Title: Elmer the Dog
Author: Duke Nguyen
Illustrator: Vuthy Kuon
Publisher: Providence Publishing - Brown Dog Press
Date: September 1, 2000
Suitable for: ages 6 and up
Themes: differences, point of view, attitude
Brief Synopsis: Mixed-breed Elmer is sent to doggy obedience school where he finds that the other students are purebreds. Will he find a way to fit in even though they see him as a mutt?
Opening page: Elmer was a normal little puppy, who liked little puppy things, like chew toys, balls, swimming and large T-bone steaks drowned in Teriyaki sauce.
Have students research their ancestry. Challenge them to find a family crest.
If one doesn't exist, have them create one.
This yellow shirt that my brother is wearing sports our crest.
In a letter-writing unit, students could take Elmer's point of view and write a letter home talking about everything he's learning in Obedience School.
Use the book as a springboard for a service-learning project involving animals. Here's an excerpt from my book:
A special thanks goes to master teachers Carolyn Lowe and Michelle Maruca for sharing their expertise on these extension ideas. Students can:
Collect data and chart their findings on the different breeds of dogs or other animals they know or would like to know more about, perhaps even their “class pet.” Students could also conduct an independent research project on the domesticated animal of their choice. Find or illustrate different pictures of dogs and cats. Students can then identify the different needs of the animals. For example, larger dogs need room to run, require more food, etc. This can be a class activity as well. All students who have pets can bring a picture and, as a class, compare and contrast needs through a Venn diagram, an H map, or a double-bubble graphic organizer.
Since there's another Elmer out there, you could also use a double bubble graphic organizer to compare and contrast Elmer the Dog with David McKee's Elmer.
Why I like this book: One thing that hooked me about this book besides being reeled in by the stunning illustrations is that Elmer's differences don't turn into a book on bullying, instead they turn into a reframe about celebrating who you are. Of course Elmer gets down about not being a purebred, and yes, he wants to quit Obedience School at first, but he quickly learns that being a mixed-breed totally has its advantages. "It's a gift" they tell him ... and he believes it! So instead of bemoan his ancestry, he returns to Obedience School with a renewed verve and capitalizes on those differences.
As an extension writing exercise, encourage students to write a note to someone special that begins with "You are a gift because ... "
We've done this at our school and it's such a fun way to affirm one another. I rediscovered this one from Sally recently and it's something I treasure dearly.
Then, have them write one that says: I am a gift because ...
I know, I know, it sounds self-centered, but hear me out. This year's National Red Ribbon Theme is "Love Yourself - Be Drug Free." I wasn't sure I could connect with that theme, but technically we must love ourselves before we have love to give away, right? Elmer had to come to terms with his lineage and what makes him who he is.
So talk with students up front about focusing on their strengths without bragging, those they were born with, and those that they've learned from their home and in their school families. It'll be a strong reflection piece if they can focus on who they are, where they've been, where they're going and what they have to offer to others.
Rhythm, you are a gift. Thank you.
Want more PPBF book reviews? Go to Susanna Hill's blog next!