One rainy Saturday in April, a day much like today, I read Fenway and Hattie by Victoria Coe in anticipation of the Global Read Aloud this fall. What a delightful, humorous tale told from a dog’s point of view. Victoria Coe, you captured the mind of a puzzled dog in a way that made me chuckle! I see and understand Fenway perfectly as he experiences the world.
As I read, I reflected on how to use this book in my program this fall. How could this book help students develop a deeper understanding of themselves, each other, and their world? What kinds of thinking skills could this book promote? What kinds of activities will deepen student’s growth as literate individuals?
Victoria Coe develops Fenway’s perspective delightfully and readers will respond with amusement. Children with pets, and especially those who have attempted to train a pet, will immediately make connections to familiar experiences. Owning a pet, training a pet, and understanding the behavior of beagles or terriers would enrich student’s understanding of the story. And so I am thinking of a visit to the SPCA, an animal care facility, or arranging a visit with dog trainer or a service dog. A Google Hangout with an animal expert would be perfect too. Listen to this quote from another book, The Best Man by Richard Peck about Argus, a pet dog: “Argus was practically a four footed lesson plan. We were learning stuff this morning and that didn’t happen every day.” A four footed learning experience sounds like fun!
Readers are compelled to understand Hattie’s actions through the mind of her pet. It becomes evident that there are different interpretations of an event when we learn about each character’s thoughts. Fenway seems to think that the backyard is a dog park with very few dogs. Certainly he deserves better. Fenway amusingly describes what he sees, but his dog brain does not understand the meaning. There are opportunities to visualize what is really happening. I am thinking… could we design a perfect dog park for Fenway?
Finally, there are parallel stories happening here. In one, Fenway is learning about family routines and dog life, and in the second Hattie adjusting to a new neighborhood, new friends and trying to train her rambunctious, little puppy. This second story is more subtle. Fenway does not have complete comprehension of what is happening to Hattie, and his frustration and challenges seem overwhelming but a sensitive reader will see that Hattie is having her own struggles with the situation and readers will celebrate with Hattie when she finally gets Fenway to not only walk on the evil floor but also obey her and, Sit! Hattie is delighted and showers Fenway with kisses. Fenway thinks…., “A deliciously happy moment that I hope will never end.” So true Fenway! I felt the same way.
The story of Hattie’s growing confidence and sense of power in her world is one of the deeply satisfying messages of this book. A great message for kids to hear. Fenway describes Hattie in the moment: “She puffs out her chest, and gazes into my eyes. Her expression is full of love. And power.” Oh Fenway you gave her that feeling! How well I remember my own 9 year old, owning the moment, as she trained her dog to obey – one of those small significant events that empowers kids to know that they too can have an impact on the world.