Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson – Review by Katherine Sokolowski
Every time I read aloud a book to a classroom for the first time, I wonder how it will go. Books often start out a bit slow and my fifth graders are impatient to “fall into” them. We’ve had several great read alouds this year – picture books, novels, informational texts, poetry. None of them captivated my students like Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson.
Mark of the Dragonfly tells the story of Piper. Piper is a young girl on a planet far from here. She lives in Scrap Town 16 where she makes her living scavenging “junk” from the meteors that rain down from the sky and fixing machines. It is a quiet life since her father has died, filled with work and her friend, Micah. This all changes when Piper meets Anna, a girl who has forgotten her past and knows only who to fear – the wolf.
Knowing only that Anna is in danger, Piper decides that they must leave town. They escape the on a beautiful old train, the 401. Heading for the Dragonfly Territories, Piper and Anna search for answers, meet new friends, and get into a lot of trouble.
This book is part fantasy, part Steampunk, with a whole lot of other stuff thrown in for fun. The author describes Piper as her young female version of Han Solo, and that seems apt. My students loved her fierceness, courage, and loyalty. They loved Anna for her non-stop chatter, innocence, and friendship. And Gee – oh, I haven’t mentioned Gee? Even though I mispronounced his name several times – going between Gee and Jee – they loved the boy that Piper and Anna meet on the train, but for reasons I will leave out for now.
Reading aloud this magical book was amazing in our classroom. I don’t typically read books that are longer than 300 pages because I don’t want to drag out a book in our short read aloud times. This was not an issue here. It was a quick read – less than a month – because the action made me want to read faster AND because they begged for it to be read at any spare moment we had.
If you walked into our classroom during this read aloud, you would see me at the front of the room encircled by students pressed as close as possible to me. It wasn’t that we’d start out that way, they would come near our carpet meeting spot at the start of our time. As the action would build – and it built every single time – students would move closer, and closer, and closer, until I would have to ask for some room to breathe. But the best part of each read aloud was at the end. Every single time we would be the point where I must close the book, we seemed to be at a critical point in the story. I truly did not plan it, but I would glance at the clock, close the book, and be met with a chorus of, “NOOOOOOOO!” or “Five more minutes, PLEASE!” I’d grin and send them on to class.
What is still memorable to me, however, even a week later, is the last day of reading this book. We read for forty-five minutes that day. They were desperate to finish the book before leaving for spring break. One child kept pushing me to read faster as they watched me, and then the clock, and then back to me quietly reminding me that we got out early that day. As it built up to the final scenes of the story, there were gasps, shouts of, “I knew it!” and hushes so I could finish. Upon reading the final words, I looked up, smiled, and closed the books. The students stood up and cheered. I don’t know if I have ever had a standing ovation at the end of a read aloud before – and I’ve read some pretty amazing books.
Mark of the Dragonfly is a book that belongs in our libraries. Kids will eat it up because it is fantasy, but a fantasy that is not too mature for my fifth graders yet. This is the perfect book for our 4th-8th grade classrooms. They will love this book for the amazing heroine, the action packed scenes, the evil characters. However, at the heart of this book we have a story of friendship and the longing for a family, the desire to be included. This is a book we all need to read – at least that’s what twenty-six kids in my classroom believe, and I couldn’t agree more.
Katherine Sokolowski has taught for fifteen years and currently teaches fifth grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter as @katsok.