Thursday, June 20, 2013

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw


Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku
Wardlaw, Lee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011. 978-0-8050-8995-0

Quantitative Reading Level: Reading Level 3.0

Qualitative Reading Analysis:
According to the “Text Complexity: Qualitative Measure Rubric for Literary Text” I would rate this as Middle Low.  For meaning the story has a single layer of complex meaning.  The fact that the cat is longing for a home and yet is coy and seemingly nonchalant about it is a bit complex.  The structure as haiku (or more specifically senryu) requires a bit of explanation.  However, even if students do not understand or can follow each haiku they can still understand and enjoy the story.  There is some sarcasm, some need for inferences and using picture clues to understand some of the poems, a homophone pairing that may require explanation (nose knows), and a reference to Won Ton soup.  Most children have enough experiences with cats and/or shelter animals to be able to relate to the book fairly easily.

Won Ton lives in the shelter and would love to be adopted.  But, being a cat, he must act nonchalant about it.  The story is told in nine sections each with one to six haiku.  It progresses from Won Ton’s life in the shelter and continues through the choosing, the car ride, the naming, the new place, the feeding, the adjustment, the yard, and finally to his feeling comfortable in his new home. Wardlaw captures the attitude of cats perfectly and also the longing for a place to belong mixed in with a little fear.  

Content Area:

Content area standard:
 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4–5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

Curriculum Suggestions:
Haiku is a fairly simple form of poetry.  For the younger students the emphasis on syllables can be used as they work on word parts and syllabication.  Kindergartners and first graders may not be able to write haiku but they can begin to count the syllables with help.  By second grade students can attempt to write haiku as a class or in small groups.  Upper grades can read and write haiku and compare this whimsical use of haiku to similar books like Dogku by Andrew Clements or Guyku by Bob Raczka or more traditional haiku books like The Year Comes Round: Haiku Through the Seasons by Sid Farrar or Today and Today by Issa. 

Lee Wardlaw reading from Won Ton:

Personal Thoughts:
I can’t say enough about this book.  It was on the Chickadee Award list this past year and as you can see below under awards it won the award and, from what I understand, by quite a big margin.  The Chickadee Award is open to students in grades K-4.  I personally used the book with grades 1-4.  There are some subtleties to the book as mentioned in the qualitative analysis which might make it difficult for the younger students to understand everything in the book.  I read the book aloud and was able to stop and explain a few things and my tone of voice and inflections helped with some of the sarcasm and places where students would have to infer.  With all classes I introduced haiku and we “counted” syllables for a few of the poems.  After the first few I just read the story but I always had some students continue to count.  After reading the story my third graders wrote haiku with me.  My fourth graders practiced counting out syllables, compared Won-Ton to Dogku, and then wrote their own haiku.
The overwhelming favorite haiku in my two schools and the reason the book won at least in my school was:

Sorry about the
Squishy in your shoe.  Must’ve
     been something I ate 

We also enjoyed:

    Wait – let me back in!

This poem was repeated twice in the book and was followed by an opposite poem of:

   Wait- let me back out!

Subjects/Themes: Home, Family, Acceptance

2013 Chickadee Award Winner – Maine
2013 AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award Winner
2012 SCBWI Crystal Kite Members' Choice Award - California/Texas Region
2012 San Francisco Book Festival - Best Children's Book
2012 Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award
2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
2012 Los Angeles Book Festival - Best Children's Book
2011 Cat Writers' Association Muse Medallion (Best Children's Book)
2011 Fancy Feast Best Friends Award (Best Children's Book)
2011 Forward National Literature Award (Best Picture Book)
See for the complete list which also includes all the state award lists that Won Ton has been on.

High Interest Annotation: Get inside the head of a cat who is being adopted from a shelter – told all in haiku.

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