Yesterday I started reading Touching Spirit Bear out loud to the class. I started by telling them. “The main character in this book is named Cole Mathews and you are going to hate him.” That got their attention. Fifth grade readers are in an interesting place because they have become aware of the formulaic nature of much of children’s literature. They have come to expect that a bad character will change to a good one, that every hero will trump the bad guy at the end, that if a book is the first in the series you know that it will have a happy ending so that the author can write more books.
I’m proud of them for noticing these things. I tell them as much. Then I rock their world. When I read Among the Hidden and Jen died, some of them didn’t believe it. Most of them cried. All of them had a new found respect for Margaret Peterson Haddix. Then they stopped trusting her, and as they read some of her other books, they weren’t quite sure that their beloved characters would make it out alive.
By the end of the first chapter of Touching Spirit Bear they were infuriated. This main character is cowardly, violent, and deplorable. (At least for now.) Some of them actually shook their little fists in rage. They are shocked that their main character is the bad guy and I think they love it!