Friday, June 24, 2016

The Stranger          
By Chris Van Allsburg    
Published: 1986

Awards: The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books citation-1986, Parent's Choice Award for Illustration from the Parents' Choice Foundation-1986

Chris Vans Allsburg is a master at fantasy writing that takes readers to the edge of wonder, mystery, and at times, delightful quirkiness. If you have read my mentor text reviews before, you know that I am in a huge admirer of Chris Van Allsburg's creativity and writing talent.

The Stranger would be a wonderful mentor text to use to teach fantasy writing and understanding fantasy reading for older students, grades 4th and up.  

For reading workshop, use The Stranger so that readers can strengthen strategies to help them understand these fantasy elements: a human-like character that could not exist in the real world, the setting of the story-which is grounded in the real world, but with magical elements and understand characters who have unusual traits or abilities.

For writing workshop,  have students analyze the way Van Allsburg slowly reveals the information about the Stranger to the audience. Then notice that how and when he adds new character elements that keep the Stranger mysterious.  The writing pattern of ‘reveal, then add; reveal, then add’ seems significant in this book.

Van Allsburg’s writing is complicated and by studying it, will lift your students’ reading and writing. 

**Did you know that Chris Van Allsburg has a ‘tradition’ of including a picture of the bull terrier named Fritz (that is a main character in his first book The Garden of Abdul Gasazi) in all his books?  Have your students try to find 'Fritz’ in The Stranger....and all of Van Allsburg’s books! Students love to do this!

Book Talk
Farmer Bailey is traveling home in late summer when he has an accident.  He hits a man in the road with his truck. The man is dazed and seems to have no memory or ability to talk.  Farmer Bailey, feeling responsible, takes the man (referred to as the Stranger) into his home so that he can recuperate.

The Stranger seems confused for a few days, has odd habits and very outdated clothes. Yet the Baileys are kind to him, feed him and include him in their family life. Even though the Stranger never does talk, he enjoys life with the Baileys. Soon, the Stranger begins to help Farmer Bailey in the heavy work around the farm to harvest the crops. The Stranger works very hard, but Farmer Bailey notices that he never seems tired or breaks a sweat. The daughter watches as the Stranger communicates and interacts beautifully and serenely with the wild animals and birds around the farm.

Some favorite lines:
‘The next morning Katy watched the stranger from her bedroom window. He walked across the yard, towards two rabbits. Instead of running into the woods, the rabbits took a hop in his direction. He picked one of them up and stroked its ears, then it down.’

One day, the Stranger notices a flock of geese flying south and cannot take his eyes off of them. In fact, he seems oddly hypnotized by watching them.  The family starts to notice strange things around the countryside—-all the trees are turning orange and golden for the fall, except for the trees around the Bailey's house and farm. The summer lasts so long at the Baileys, that the pumpkins grow to an extraordinary size!  

Yet the Stranger senses that because of his presence, the fall has not come to the Baileys farmland. After much thought, he decides to leave his new friends.

At dinner, he hugs them all and runs out the door. They follow quickly, but he has already gone!  They notice immediately that the weather is cooler and their trees’ leaves have turned a beautiful golden color. 

They never saw him again, but every autumn, the same thing would happen at the Bailey’s Farm: summer would be prolonged. The leaves on their trees would stay green longer than that trees in the surrounding areas. Then overnight, they would change to the brightest colors and in the frost of the barn windows these words would appear: “See you next fall”.

Suggested Uses As a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fantasy
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Synthesizing, Inferring, Analyzing, Critiquing
Writing Workshop Genre and strategies:  Fantasy Writing, Narrative Writing, Elaboration, Strong Lead, Strong Ending

Chris Van Allsburg’s website:

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