I wasn’t sure if I had ever read anything by Lois Lowry before, although her name was very familiar to me. I realise, on doing a bit of digging, that apart from reading one or two of her Anastasia books as a child, I have never read anything else by her, and reading her Wikipedia entry, it now appears I have missed out. It seems that her most lauded books are for the teen/Ya audience. They divide opinion so fiercely that in America her books polarise schools into either making studying her books a mandatory part of the curriculum, or banning her outright.
It is clear I will have to read some more of her works. I always like to see what all the fuss is about if a book gets banned.
My interest was piqued when I picked up two books by Lowry for younger readers, about a character called Gooney Bird Greene. I have just finished the eponymous first book and enjoyed it greatly.
Gooney Bird Greene joins Watertower Elementary School as a new student, and boy does she turn the class around. She is exotic and fun and dresses like a bird of paradise. She is the star of the classroom. You could be excused for thinking that Gooney Bird would be a gigantic pain, but her sheer inventiveness, her imagination and her willingness to support her classmates does a lot to ameliorate any less charming qualities.
In this book she teaches the class to tell stories. Each day she has a story to share about her life, and she shows them, in telling her tales how to build suspense, keep the audience happy, and use all the tricks of the trade to make their own stories more exciting, and the book finishes with Gooney Bird stepping out of the limelight and giving the rest of the class their moment, which again, makes her having to be in the middle of everything schtick much more acceptable.
I found Gooney Bird Greene rather like an American version of Pippi Longstocking. She is smart and funny and her stories are entrancing. Altogether the book was hugely entertaining, and would be perfect for independent readers aged 7-10 both boys and girls. It would also be a great book for a teacher to use to illustrate the finer points of how to build story to a class.
One of the things that really worked for me was that Lowry has obviously spent time in a classroom setting, because her uncanny ability to reproduce the nuances of classroom behaviour and what children say and do had me in stitches. It may wash right over the heads of child readers, but if you’re an adult sharing this book with a child it will delight you.
You can find a Gooney Bird Greene website here, which also includes teaching resources.