GUEST WRITER ELIZABETH ANDREWS RECOMMENDS: TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH BY HOLLY GOLDBERG SLOAN AND MEG WOLITZER
To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wollitzer will capture the interests, and hearts, of students that love realistic fiction. I would argue that this title is also the perfect text to help transition a reader to this genre if it isn’t a typical choice for them. The book is a quick and engaging read, aimed at late elementary and middle level students. Presented in the form of emails and letters, students will need to draw on their reading and viewing strategies to comprehend the clever organization and text features. With a quirky cast of relatable characters, the authors have managed to skillfully blend representation and authenticity into the lives of two very-endearing protagonists. Wondering if this book should become a permanent part of your classroom library? The answer is undoubtably, YES!
In a nutshell, the book is a series of communications by, and about, the two main characters: Avery Bloom (Night Owl) and Bette Devlin (Dogfish). Bette is an adventurous girl from California. She loves surfing, thrill seeking, and keeping a watchful eye on her dad. When Bette finds out her dad is in a serious relationship with a man from New York, and that the two plan to have their daughters meet at the prestigious summer camp, CIGI, Bette sees no option but to take matters into her own hands. She puts her sleuthing skills to the test and tracks down Avery via email. Avery is cautious, anxious, and clever, and although she is hesitant to believe Bette’s claims, soon comes to realize that she’s going to need to work with Bette if there is any hope of keeping their dads apart. Through their regular communication and experiences at camp, the girls from an unexpected bond, showing the reader that family is what you make it.
As I flipped through the pages, I felt like I was reading a modernized version of the Parent Trap, starring Hailey Mills—one of my all-time favorite movies. The central focus of the novel is on the bond that develops between Bette and Avery. What I love most though, is the inclusion of relatable and authentic characters representative of our world, particularly when it comes to skin color, ethnicity, age, family status, and sexuality. While other texts I have read mention same-sex parents, or even had a central conflict relating to same-sex parents, none have celebrated it in quite the same way. It wasn’t something a character was upset about, nor was it a side story. This book made it a focal point and made it beautiful and normal and worth celebrating. While there were dissenting voices in the text, they were brushed aside, acknowledged, but not given power. Despite some serious themes, this book was perfectly balanced with loads of lighthearted humor and zany antics. I think that students will be able to interact with it on different levels, depending on their own experiences and prior knowledge.
Finally, the teaching potential in this book can’t be overlooked. There are so many opportunities for mini-lessons and excerpts that would make great mentor texts. I would focus on the text features, organization, context clues, inference, and voice (particularly in relation to word choice and expression). While I feel that this book would make a fantastic read-aloud, I think that it would be important to discuss or find ways to help your students keep track of who is telling the story, as it does have alternating narration.
To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wollitzer is a delight. In fact, reading it has inspired me to pick up other books by these authors. Be sure to check it out!
Elizabeth Andrews is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches grade 6, 7, and 8 Language Arts, Art, and Music at Chipman Forest Avenue School in Chipman, New Brunswick. She is self-declared nerd and lover of science fiction and fantasy.
“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” ~ Tyrion Lannister (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin)