Sunday, October 20, 2013

The World According to Humphrey (Humphrey's Adventures) by Betty G. Birney

I can't keep this series on the library shelf. Like a hamster on a wheel, it circulates at lightning speed and I only got this copy because I emptied the book return and spied it in a pile of books as numerous as the grains of rice in my dinner bowl. I work at a school of readers, so if a book is popular I take note and try to read it. I can see why this one is a hit. Between school friendships, learning a new language, having a pet, dealing with funny situations such as an overly-friendly dog, and not being a dense tome, this 120 page book with layered messages and an abundance of humor from a hamster's point of view is eyepopping-popular. Just like the students in Room 26 who can't seem to get enough of the hamster, Humphrey, the students at TAS can't get enough of the furry guy either.  If you are looking for a good family read aloud I can highly recommend this one for ages 7-10.
Humphrey the hamster is purchased for Room 26 by Ms. Mac who adores him and cares for him. When Mrs. Brisbane comes back to take over the classroom, Humphrey not only realizes Mrs. Brisbane doesn't like him but she wants him gone, erased from the space he fills in the classroom. She's contemplating offering him to another classroom, but Humphrey is saved from this fate when the students agree to take Humphrey home on the weekends. The first family Humphrey meets is the shy Sayeh who he realizes won't speak in class because she's been laughed at for her accent. This mirrored my own situation at school where I've been reading books with Chinese words to students and got quite tired of kids laughing at my pronunciation and correcting me. I quit counting after the same response from seven classes and was surprised by the consistency. These students are generally super-duper polite; yet, all laughed which I found fascinating. I started experimenting with different ages and there were always a few who corrected me. Interesting! Eventually I quit saying the words and had the students say them for me. In a sense, I reacted the same as Sayeh who quit talking in class because she got tired of others laughing at her accent.

I laughed when Humphrey went home with a student from a large family that watched TV all the time. That was my family growing up. There were four of us within six years of each other and chaos ruled as if we were four hamsters on the loose. We not only had the TV blaring but the radio too. I thought the author was going to get preachy about TV's in the home, but she pulls back just in time and inserts some humor by having the hamster pull a fast one on the family. The result was game-playing inside and outside that was predictable. How Humphrey pulls it off or out is not predictable and funny. The message regarding the harmful effects of watching too much T.V. has become a bit cliched and out-dated, especially with the influx of mobile technology in recent years. This book isn't believable nor is it meant to be. It is supposed to be an animal's humorous look at the way humans behave. "The One and Only Ivan" has a similar point of view but the plot is more complex.

Kids love pets and many can't have them which is why a classroom pet has a wide-mass appeal to young readers. The author's messages vary from light, such as Humphrey afraid of being alone in the dark classroom at night, to more serious issues like Garth having friendship problems because his mom is sick at home and he is angry that he can't take the Humphrey home for a weekend. All along, Humphrey thought Garth didn't like him. This would make for a good discussion about how difficult it is to figure out other people's motivations when they are being mean to others. Even Mrs. Brisbane's anger at having Humphrey lies more in the fact that he is another thing to worry about and she just can't deal with her crisis at home and an animal to care for. Humphrey helps everyone from Mrs. Brisbane's angry husband to Aldo's lonely social life, but the story also shows that people have many different reasons for acting the way they do and that sometimes when a person doesn't like you, it has nothing to do with you personally.

The repetitive words help emerging readers with decoding skills, as well as, give the hamster a young, distinct voice. Humphrey tries to learn new words in class and he even takes tests complaining when he scores poorly because he's distracted by issues going on in his life or in the classroom. The end of each chapter has funny and informative nonfiction tips about hamsters. I have noticed a spike in students asking about pet hamsters and now I know why. Many teachers use this book as a read aloud and the students get excited about reading. Now I know why I've had so many requests to buy more nonfiction hamster books from students. I love my job.

Fountas and Pinnell: O
5 Smileys

No comments:

Post a Comment