By Sharon Creech
Recommended grades 4+, upper elementary
Students as young as 3rd graders, relatively new in their journey as readers and writers, are introduced to the genre of poetry in school. Poetry is unique in the use of distinctive style, rhythm, and structure to express ideas and feelings. The open-endedness of the genre may make it daunting for young readers to engage with poetry. In Love That Dog, Sharon Creech makes poetry accessible and exciting. She not only centers her story around a young student writing poems for the first time, but does so through free-verse poetry. Love That Dog is a wonderful text that can expose readers to poetry for the first time or deepen the interest of an already emerging poet.
Written as a series of journal entries, this book follows Jack, an elementary school student, as learns about poetry in school. Initially resistant to trying, Jack brings us along as he develops a deep appreciation for reading poetry and a skill for writing his own. This book engages readers with themes of personal growth, loss, vulnerability, and finding inspiration in the world around you. When he needs support or a push to continue, his teacher Miss. Stretchberry is there with guidance. By empathizing with Jack, readers will reflect on the role-models in their own lives who have helped them branch out and achieve new goals.
Presented in free-verse poetry, the format of this story gives readers a unique challenge to think deeply about the characters, plot, and lesson. Unlike a prose book, it is not always clear exactly what Jack is talking about. Readers will develop their inferential comprehension skills as they analyze word choice, structure, and imagery as clues for the deeper meaning. Students from 4th grade on will be able to access the plot and deeper themes of Love That Dog, connecting with the personal journey Jack goes on as he steps outside his comfort zone. Jack is a great literary companion for upper elementary students as they develop their own identity as writers.
More of a cat person? After finishing Love That Dog, you can continue to follow Jack’s development as a poet in Creech’s sequel, Hate That Cat. Sharon Creech is a prolific American children’s novelist and is the first person to win both the American Newbery Medal and the British Carnegie. She has written over 20 books for young people.