Change in Character

In chapter 9 of our book, Catching Readers Before They Fall, we talk about teaching students to infer as they read.  As readers, we want them all to be able to go deeper than the literal level of books, to get beyond the explicit ideas to the implicit ideas in the text.  There are so many things readers use inference for – setting, character’s thoughts or feelings, author’s message, metaphors, subtle humor, and so on.

One of the discussions you can have with your students, whether they are in kindergarten or fifth grade, is about how characters change from the beginning of the story to the end.  Primary students can see how Lilly changes her mind about her baby brother in Julius, The Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes. Throughout most of the story, Lilly is sickened by her parents’ behavior towards this new baby. She tries everything to get rid of this new addition to the family.  But when Lilly’s cousin begins to make fun of the new baby, Lilly has a change of heart and jumps to the little fellow’s defense.

In a fifth grade classroom, I used some of the picture books that the students were familiar with to jumpstart the discussion on “changes in characters.”  Using Julius, Weekend with Wendell, Edward the Emu, and Ish, the students easily identified the change in each main character.  From there, several students shared characters in the chapter books they read.

In choosing the read aloud book for that day, I wanted to share one that wasn’t quite as easy to determine the change in the character.  So I chose The Table Where Rich People Sit, by Byrd Baylor.  In this text, the little girl calls a family meeting because she thinks her parents are keeping the family “poor” because they don’t have jobs like the other moms and dads.  The parents eventually ask her to make a list of the different things they value, for example, it’s worth $20,000 to them to always work outdoors and another $5,000 to be able to hear the birds and coyotes as they work.  Slowly the little girl catches on to the parents’ way of thinking and changes her mind about how much things in life are valued.

After the reading, the students jotted down ideas to three questions before coming back to the whole group for a discussion:

1.)  What is the issue about which Mountain Girl calls the family meeting? What is her feeling toward that issue?

2.)  How does the main character change?

3.)  What caused the change?

On other days, with other texts, we brainstormed a list of why characters change:

* The character learned a lesson

* Something/someone changed the character’s point of view

* The character got a taste of his/her own medicine

* The character realizes something/comes to a new understanding

* A critical event took place

What kinds of conversations are you having with your students around this topic?  Any picture books you would like to suggest?

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