poloThis month I’m doing a 1st grade unit on stories without words, and it’s wildly successful. This is the perfect time of year for it; all the kids and teachers have spring fever, and this is creative and low-stress. I let them tell me the story, and I just ask endless questions to get them talking (“Where do you think they are? What’s happening outside? Does so-and-so look happy or sad?”) I’m reading several books with the kids, including Barbara Lehman’s Rainstorm and Sara Varon’s Chicken & Cat. But I have to talk about the complete and total magic of Regis Faller’s Adventures of Polo. It’s a French book that I fell in love with when I first read it last year, and I still adore it. And I was dead wrong about it being too long for a program or lesson. It doesn’t take nearly as much time to read as I thought, and while it’s longer than many picture books it keeps children positively riveted. I think it’s hypnotizing.

So do the kids.

I’ve seen this book work small miracles in class over the past few weeks, and I wish I could read it every week forever and ever with some classes. Just one example: I have a very tough special needs class with a mix of kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade, and the kids have a mix of issues including behavioral, emotional, developmental. I think some of them are at least mildly autistic, and almost every week it’s a struggle to get everyone sitting down. Their teacher and para are exceedingly patient, helping me pull them off furniture, stop them from throwing books, and walking or sitting with them to soothe and calm them down. We had a particularly bad week last week after days of rain and schedule changes had them really struggling to keep their little selves together. Some were refusing to sit down, grabbing toys, throwing themselves on the floor, yelling or running. After we’d gotten everyone at least within the storytelling corner (one or two were still yelling and grabbing stuffed toys) and their teacher was able to go, I just sat down and started “reading” this book with the students who were ready and waiting. Sometimes this trick works, sometimes it doesn’t. It worked tenfold with this book. Within minutes every student was sitting calmly, paying attention, and their mouths were all hanging open. Everyone was participating, no one was interrupting or getting upset. They loved it, and it calmed them right down. The colors were perfect, and the book was just enough to keep them focused for most of the class without overwhelming them. It was amazing, their para and I just looked at each other dumbfounded.

And it worked with all my first grade classes, who all have spring fever. They loved it, and it was fun for me to read. It settled everyone right down and focused their attention immediately, and several of them asked if we could read it again as soon as we’d finished. I’ll be buying all the Polo books I can get my hands on for next year. It’s a fantastic, crowd-pleasing, teacher-saving, fun book. I may even read it to my older students as the year gets closer to the end and we really need something fun and easy.