Character-Inspired Collectors by Heather Rader
“Question #460: Poop. Poop. Poop is stupid. Stupid poop. Stupid. Poopid. Poopidity. Is poopidity a word?”
When “Poop” is the first word your teacher reads aloud from As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds on your first day of school of fourth grade—that gets your attention.
The main character Genie’s questions punctuated the text and evolved over the story:
If Genie’s parents divorce, should he live with mom or dad?
How can a blind person match their clothes?
Why would his big brother be afraid of firing a gun?
Several weeks later my student Hank appeared with a small notebook. Normally at read aloud, we come with our “hands free” and “ready to listen,” but I stayed quiet and watched him scribble. After, I said, “Hank, out of curiosity, what did you write today?”
He blushed, “I wrote some of Genie’s questions, but I also wrote some of my own.”
“That’s very cool,” I said, “I bet Jason Reynolds would love knowing that you are capturing your questions like Genie.”
Two days later Emilia sat close to Hank with her own notebook. And so began a spontaneous moment of collecting in our classroom—just like Genie. It wasn’t every student, and it wasn’t all the time, but many were starting to pay attention differently. Could I have assigned students to collect questions? Of course, but in keeping my teacher-hands to myself, it provided them moments of agency and ownership.
Recently I realized I’m a collector too. I completed my first diary at age eight and I continue to journal today. I collect words, titles, movies, questions, heartbreak, healing and stories. In my classroom, Kendra collected Beanie Boos, Juan collected Pokemon cards, Haven collected kleenex boxes and Emilia collected sticky notes. The value of collecting for children is that it’s personal, subjective, fun to classify and it can be a pointless expression of play. Collecting isn’t about amassing something, it’s about paying attention in a new way. In addition to Genie, I found nine other characters in terrific texts doing the same:
Stella by Starlight Sharon M. Draper (Stella collects her own writing)
When a book begins, “Nine robed figures dressed all in white. Heads covered with softly pointed hoods. Against the black of night, a single wood cross blazed,” you know you are in for an honest, compelling read. Stella lives in Bumblebee, North Carolina at a time when her daddy registering to vote is a BIG (and dangerous) issue.
Booked by Kwame Alexander (Nick collects big SAT-type words and poems)
What do you do when all you want to do is play soccer and crush on a girl, but your Dad requires you to read the dictionary (he authored!) and your parents are splitting? The main character, Nick Hall, tells his story-in-verse incorporating the words he’s been coerced into learning like cachinnate, sweven and rapprochement—it’s positively full of logorrhea.
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Deja collects her essays and questions)
When her family secures a spot at the homeless shelter, Deja switches schools. Her teacher, Mrs. Garcia, believes that history is alive and asks questions like: Why’s home important? How many social units are we a part of? What’s the difference between America’s far past and recent past? Deja’s collections lead her deeper into understanding the significance of the two towers and her family’s own tragedy related to September 11th.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (Felicity collects the words she sees that no one else can see)
What if every setting, situation and person caused you to see words? Some of the words slump, some jump and some glitter, but they all have a snicker of magic. That’s the experience of Felicity Juniper Pickle when she returns to her mother’s hometown of Midnight Gulch to break a curse and restore hope to a town.
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge (Paige collects her sketches)
Like so many of these characters, Paige is “new” and she has to adapt to change with only a sketchbook to keep her company. She shares her sketchbook rules and narrates her daydreaming and life through pictures.
The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter (Selig collects the words he dreams up)
Selig collects words everywhere he goes, unfortunately not everyone understands him so he’s labeled an “oddball.” Luckily, someone points out the upside of being an oddball and helps Selig find his purpose: to connect others with that just-right word.
The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell by Candace Fleming (Joey collects doodads and trinkets)
This is based on the true story of Joey Cornell who collected and put unusual objects together (initially to help with the grief of his father’s death). He once remarked, “Who knows what those objects will say to each other?”
The Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer (Luna collects beautiful, delicious words)
What happens when people forget all the the beautiful words? Luna comes to the rescue in a hot air balloon and sows and weaves and scatters the most magical words. A tip with this book if you are reading aloud: use the text written out in the back since the swirling text makes for a dizzy read.
The Word Collector by Peter Reynolds (Jerome collects words, big and small)
“The more words he knew the more clearly he could share with the world what he was thinking, feeling and dreaming.” Jerome collected the simple to the multi syllable and then let them go out into the world.
The Boy Who Loved Words author, Roni Schotter, writes “There are, in this world, people who are born collectors.” Those born collectors can inspire others to create entirely unique collections that have never been seen before. Because of my students like Hank and Emilia, I’m adding a “Characters Who Are Collectors” tub to my classroom library. I’m excited to get those books into the collective hands and hearts of my students this coming fall.
Heather Rader lives with a Croc collector, a fact collector, a Manga collector and a fashion collector (her husband and three kids—the Crocs are a joke—kind of). She teaches fourth grade in Washington State and so far has read more than 40 books this summer in her book-a-day pursuit. She wrote the book Short Takes on Best Practices for Teachers and Literacy Leaders (2012) and writes about teaching, writing, eating gluten free, parenting, advocating for people with disabilities and any other story that wishes to be told.