Mental Images and a Great Read Aloud


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Readers combine their background knowledge with an author's words to craft mental images that rival those of any filmmaker. Sometimes they have to change the images being produced as more information is gathered.

This has never happened more drastically for us than it did yesterday during our read-a-loud of Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley. We'd thoroughly enjoyed the friendship of these two opposite creatures, which began as a quarrel and led them through various adventures together. We'd just arrived at the final chapter titled, The River of Death, and it had us all a little worried. Predictions were flying around the room, and since I'd broken a cardinal rule (always read the book first before reading it aloud to your kids), I was a little apprehensive myself.

Snake and Lizard commit to helping a lovesick skunk by accompanying him to the edge of the river of death and heaping encouraging and comforting words upon him until he can bravely force himself to cross it (for this is where his lady love, whose "coat is a midnight sky striped with moonlight" resides).

This journey will be no small feat, for Joy Cowley tells us that raging monsters that never sleep are on that river. At night their eyes shine brighter than the moon. During the day, the sun glitters on their hairless skins. They move fast and kill thousands of animals each year. When they attack each other, the anger and noise are frightening.

By now the girls are afraid . . . and the boys all want the skunk to get eaten by the crocodiles that lie in wait to lunge at our little hero . . . but true love must prevail . . . so we turn the page.

I can't tell you what we saw. I don't want to wreck the surprise. But suffice it to say it wasn't alligators or crocodiles! We all exclaimed, "What! How? But she said . . . " and went back to reread. Turns out our schema had led us wrong this time. When we reread the clues with our newly digested information, our mental images, though quite different, were no less exciting.

Short chapters and delightful illustrations make this a wonderful read aloud for primary students. We practiced every comprehension strategy as we experienced this book together, but if you are looking for an especially good text for showing how our mental images might change as we get more information, this is just the ticket.

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