Use My Dog, My Hero to get kids to move beyond specific details in the text to draw conclusions about a character.
Well-known children’s author Betsy Byars and her two daughters have teamed up to recount the courageous feats of eight different dogs. There’s Bear who saves the neighbor’s dog after it falls through the ice, Blue who utters his first bark in order to save his owner after a chainsaw accident, Little Bit who prevents an old woman from wasting away in a nursing home, and five others. Each story is told in a distinctive first person voice by narrators ranging in age from children to senior citizens. The longest story in the collection is five pages long, yet they all have a compelling narrative arc, and many require the reader to make more than the most basic of inferences. The stories can be used singly or as a collection with 3rd to 6th graders. The illustration for each story by Loren Long is a painting which captures the critical action and environment in a style that assumes a maturer audience than is typical in most chapter books. This component as well as the compelling content in a brief story makes this book a great choice for 5th and 6th grade remedial readers. But be aware that because of the inferencing required, this book is more challenging than suggested by the Guided Reading Level N it’s been assigned.
I have used some of the stories from this book with third graders who have read Elizabeth Cody Kimmel’s Balto and the Great Race. In discussing the traits that we felt accounted for Balto’s enduring fame, we came up with leadership, determination, courage, confidence, responsibility, and intelligence. (The qualities came from the students, but I often suggested the label for the characteristic.) After reading one of the My Dog, My Hero stories, students discussed in pairs which characteristics they saw in a given dog at various points in the story. Then as a group of 6, they debated until they came to consensus (usually) about which categories a dog would receive a star in. This is a surefire way to get kids to use specific details from their reading to support their conclusions about a text. After reading a number of stories, students had to decide which dog they’d award the gold star to. Interestingly, they didn’t all focus on the same feature. One child was thinking about risk factor, another about numbers rescued. One girl had a different idea: I would give a gold medal to Little Bit because unlike the others who saved people/animals with determination, courage, and confidence, Little Bit saved her owner with love and love is the strongest thing on the planet.