Sometime after the worst cold snap and the January thaw, when half of the kids had leaky boots, wet snow pants and soggy socks and mittens I would search my class library for one of my favourite’s by American author Judith Viorst to add some much needed humour to lift the misery caused by one too many indoor recess sessions and the inevitable cabin fever that set in. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the film Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day but you might not realize that the inspiration came from the wonderful works of Judith Viorst.
This book was originally published in 1972, but it still resonates with children and their significant adults today. It tells the tale of long suffering Alexander who wakes up to greet the most miserable day a young fellow could possible have. The black and white drawings clearly show the misery on his face as he finds gum in his hair, trips over his own skateboard and drops his sweater in the sink with the water running. It proceeds through breakfast where his two brothers find prizes in their cereal he does not and then he gets squished in the middle in car pool. It takes us through his school day where more misery and woe await and then on through his day to the final insult having to wear his least favourite pajamas. I loved watching the children’s faces as they listened to this story. Alternating between sympathetic looks and laughing out loud, this was a book that helped kids put things into perspective as they related to their own winter troubles.
I also reached for Judith Viorst to introduce our math unit on money. Alexander Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday related the story of how he managed to spend (or perhaps, squander) his money gift from his grandparents. It provided a humorous way to introduce adding and subtracting with money while giving us an opportunity to enjoy a good story.
Judith Viorst also saved me when I got a heads up that one of my little grade 2 girls had lost her favourite pet over the weekend. I grabbed The Tenth Good Thing About Barney which is a lovely, sensitive relating of the time a family lost a beloved pet cat. It was a good way to help young kids understand loss and how to cope with it and it helped my young students to help their friend deal with her loss.
Finally I just have to mention Earrings. I originally used it to start a writing unit about persuasive writing, but it too is a wonderful, humorous story about a girl named Charlie who is desperate to have her ears pierced. You might find it appropriate if you have a young person who is raining desperate pleas for some treasured object on you.
In summary, I used the books of Judith Viorst often as they helped me help my students understand and appreciate many things, so if you are looking for books to read to and with your 5 to 8 years olds, check out Judith Viorst. Her books were so thoroughly enjoyed, that I had to replace them at least 2 or 3 times in my class library.