The Helpful Puppy, by Kim Zarins and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, was most helpful indeed! He helped soothe the frazzled nerves of a few new kindergarten students who came to my room for their first day of speech therapy. He entertained the more confident first graders who bounded into the room for their first day of speech after summer vacation. And he inspired wonderful conversations about animals and farm life when my second graders noticed the book sitting on the shelf near our worktable. I hadn’t planned to read it to the older kids, but they didn’t want to miss out so I grabbed the book and they gathered around to hear the story. Later in the year, I imagine, they’ll be too sophisticated for this one, but not yet.
In this charming tale, the puppy travels around the farm, looking for ways to help. He’s too small to pull a cart like the ox or carry riders like the horse. He’s not fast enough to catch a mouse like the farm cat and he couldn’t even give a wake-up call like the rooster. But my students could. They all joined in when I read the rooster’s crow, “COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO”, even the newly minted second graders.
The illustrations prompted lots of stories about the kids’ own animals, like Jayman’s chickens, Joel’s cows, and Olivya’s new Rottweiler puppy, Roxy. In the middle of her description of this energetic addition to their family, a worried grimace crept over her face and Olivya said, “I forgot to brush my teeth!” I wondered where that came from – she is usually good about staying on topic. Before I had a chance to ask, she added, “I brushed Roxy’s teeth but I forgot mine!” (I hope Roxy has her own toothbrush.)
What a helpful child. That brought us back to our conversation about the book and how the animals each did their part to help the farm run smoothly, and how we all do our part to make our school run smoothly. When I asked the kids how they could be helpful around the campus, they had great ideas: pick up garbage from the playground, be nice to other people, if someone gets hurt, help them go to the nurse. Several students quoted our school rules: be kind, be safe, be responsible. Hailey told us she helps by reminding her big brother to follow those school rules, “But he doesn’t listen AT ALL!”
I enjoyed the conversation prompted by this story and we decided we’d all like to be helpful in hopes we’d make the world a better place, whether on a farm, at home or around our school.
My students gave The Helpful Puppy a big thumbs-up.