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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

How the Troll Hunters helped with grieving

Skyfall by Micahel Dahl. #1 Troll Hunters series. Stone Arch Books, 2012. ISBN: 9781434233073. $17.99. Reading Level: 2-3; Interest Level: 5-9. 112 pages.

Librarianship is a wondrous profession. Seeking and receiving information, matching it to the needs of patrons, and watching interests grow is a wonderful thing. One disadvantage to being in a school library is the end of the school year when all checkouts stop. Public libraries never have to close down yearly to inventory, put their books exactly in order, and cease checkout.

This year because I was part of the related arts team and served as teacher’s planning release, I had classes even the last day of school but had to shift classes to the computer lab instead of the library. Unfortunately, checkout stops ten days before then and we are expected to get our inventory done, shelves in order, and the end of the year reports turned in. (Mine isn’t finished yet, ahem!) School librarians often have the textbooks for classrooms to be returned and inventoried; moreover, the  technology must be returned, repaired, and surplussed.

This is the only time of year when I allow my volunteers and library assistant to get territorial and tell the kids not to touch the books. If I had my way, I’d be paid for a week extra to stay and put things in order. Since I don’t and my working next week is volunteering, I compromise and watch the shelves fill up with all the titles that we haven’t seen on the shelves all year. This is a mixed blessing because the students sneak in to view all the books in their place and marvel at titles they were waiting for all year. They always discover something new — maybe a new series, the rest of the books by an author they liked, an entire shelf of baseball books that “magically” appeared. And they beg. They plead. They bargain. Please, Mrs. Kelly, let me just checkout this one book.

This year a fourth grade  African-American boy quietly slipped in the library and wandered the shelves one morning. Finally, he stood at the desk with my assistant and just waited. When she asked what he wanted, he said he had just hoped to check out something. Through their conversation we discovered his beloved grandfather who was practically raising him, had just died. He’d had to move back in with his mother. He was at school but trying to deal with his emotions. He just needed to read something.

How can you help grieving children? Love, care, listening? Being there? Of course, but I helplessly clutched at the one thing I am good at doing – offering a book. I knew this boy had read the Library of Doom by Michael Dahl and was systematically reading everything Michael Dahl had written. I happened to have the new series Troll Hunters #1 and #2 to review on my desk, so I quickly grapped Skyfall and pressed it into his hands, asking him to tell me what he thought.

He loved it. He came back three times during the day to update me on where he was in reading. He asked if he could have the second and how quickly I could get the others. His teacher stopped me in the hall and said she had allowed him to just sit and read for two hours straight while he was coping. When we asked him for details about the book, he talked about how exciting it was. How quickly the action happened. How there was so much going on to keep track of.

We even had a funny moment when he pointed out Doctor Hoo was in the book. He knows how much I love the Doctor Who tv series so we had a giggle while we guessed Michael Dahl is a Doctor Who fan, too.

He showed me how interesting the color pages are in the front and back and that they made this book feel special and old-like. He liked the illustrations because they were scary. I pulled out my camera and showed his a real photo of Michael Dahl to compare to the artistic rendering in the back. He even mentioned to me that he liked the feel of the pages. I pointed out that these books were all printed in the U.S.A. in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and he mentioned that his grandfather would have been proud that he was reading a book made in the USA.

Coming in and chatting about Troll Hunters kept this sweet young man interested and involved throughout the chaos of the last days of school and the various “celebrations” that occur for milestones. We talked about questions we would like to ask Michael Dahl and about having a Skype session with him in the fall. When he realized he’d be at the middle school by then, he asked if he could come by to join in. He wanted me to pass on to the author that these books are exciting and easy to read and that they hook you. Finally, as he was getting on the bus the last day, he hollered out the window (yes, hollered, we are in the South) and said he would come by to visit me to help review books next year.

I cannot take away the pain of my students’ lives. I can help them escape, learn more, and get involved in reading and living someone else’s life.

How did I like the Troll Hunters? Troll Hunters is going to be the most sought after new series for my reluctant readers in fourth grade. The vocabulary is accessible, the action intense, and the characters intriguing. The second book Dark Tower Rising is my favorite because it introduced constellation mythology.

Both titles I read involve science and applying scientific ideals to myths from the past. I’m already seeking new constellation titles like the one pictured here to satisfy the growing interest in mythology.

Neither Troll Hunter title I read tries to answer all questions, wrap up all the problems, or even provide happy endings. The action keeps the reader involved and leaves lots of storyline possibilities open.

The series is giving my students something to look forward. I contemplated the correlations to the Common Core Standards including:

  • Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text. Subskill: Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).
  • Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).
  • Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

These are skills I can work with informally and formally as students read through the series. The Tennessee skills I can focus on include:

  • Predict and determine the sequence of events in a story including possible problems and solutions.
  • Identify the conflict of the plot.
  • Continue to identify how point of view (i.e., first person or third person, limited and omniscient) shapes the plot of the story or the perspective of the characters and audience.
  • Identify and interpret the main incidents of a plot, their causes, how they influence future actions, and how they are resolved.