When I taught third grade, The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Pinkwater, was always a favorite. This is the improbable story of what happens after an errant seagull flies over Mr. Plumbean’s house and drops a can of orange paint on the roof. Because “all the houses were the same” on their “neat street,” the neighbors assume that Mr. Plumbean will get right to work repainting his house. But he waits a little while. He thinks about the splot. When he finally does paint his house, it’s not at all what the neighbors had in mind. When asked what he has done, Mr. Plumbean simply replies, “My house is me and I am it. It looks like all my dreams.” At first the neighborhood thinks he’s nuts, but after a while they start to see the wisdom of Mr. Plumbean’s mantra. Eventually the houses aren’t the same at all and Mr. Plumbean’s neighbors dreams are revealed through their houses.
Kids loved the wackiness of Mr. Plumbean and his house, and were intrigued by the other houses in the neighborhood. I began collecting photos of unusual houses and buildings to display on a bulletin board when we read this story. Then I found this poem, the perfect complement to the pictures.
by Myra Cohn Livingston
Buildings are a great surprise,
Everyone’s a different size
Offices grow long and high
Tall enough to touch the sky.
Houses seem more like a box
Made of glue and building blocks
Every time you look, you see
Buildings shaped quite differently
One year during this unit, a poetry contest was announced in the Trumpet Book Club order. (Trumpet either was or became part of Scholastic.) We had been reading and writing poetry since the start of school, so I shared this with my students and encouraged them to enter. I don’t remember specifically telling anyone to write a poem about a building, but the bulletin board did inspire some of them. Several students did submit poems to the contest and we were all thrilled when Allie’s poem was chosen to be included in this anthology:
by Allie Mandeville
Windmill dancing in the breeze,
With a swift, turning ease.
The windmill makes a squeaky sound
As it’s turning round and round.
Spinning once, spinning twice,
The sound of spinning
Sounds so nice.
And as the wind makes it turn,
The windmill looks so very stern.
The windmill looks so beautiful.
The windmill looks so nice.
But don’t you think
It must be full of mice?
(Thank you, Allie, for permission to share your poem.)
I was reminded of all this recently when I found a copy of the anthology at a local book sale. I’m sure that if I were teaching third grade today I would still put up bulletin boards of interesting photos related to what we were reading and learning about. I know I would still be teaching writing using a workshop model. I would allow students to choose topics and subjects that interested them, not limit them to prompts provided by the state or some other distant textbook publisher.
I would do all this and more to help them understand that the world is full of possibilities. I would do this so they could write poems that are full of all their dreams.