CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 11 . . . .January 19, 2007
Misty Knows. (HIP-JR.).
Liz Brown. Illustrated by Izabela Ciesinska.
Toronto, ON: HIP Books, 2006.
65 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Detective and mystery stories.
Misty Knows: Teacher's Guide.
Toronto, ON: HIP Books, 2006.
22 pp., pbk., $5.95.
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Dana Eagles-Daley.
Misty Knows is a wholesome story about Jen and Keisha who must make tough decisions to save their friend, Mr. Long, and his horses. Author Liz Brown also tackles issues such as illness, old age and loyalty through the story that is recommended as a high-interest book for ages 7-10. Although the story addresses a number of issues, it is done in a subtle enough way that the story is interesting and believable for young readers. For example, Jen and Keisha are both children of middle-class parents who have trouble paying for expensive riding lessons, and the girls are best friends although they are of different races. The authors of both the novel and the Teacher's Guide do not address some of these issues directly. Since the issues are present in the story, a young reader or teacher leading a novel study have the option of exploring these themes in more detail. While the illustrations are simplistic, they are numerous and provide another way for struggling readers to understand the story. Overall, the novel and Teacher's Guide provide the basis for an in-depth analysis on a number of issues, as well as the opportunity for readers to develop language and active reading skills.
The story starts out as Jen and Keisha learn that Jen will have to quit riding lessons because her parents can no longer afford to pay for them. When Jen talks to Mr. Long about the problem, he immediately tells her that, as long as she continues to help take care of her by cleaning up the stalls and exercising the horses, he will continue to keep teaching her. However, the plot quickly becomes more complicated when Jen and Keisha discover Misty is ill. Any child who loves animals will quickly respond to the bond between Jen and Misty as Jen tries to comfort the horse. The horse falls sick soon after a rather stereotypically shady Mr. Tyrone shows interest in buying the horse farm from gentle and generous Mr. Long. The reader can quickly identify the good and bad characters, but more importantly, the reader becomes engaged with the needs of Jen, Keisha, Misty and Mr. Long.
Jen and Keisha demonstrate a lot of responsibility and maturity when they decide to do something about the fact that Mr. Long will have to sell his farm because he is getting too old to take care of the animals properly. The girls react in a believable way by noting that they will not be able to take lessons since Mr. Long is the only person who will teach them in return for taking care of the horses. However, the girls also show concern for the horses. Jen and Keisha soon hatch a plan to secretly pitch in to help even more around the farm so Mr. Long will think he can handle the chores. It is during the implementation of this secret plan that the friends discover a sinister plot.
Jen and Keisha test the strength of their friendship when they sneak out to the farm and trick their parents into assisting them with their plan. Indeed, Keisha shows that she is much more hesitant to follow through on Jen's idea, but she wants to help her friend despite the consequences.
Keisha rolled her eyes at me. She didn't like this, any of it. But she went along. A good friend will always go along with you –– even if it's kind of crazy.
This new twist in the plot offers readers the chance to develop opinions about the girls' decisions, about friendship and how far a person should go to support a friend.
The plot, which continues to escalate as the girls find out more details about Mr. Tyrone's plans, finally culminates in a thrilling climax that demands readers' reactions. The conclusion acknowledges the relationship between Jen and Keisha in addition to the girls' relationship with their parents, with the horses, and with Mr. Long. Though the ending leaves the girls as clear winners, they must accept responsibility for their actions nonetheless. The ending is another example of the carefully cultivated storyline which aims to provoke discussion and engagement.
The user-friendly Teacher's Guide breaks down lessons into content, themes, vocabulary, extension activities and even assessment areas. There is a synopsis for every two chapters, and suggested discussion points as well as colloquial vocabulary. In fact, the HIP-Jr. reading program pays great attention to many often-overlooked elements of books for reluctant readers, including eye-sweep difficulties, typeface, carefully planned plot development and believability. Importantly for any teacher is the fact that the guide also provides guidance for use with a variety of students. Emerging readers will benefit from the vocabulary squares and plot synopsis while the "Decision Organizer" and "Working on a Horse Farm" sections will challenge students of all abilities. Activities such as "Clues in the Story" help students to develop prediction skills that further engage the reader and help to develop interactive reading skills. The Student Assessment Checklist and After-Reading section in the guide could be better developed, but the link to the free readers' theatre scripts indicates a quality program worth following over time.
Misty Knows and the accompanying Teacher's Guide are thoughtfully produced works that use a multitude of strategies to demand the interest of the reader. Initially, it would seem that a story about two female best friends and their love of horses would appeal to young female readers only. However, the plot twists and strong female characters can appeal to readers of both genders. While keeping the interest with the constantly changing plot, the themes force the reader to respond to the story. There are a variety of activities that address the interests and needs of readers of varying skill while parents and teachers can be assured that the story and guide were developed using respected and methodical strategies.
Dana Eagles-Daley is a Special Education Teacher in Ottawa, ON.
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