s deceased dog, Sky: ?his paws curled around the wire and his long red tongue hanging out and his big black eyes looking a little sad and his long tail wag-wag-wagging as if he were saying Me me me! Choose me!? This passage effectively demonstrates Sharon Creech?s ability as an author and poet. Not only does she use beautiful and expressive language to give the reader a clear picture of the dog in the shelter and his longing for attention, she makes it seem realistic that a child could have written that passage. It doesn?t sound at all like an adult poet trying to imitate a child, which is what it is. The very simplicity of the passage gives it a certain appeal that could not be emanated with more complex language. Love That Dog is a perfect read for children in late elementary school, or 4th-5th grade. Children this age are able to understand the complexity of the poetry, including the original versions of poems by poets such as Robert Frost. They have a basic understanding of various forms of poetry and how it is structured, so they will understand the concepts that Jack is reflecting on. 9-11 year olds also understand the qualities inherent in good poetry, and will be able to recognize the development of these qualities in Jack?s poetry. Children in this age range especially love books about dogs and the bond between dogs and humans. This book may remind children of other great works, such as Where The Red Fern Grows. Many students will be inclined to read this book on their own. After all, Sharon Creech?s work is very popular with late elementary children. Children who enjoy dog novels will also be attracted to this book, after learning the title and seeing the picture of the dog on the front cover. Initially, it may take some convincing for boys to read this book, for the very same reason that Jack was reluctant to read and write poetry: ?Boys don?t write poetry. Girls do.? Even without knowing that Love That Dog is a poetry book, girls would be more likely to read it because they love the author, ?Sharon Creech,? who attracted a devoted following of late elementary and middle school girls after writing the novel Walk Two Moons. Also, girls this age are less embarrassed to admit that they are interested in poetry, while boys view it in much the same way that Jack does. Discussion Questions: 1. Why was Jack reluctant to put his name on his work or have it shown to other students? 2. Why is the book written as if it were a journal? How would it be different if it was more like a traditional chapter book? I absolutely loved this book. I have always been a fan of Sharon Creech and I never thought I?d like a children?s book better than Walk Two Moons, but I think that Love That Dog comes pretty close. I think that the raw and honest emotions expressed through Jack?s poetry draw in any reader, even one who does not enjoy poetry. I think this would be a great book to use in a 4th grade class as the beginning of a poetry unit. The book can help raise important questions about what exactly constitutes as poetry. This could be discussed as a class, and be used to transition into other poetry readings. I think that having children read this book and then start their own poetry journals could be very valuable. After seeing how the journal impacted Jack, they may be more likely to put forth significant effort into creating a quality poetry journal, and may garner the same profound healing effects in their own lives as Jack did in his.
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