Spencer's New Pet, by Jessie Sima

Picture this… 21 students sitting silently “listening” to a story.  Only this story is different. There are no words. There is not a sound- not from the teacher or from the students.  You can hear a pin drop. This wordless picture book is like no other I have read.

Illustrated in black and white with a touch of red, students are instantly drawn into the story of the boy and his “pet dog”.  The boy takes his pet around to his activities, avoiding all sharp objects- protecting his friend, until …

The story takes an unexpected turn, forcing readers to rethink their conclusions.  Comments of “Wait a minute!” and “Can you go back a few pages?” can be heard throughout the room.

Student Thoughts:

During our post reading discussion, most students shared their thoughts on the author’s message.  Students engaged in great conversations about this.

Our discussion also centered around “talk worthy” questions.  Some questions the students had were:

  • “Why did the kid pop and not the dog balloon?”
  • “Why did the author choose to write this book in black and white and make the balloon pet red?”

Students also shared their thinking after rereading:

  • “The pictures helped me understand the story because when I reread I noticed the boy’s feet and legs were really shiny.  His feet were round and other people’s feet weren’t round. These were clues that the boy was a balloon, too.”

Teacher Thoughts:

  • Picture books can be used in so many ways in the elementary classroom. My fourth graders loved this book, reinforcing my belief that you are never too old for a book like this.
  • Jessie Sima’s black and white illustrations and old time movie vibe grab students’ attention from the first page.  Readers relate to the concept of balloon animals, and can make immediate connections to the main character.
  • Students were anxious to “reread” the pictures, looking for clues that Sima left in the illustrations, and noticing so many things that were missed during the first read.  This reinforced the importance of reading slowly, and rereading as needed. What an important message for the students to hear as they were revisiting their reading goals for the new year!
  • This text is a great way to begin a fiction writing unit.  We used this to open discussion about how stories “usually” go, and how the surprise in this book had us thinking carefully.  Students looked at their writing in a different way, considering ways they could “surprise” their audience.

Take the time to read “Spencer’s New Pet” by Jessie Sima.  You won’t be disappointed.

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