Five Reasons to Read It #10: PARCHED

In deciding which of my summer reads to write up next, I thought about all the teachers who, like me, are about to go back to school and are looking for great new literature to introduce in their classrooms.  Middle-school teachers in particular, I strongly recommend that you check this one out: 

Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013

Here are five reasons to read it:

1. It instantly grabs and hooks the reader. Don’t take my word for it, either, read the first three chapters here and then try not to read the rest. (I just reread the first chapter to make sure I’m not overselling this, and I am now covered in goosebumps with tears in my eyes. So.)

2. This is an eye-opening story of daily survival in extreme drought. For those of us who can just hop in the shower or grab a glass of ice water whenever we want, it’s almost impossible to conceive of the struggle to survive in an environment that is literally parched – but that struggle is the daily reality for over a billion people. This book makes that reality immediate and terrifying. Crowder’s language choices powerfully evoke thirst and scarcity. After finishing this book, I felt very, very grateful to be able to turn on the tap. 

3. This book features a very strong girl.  All the characters are strong, but I am always best pleased with a very strong young girl, and this one has good horse sense and great courage flying completely solo (except for the dogs). 

4. If you love dogs, you will love – and probably weep through – this book, which so sensitively depicts the beautiful pack mentality of dogs and the way that dogs are willing to include beloved humans in the pack. 

5.  I loved the way this book dealt in the very bleak and dry, and yet was juicy – the aloe, the sour figs, the horned cucumbers, the cool stones, the grotto pool.  Crowder’s story world is hot and cracked and thirsty, and every small relief she gives her characters is also a small relief she gives the reader.  I was right there with Sarel and Musa and Nandi, savoring every drop of anything moist and then immediately fearing that it would be the last. 

Additional information for language arts teachers:
This is a brief, compelling book, made up of brief, compelling chapters – perfect for a read-together class novel. Daily chapter readings can be completed in class with plenty of time left for shared student responses. Yet, while the book is brief, it is not an easy read. It will challenge young readers’ vocabulary and powers of inference and visualization, as well as demanding them to interact emotionally with the tale – which is harrowing. The deceptive simplicity of Crowder’s spare storytelling, and her specific, lyrical language beg to be deeply explored and discussed.  Better yet for us busy teachers, Crowder’s Teachers’ Guide (©Anna J. Boll, 2013) lays out precisely how the story ties into the English/Language Arts Common Core standards. A lyrical, poetic novel, multicultural and dramatic in content, told from three distinct points of view (one girl, one boy, one dog), this book is a jewel.

Additional information for science and social studies teachers:
This is a timely and relevant story. Cross-curricular ties abound here – ample opportunity for readers to make text-to-world connections. Possible science ties: pack animals (dogs specifically), desert animals, plants that survive in drought conditions, water as a natural resource, sustainable water, invisible worlds of water that exist underground, use of animal bladders to store water, the veracity of dowsing.  Possible social-studies/geography ties: availability of clean water in today’s world, water (or another major natural resource) as a player in the rise and fall of civilizations, mapping the world of water, gang culture. 

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