At the recommendation of Miss K. at the library, The Great Fuzz Frenzy was a recent pick for a second-grade read-aloud. The kids liked the funny story of how a very strange object (a tennis ball) caused a fuzz-snatching brouhaha in a colony of prairie dogs, but I could also sense that maybe, at this point in the year with this particular group, we might need to get back to something more familiar and less wordy. The wiggly back row on the reading rug was my barometer.
The next week we read James Marshall's version of the Grimms' Red Riding Hood. The kids listened with rapt attention.They knew Little Red Riding Hood. They knew scary woods. "There's a wolf in 'The Three Little Pigs,' too!" Ms. B. (the teacher) and I noticed how much they want to participate and talk. I especially liked Javier's question: "Why is the wolf in the woods anyway?" Everyone offered an idea about that. "Maybe the wolf was taking snacks to a party," one girl guessed.
Marshall's humor magically appeals to both grown-ups and children; in his version of the story, Granny is lying in bed, surrounded by books when the wolf sneaks in.
"Surprise!" cried the wolf.
Granny was furious at having her reading interrupted.
"Get out of here, you horrid thing!" she cried.
I couldn't help laughing out loud when I read this part. How perfect that Marshall made Granny a reader.
Last year's second graders loved Michelle Knudsen's Library Lion; they wanted to hear it twice. At the library I picked up the author's new book, Argus, to preview. It also features a disruptive animal at the center of the story. When Mrs. Henshaw's class hatches eggs in desktop incubators, one of the chicks is not like the others. "It was green. And scaly. And it had big yellow eyes." Except for Sally, the students in the story are revolted by the creature. No one ever recognizes it as a dragon. Misunderstandings—and visual jokes—ensue.
What kid wouldn't know a dragon when he saw one? That puzzled me. Will young readers and listeners will enjoy being one step ahead of the slouchy-shouldered students in Mrs. Henshaw's class, whom Argus tries to eat? Is it funny that Sally and her dragon are fenced off with orange safety cones at recess?
For now, I'm going to stick with folk tales and fairy tales with the second graders. Michael Emberley's Ruby, a spin on Red Riding Hood, would be a logical next choice, but I'm open to suggestions, too. Our schedule is full of possibilities; afer all, like James Marshall's Granny, we're readers.
The Great Fuzz Frenzy, by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (Harcourt, 2006)
Red Riding Hood, by James Marshall (Dial, 1987)
Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick, 2006)
Argus, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Andréa Wesson (Candlewick, 2011)
Ruby, by Michael Emberley (Little, Brown, 1990)