I have been reading some heavy stuff here lately. Between dealing with Hitler in The Book Thief, the culture of 1963 in The Watsons Go to Birmingham, and the plight of a caged gorilla in The One and Only Ivan, my brain is approaching fried. I have been thinking about themes, scouring texts for lines I love, and searching for hidden meaning in everything. Sometimes, when you get to this point, you just need something a little easier to read. Something light and enjoyable. Well, thank goodness for Katherine Applegate, because despite her winning the highest honor a book can receive in children’s literature, she still knows how to write a light-hearted book.
In Roscoe Riley Rules #1: Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs (published 2008), Katherine Applegate introduces us to first-grader Roscoe Riley. From the beginning, we are fully aware of the kind of kid this boy is. For starters, does it really need to be a rule that you should never glue your friends to chairs? Apparently, it does. If the title doesn’t inform you that Roscoe is a trouble-maker, the first chapter, entitled “Welcome to Time-Out” with a picture of a little kid smiling and waving from a chair, definitely should clue you in to this child. I like this kid who tells us his whole ordeal from the confines of time out. At least I think he is in time out. At the beginning of chapter 3, the previously-occupied chair is now sitting empty.
The entire ordeal starts with Roscoe and the junk drawer. Roscoe needs to bring in art supplies for his classroom and they are located in the junk drawer. According to him, “The junk drawer is one of my favorite off-limit places. It’s like a pirate treasure chest. Only with no rubies”(p.15). This is but one of a few of his favorite off-limit places? Can’t you just see this kid in your mind? Don’t you already know this child? In this junk drawer, he stumbles across a bottle of Super-Mega-Gonzo-Glue, better known as, “The grown-up glue Mom calls don’t-you-dare glue”(p.18). As you can image, Roscoe Riley indeed dares and takes it to school. At school that day, they are having an Open House for parents to come. Parents are going to come in and listen to their children sing the bee song that the students have been practicing. During practice, the children’s antennae keep coming off and they can’t sit still. Ms. Diz is completely flustered, and Roscoe really wants to help. I don’t think I need to tell you the method that Roscoe uses to make sure all of the kids are sitting in their seats for the Open House.
I have spent the past three years of my teaching career (okay, the only three years) desperately searching for books for boys. When I first entered into teaching, all of my books were ones that I thought the kids would want to read, because they were the books that I grew up loving as a child. Well, for the most part, all those books were for girls. I have taken a lot of care to find high-interest books for boys. I absolutely love almost everything about Roscoe Riley. He reminds me so much of a boy version of Junie B. Jones, who really wants to do well but just seems to have a hard time getting his act together. Roscoe tells us, “Kids have to follow so many rules! Sometimes my brain forgets to remember them all. It’s not like I try to find ways to get in trouble. It’s just that trouble has a way of finding me”(p.2). How many of us teachers and parents have boys that are exactly like this? I have had to say so many times in the school year that this boy or that boy isn’t being bad, he’s just being a boy. I think one of the hardest tasks in life has to be being a nine-year old boy being forced to sit in a desk for 8 hours a day.
The one thing I don’t love about Roscoe Riley is that he is in first grade. I feel like some of my boys will balk at the fact that he is a first grader and think that this story is for little kids. According to Scholastic Book Wizard (a great website for leveling books), this book is at a 2.9 reading level and has an interest level of 2-5th grade. Why write a book about a first grader that is too difficult for many of them to read?!?! I agree that this book is definitely a second or third grade reading level, and I wish that Roscoe was in at least third grade. I know that for us grown-ups, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but reading a book that is about a kid your age is important for students. If none of the books a child can read are about kids a child’s own age, that child will soon start to balk at reading all together because they don’t find it relatable. Aside from just the age, there are a few times when Roscoe says things in a kind of babyish way, like when he says “We need goo sticks and scissors and paper”(p.15) and his mother has to remind him that they are called glue sticks. This is another way in which I don’t think my boys can relate to Roscoe, because they are well past this stage in their childhood. I think that a great compromise with this book might be to encourage boys with younger siblings to read this story with their siblings. I have several children in my class who have younger brothers and sisters, and reading it aloud to them could be a great way to circumvent the feeling that the story is “babyish,” but still allow them to enjoy all of Roscoe’s antics. I might even be able to suggest it in the context of, “Look at how this Roscoe acts! I think it will remind you of your brother!”
Maybe it is because I am writing this at 10 at night after being at work at 7 this morning, but boy do I get Ms. Diz. You can’t help but love Katherine Applegate, because she really feels for the tired teacher. Roscoe is so worried about Ms. Diz leaving teaching like his kindergarten teacher did. In case you are curious as to why she left the profession, Roscoe tells us. He says that, “It wasn’t my fault. Probably. Although I think maybe she got al little frustrated when I painted the class hamsters. Green. Because it was Saint Patrick’s Day”(p.33). Apparently his kindergarten teacher left teaching to go work at a job with no children or hamsters, and Roscoe simply cannot stand the thought of that horrible fate for Ms. Diz! When they are practicing their bee song, and everything is just not going as planned, Roscoe notes, “Ms. Diz took a deep breath”(p.39). It seems like a simple line, but as soon as I read it, I immediately though, “I know that deep breath.” It is the breath of trying to keep your patience, your cool, and a smile on your face when all you want to do is cry. Every teacher has been there. There are a few other incidents in the book that I think kids would miss the full scope of what is happening, but teachers will definitely smile at the plight of this first-year teacher. Thank you Katherine Applegate, not just for making Roscoe funny, but for reminding us tired teachers that we are fighting the good fight. We need to remember that even the kids who are gluing people to their seats deserve a forgiveness hug in the end.
“’…h, I, j, k, Ellen Emmo peed,’ Hazel sang. She paused. ‘Who is Ellen Emmo?’ she asked. ‘They’ll explain all that in kindergarten,’ I said’”(p.22)