Friday, October 28, 2011

My Love-Hate (Book) Relationship

If you follow me on Twitter you know that I've been ranting and raving about Jon Klassen's recently released book I Want My Hat Back. If you haven't read the book, I suggest you beg, borrow, or steal buy it from where ever you procure books.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might be surprised that I'm recommending this book, but thanks to my Twitter support group (mainly Colby Sharp - Hi Colby! *waves*), I have come to appreciate the brilliance that is I Want My Hat Back but not without discovering a few revelations along the way.

Rereading is a super power.
After all the buzz I had heard about this book, I was eager to finally get my hands on it. The first time I read it was in my own head and I got to the very unpredictable ending and thought, "Nuh-uh," as I shook my head and wrinkled my brow. Fail.

The second time I read it was that same night to my four-year-old. I got to the end of the book and Peanut didn't get it so there I was trying to explain what had happened and trying to gauge what he thought...but it was like trying to explain the punch line of a joke when you haven't even told the joke right in the first was just a mess. I still wasn't a fan - I felt like there wasn't a positive message I could discuss with Peanut. Fail #2.

This is when I turned to Twitter and went back and forth discussing how I just couldn't come to grips with the ending. **See below: The Power of Peers**

The next time I read it I actually got to listen to my husband read it aloud to Peanut (that is, after I shoved it into his hands and demanded that he read it because I needed his perspective). This is where I got a glimpse of it's potential as an awesome book. He was cracking me up as he read the different voices for the different character's that the bear meets throughout the book. All of a sudden I was excited to see his reaction when he got to the end. When he realized what happened at the end he turned to Peanut and the looked at each other with faces of, "Ah!" before they cracked up. I think because Peanut knew what was coming, he was able to react in a different way himself.

I still wasn't quite convinced yet so I read it aloud with one of my fourth grade students on Monday. We have been practicing making inferences and I Want My Hat Back is an excellent book for looking closely at making inferences (besides also being great for predicting and examining dialogue). When we came to the climax of the book, the suspense in the room was awesome. And then we read the end and my student's eyes lit up when he realized what had happened. And that's when I realized it was a fun book. Because this student was older, I was able to read it without having to explain it and I wasn't caught up with worrying what it was teaching my little four-year-old babe - it was just about the silliness of the story.

If I had read the book once and never read it again (and again), I would not have realized how much fun this book is. It just goes to show you how our perspective can change from rereading. Rereading is truly a super power!

The Power of Peers
One of the things I have realized and read about is how social reading really is. Outside of school, we read to ourselves snuggled under blankets or curled up in armchairs. The act of reading seems to mainly occur in isolation. BUT, if you are a reader, I'm guessing you know the thrill of sharing your newest read with a friend, family member, or perfect stranger. You've most likely experienced the instant kindredship when you can gush over a favorite book with someone else.

Beyond sharing favorite books, I notice that talking to others about their interpretations or opinions about books helps me to grow as a reader. While I read a book and apply my own background knowledge and ideas to the book, I learn so much from how other's digest the same book.

Since reading I Want My Hat Back, I have talked to so many different people about what they think of the book. Most people can see my initial dislike of the book but pretty much everyone who has read it also cracked up before seeing my perspective.

This is where I have to thank Colby for listening to my reasons for not wholeheartedly embracing this book the first time I read it. Seriously, it has been Twitter therapy as we have gone back and forth discussing how I was probably the only person to ever read the book and have qualms about it.  **See below: Background Knowledge Works In Mysterious Ways** 

If I had read the book and not talked to anyone about it, had never shared my own feelings, and then listened to what others had to say, I would never have realized I was the only one worried about the ending (Anyone else out there on my side? Bueller?). It's amazing how peers can help us expand our thinking as we hold their perspectives up to ours.

Background Knowledge Works In Mysterious Ways
I'm sure you'll be hard-pressed to find one of my reviews where I don't recommend activating background knowledge before reading or where it doesn't behoove the reader to activate his or her background knowledge. Any good reader is going to read a book and figure out how it fits in to his or her schema but it's interesting to think of how truly powerful background knowledge really is.

Why didn't I initially love I Want My Hat Back? I have a few ideas. Remember how it has an unpredictable ending? I really mean unpredictable. I'm used to stories wrapped up in purty, little packages where the protagonist learns from dealing with the antagonist and everything is resolved, happily ever after. The end. This book doesn't fit into my schema. It does not match what my brain expects a book to be! My background knowledge got in the way of me "getting" this book.

Furthermore, I'm used to reading books and discussing them with my kiddo. When it came time to try and talk to him about this book I was kind of stumped. Initially, I just couldn't even process how this book expected me to be able to talk about conflict management when it just defied every idea I have about dealing with problems. Again, my background knowledge just didn't match up!

And finally, and possibly most influential, is the fact that I'm a vegan. It sounds silly but I've read so much about animals and the food industry and have totally redefined my eating habits because of it that I think all that background knowledge factored in when I read I Want My Hat Back. It goes back to my initial reaction of, "Nuh-uh." I was totally shocked by the end of the book and who I am as a person snuck in and told me I couldn't stand for this book. Background knowledge can be a sneaky little booger, but that's why we have our friends to help us expand our interpretation of a book and rereading to help us go back and work to make a book fit into our schema.

Craziness, right? I know. I realize it's hard to believe all the discussion that has stemmed from one book! The good thing is that, after all of this, I actually really enjoy this book! It took me a while and I do think we can have discussions about the rabbit's and the bear's actions with kiddos but in the end I can read the book and laugh at how it all plays out.

If you follow me on Twitter, I'm sorry for the craziness of my tweets surrounding this book! But wasn't it worth it? I hope getting to see my perspective has helped you reassess the book. Haven't we all learned a lot about readers and reading and rabbits and bears this week?

P.S. - Check back next week for a review of I Want My Hat Back and ideas for using it in the classroom.

This post is dedicated to my Twitter therapist, Colby Sharp 
and all the misunderstood rabbits of the world.

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