If you are not aware of what the book is about, it is a story told from the perspective of a fifteen year-old boy who is on the spectrum. He is investigating the murder of a neighbor's dog, but there is another story going on that he doesn't see. It is this other story that is so captivating for students.
So why should you teach it?
1. Students who HATE to read LOVE this book. I often teach regular ed and EC inclusion students who have a strong dislike to reading. It may be for many reasons that they hate reading in general, but no matter the cause, they almost all love this book. I have experienced many non-readers reading ahead on their own. Many students tell me it is the only book they've read cover to cover since they can remember.
On my web site, I have a poll that students can take anonymously. Here is the break down as of now:
Loved it - 32%
It was pretty good - 47%
It was OK - 17%
It's pretty bad - 1%
Hated it - 3%
I challenge you to find a book with better approval ratings for students who hate to read.
Why is this? Well, the book is written on both a simple and complex level. Just reading the words is simple. You are not going to pair this book up with an SAT vocabulary unit. However, the story is very complex, so students can understand and follow, but do not feel liked it is "dumbed down".
2. Students who LOVE to read LOVE this book. My colleagues who teach honors have terrific success with this book. Despite not having a high vocabulary level, the story has layers of complexity that make you forget the word choice level.
3. It is a great book to use to teach:
- Perspective - The narrator here is unreliable, not that in he lies (like I am sure Van Helsing is when he records what he does while alone with Mina Harker), but because he doesn't fully understand what is happening.
- Prediction - There are so many clues and red herrings that it is fun to watch the students try and figure out what the "real" story is, as well as trying to figure out who killed the dog. When one of my nonreaders make a prediction that later comes true, they get so excited.
- Dramatic Irony - Since we know, at least half way through the book, what is happening while the narrator is trying to figure it out, there is a certain amount of suspense created.
4. It promotes autism awareness. You have students on the spectrum in your class. Your students interact with people on the spectrum every day and may not even realize it. This book will show how Christopher processes information. The students relate to him and are completely invested in what happens. Students will also want to share stories of their sisters, cousins, nephews, etc. that are on the spectrum. Students who are on the spectrum, at least in the last decade I've been teaching this, like having a protagonist they can identify with. Sometimes I will have a student identify themselves as autistic and other times they do not, but the book handles it so well, that I have yet to have a student on the spectrum not like that we read it.
For that matter, it also brings to the forefront disability awareness. My inclusion teacher hosts the EC Spring Games for the district where the more severe and profound students in all the schools from elementary to high school come and compete in various events. After reading this book, my students want to volunteer to help host.
5. It is easy to be creative with it. There are so many off topic chapters that it provides several opportunities to do something different with your students. From getting them to fake photographs to playing Monty Hall to searching for constellations - there are so many ways to bring this book to life.
6. It is flexible. The chapters are generally short, so that allow the freedom to stop and start in a variety of places. This makes it easy to allow conversation to develop in class as well as each chapter ending provides an organic opportunity to let kids express what they are thinking.
If you teach this book, leave a comment and tell me a success story. If you want to teach this book, keep your eyes open. I am currently putting together everything I use in my class and plan on putting it up on Teachers Pay Teachers soon.