Guest review written by Manuel Pena
“Say what you mean, mean what you say. When you don’t... ask for forgiveness.” These values were taught to me at an early age. However, I did not realize their true worth until I gained the essential life experiences that brought understanding of the power and influence of the spoken word, along with the transformative healing grace of forgiveness.
New York Times best-selling authors Wendy Mass (A Mango Shaped Space) and Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me) have partnered together to create a powerful story of friendship, forgiveness, and hope. Bob is set in the Australian countryside, at a time of extreme drought and economic turmoil. When Livy returns after five years in Massachusetts to her grandmother’s farmhouse in Australia, she vaguely remembers the incredible and unusual events she had experienced during her previous visit.
Upon entering her Gran’s house, Livy’s heart instantly begins searching for the joy and wonder that was left behind. She desperately tries to recall the memories she knows once existed. Hint by hint, clue by clue, she is quickly led to the upstairs bedroom closet. Livy opens the door and discovers the source of her forgotten joy – Bob. The “zombie-like” creature stands before her, hardly able to believe his eyes. Livy has returned! She has come back to fulfill her promise to help Bob find his way home!
Unfortunately, Bob’s 10-year-old knight in shining armor remembers nothing about him... not even his name. The devastated creature’s high hopes are suddenly deflated and his heart begins to crumble. When Livy looks him straight in the eye and says, “I’m sorry” and assures Bob that she will hold true to her word this time, Bob forgives his dear old friend. Instantly, the healing begins and the search for Livy’s and Bob’s histories begins!
Mass and Stead have put on an all-out teaching clinic for literacy teachers with this treasure trove of literary devices, especially their strategic, flawless use of imagery and point of view. With Bob, English Language Arts and Reading teachers have an overflowing instructional toolkit to tap into - great story lead, visual imagery, sensory details, predicting, inferencing, drawing conclusions, foreshadowing, plot development, powerful story ending... EVERYTHING! All expertly crafted and packaged into 214 pages of reading bliss.
Teaching writing is my absolute favorite time of the day. One of the most exciting moments for me when working with writers is discussing character development. It is such a thrill witnessing my students become masterful at developing their characters’ internal and external traits. Mass and Stead have gifted us writing teachers with an exemplary model of character development. Each character in the story is multi-dimensional, with genuine and complex personalities, behaviors, and motivations – just like real human beings. Readers easily connect to stories with characters they can relate to. None of my students are from Australia, nor are any of them green-skinned with extraordinary strength and magical powers. Nonetheless, they are able to profoundly sympathize with Bob, because his motivations are universal – love and acceptance.
There is an endearing moment when Bob explains the meaning of the Japanese phrase, waku waku - “the thrill of moving toward something that you’re excited about, something that makes you feel the most alive out of anything.” Bob has easily become my students’ “waku waku” of read alouds this year. They hang on every word and magical moment, captivated by the methodical revelation of clues that strategically illuminate shadows of wonder and curiosity. More importantly, Bob reveals to my students the transcendent power we possess as human beings, when we’re willing to do whatever it takes to help others in need, even if those “others” are completely different from us.
As Bob began discovering a multitude of incredible abilities he didn’t know he possessed, he thought, I am learning all sorts of things about myself on this journey!
Us too, Bob. Us too.
Manuel Jason Peña is a veteran elementary teacher and professor, committed to at-risk and marginalized student populations and communities. He has served as a model teacher for English Language Arts & Reading instruction and Social & Emotional Learning.