Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School, by Candace Flemming

Title:  The Famous Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School
Author:  Candace Flemming
Publisher:  Schwartz and Wade
Year:  2007
Pages:  192
Genre:  Fables
Themes:  Lessons Learned
Age Range:  3rd-6th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads
Here's a chapter book of contemporary fables about a rambunctious group of fourth graders and their amazing teacher—the globe-trotting, Mayan-ceremonial-robe-wearing Mr. Jupiter—that is sure to delight students and teachers alike. There's Calvin Tallywong, who wants to go back to kindergarten. But when he actually gets the chance, he's forced to do the squirrel dance and wear a school bus name tag. The moral of his story? Be careful what you wish for. Then there's Amisha Spelwadi, who can spell wildebeest, no problem. When Mr. Jupiter asks the class to spell cat, all Amisha can come up with is kat. The moral: Don't count your chickens before they hatch.
I don't know about you, but when I've taught fables in the past, sometimes the students had trouble connecting with the very old stories from Aesop's classic collection of stories.  Some of them have stood the test of time remarkably well, but some of them are old-fashioned and confusing for kids.  Well, never fear, there is a book that can help you teach about fables in a way that will be accessible and fun for students.

The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School is a chapter book, with each chapter telling a different story about a different student or teacher, and each chapter is in itself a fable.  The great thing about the narrative structure is that the chapter can be read out of order, and if you only wanted to use certain chapters as part of a guided reading group or read aloud that would be very easy to do without diluting the meaning of anything.  Having just spent the better part of the weekend typing up the common core standards for reading for a bulletin board in my office, I can tell you that examining the narrative structure is an important part of the standards in fourth and fifth grade, and that by fifth grade the students will need to be able to explain how the narrative structure contributes to the meaning or enjoyment of the story.  In that regard we teachers of reading are going to have to expose our students to lots of different types of narrative. This sort of collection of loosely connected chapters is one that they will likely not have seen before.

As far as I can tell, the morals at the end of the chapters are taken directly from Aesop's fables, so you can also use the chapters as stand-alones to compare and contrast the modern story from The Fabled Fourth Graders with the original from Aesop's.  Comparing and contrasting texts on the same topic or theme, also really big in the common core standards.  Using these updates tales should allow student to have an easier time making meaning from the originals.  And using the updated tales as a jumping off point may help the students when you introduce multicultural fables as well.  Regardless of whether this title is used in explicit instruction, it is a great addition to a classroom library, because it is well written and funny.

Teacher Resources:
Classroom Guide from Ms. Flemming's website
Discussion Guide from State of Indiana
Aesop's Fables Lesson Plan from EducationWorld.com

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