Tuesday, November 15, 2011

State of the Nation: Gooney Bird on the Map by Lois Lowry

"Mrs. Pidgeon" It was Gooney Bird.


"Remember I had an idea starting, and it was just in small pieces? Well, I've put it together. It's a completely ready idea now."

The second-graders all grinned with excitement. They always did when Gooney Bird Greene had an idea.

It's February. Snow covers the playground and freezes hard every night, and the class is restive with the February Can't-Wait-Till-Vacation blues. But this class has two special assets--Gooney Bird's lively ideas and Mrs. Pidgeon's inventive teaching strategies--to keep them on their toes.

Mrs. Pidgeon is the queen of seize-the-teachable moment, and when Gooney Bird points out that President William Henry Harrison (who, Gooney points out, also had a February birthday) only lived for one month into his term and deserves a moment of silence, Mrs. Pidgeon jumps on the chance to observe frequent Moments of Silence with her talkative class. And when Beanie, Barry, and Ben keeps bragging about their exciting February break trips to a Vermont ski lodge, a Hawaiian resort, and Disney World, she has them pull out their dictionaries and look up the word "gloating." Then she pulls down the big map of the United States and helps them locate Vermont, Florida, and Hawaii. But when the rest of the class admits that they are spending their February break at home in Watertower, the staycationers grow even glummer. "It's a bummer," Tyrone says and offers to write yet another rap song about the problem.

But Gooney Bird has a better idea. She makes a quick visit to Principal Leroy's office to get clearance for her plan and mysteriously passes out pieces of the U.S. map jigsaw puzzle to the students. Keiko gets Kansas and Kentucky, Tyrone gets Texas, Tricia gets Tennessee, Nicholas hits the jackpot with Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and North Dakota, and when the 50 states are passed out, it just so happens that Beanie, Barry, and Ben are the only ones without a state of their own. Their gloats are now definitely on hold.

But Gooney Bird's plan is far grander than just giving the gloaters their comeuppance. Before they know it, the custodian and Mrs. Pidgeon have laid out a large map of the U.S. in the snow with spray paint and each child is assigned to do a research report in the library with a little-known fact about their state, and before the state-less trio can start to complain, they are given the job of narrators for a school program showing off the group's knowledge at a performance on the last day before the break.

Two-time Newbery author Lois Lowry is in fine form in this, her fifth book in her best-selling Gooney Bird series, this one aptly titled Gooney Bird on the Map (Houghton Mifflin, 2011). Again illustrated with Middy Thomas' full- and half-page pencil illustrations, this latest, forthcoming this month, is bound to be a timely mid-winter read-aloud or beginning chapter read for fans of Gooney Bird Greene and her lively classmates.

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