Thursday, August 27, 2009

Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind

I read Phillip Done's first book, 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny, several months ago and loved it. You may remember that I gave it a glowing review last December. So I was thrilled to get a copy of Done's new book, Close Encounters of the Third Grade Kind.

I opened this book while I was on vacation and kept reading until I was finished. Seriously, if you have kids or know a teacher, you should get this book.

As with his previous book, Done writes about his third-grade class with wit, charm, and love. As with his previous book, his love for the children he teaches shines through even as he points out their silliness.

What I think this book does even better than the first book is that it captures the emotional side of teaching. One of my favorite chapters in the book is "Rebecca." In it, Done writes about one of his "pillow students"—a student he worries about before he falls asleep at night. This is the story of one of his kids who had problems reading, and the creative approach he took to help her.

That chapter made me cry. It made me cry because it was beautiful, and a wonderful success story, and because it was not just Done who saw the amazing strides that Rebecca took, but also the other students as well. But it really made me cry because I have my own pillow child. I have an autistic son who will be starting first grade this year. I so badly hope for teachers who will show him as much love, effort, and caring as Done shows his students. Stories like this give me hope for my child—and for all the other pillow students out there.

And while this book is mostly lighthearted and fun, it has other moments of seriousness. Done writes touchingly about a past student he taught who fought leukemia. This chapter is moving and sad, but shows how a great teacher can make a difference to every child.

This book tracks one school year, from school supply shopping ("News spread like head lice that there was a real life teacher in the store.") to sick kids ("[Doctors] only see kids after they've thrown up on the teacher's carpet.") to end of the year thoughts ("The kids who give you the toughest time are the ones you love most.").

This book is laugh-out-loud funny in one paragraph and achingly profound and touching in the next. This lovely, easy-to-read book will strike a chord with anyone who has kids. And it is a no-brainer gift for your child's favorite teacher.

I'm eagerly waiting to see what Phillip Done's students do next year. I sure hope he writes another book about it.

Honesty Clause: I received a review copy of Close Encounters at no charge. It retails for $22.99, but you can find it on sale at Amazon and other places.