Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Book Review of "Poppy" and It's Real Life Applications

When traveling to and from the Twin Cities, we always need good books to keep us entertained on our drive. For this road trip, we chose a book called "Poppy" by the author known as Avi.

This is a story told from the perspective of a mouse named Poppy and her predator named Mr. Ocax. Poppy has just met and fallen in love with an "outsider" mouse named Ragweed who is a rebel, and questions authority. Because of his rebellious tendencies, he convinces Poppy to accompany him for a romantic getaway on Bannock Hill. Ragweed deliberately ignores the rule of Mr. Ocax to ask for his permission to go to Bannock Hill. This infuriates Mr. Ocax. His mice must always fear him, always obey him. On Banock Hill, just as Ragweed is about to propose to Poppy, Mr. Ocax kills her beloved Ragweed and, throughout the rest of the book, pursues Poppy with a vengeance.

When Poppy returns to her family, her father makes an announcement that the whole family will need to move to a new location, as they are running out of food. They must get the permission of the Great Horned Owl who calls himself the ruler and protector of all the mice. Of course, he denies permission for them to move, naming Poppy and Ragweed as the reason. Poppy now feels responsible for the terrible predicament they are all in. She sets out on her own to find a solution to the problem and becomes the Heroine of the story.

This book provided the jumping point for many very interesting conversations about politics at a child's level of understanding. Some of our discussions revolved around the question of how a single person comes to rule over a group of people. We talked about how the owl told lots of lies to keep the mice afraid of him. He lied about other animals of the forest, convincing them he was their protector and to fear these strangers. The mice were taught to never question authority. This eventually led to a discussion about Kings and Queens, and how people came to America.

We also learned from this story about the circle of life. Avi has an amazing ability to describe what an owl is thinking, how it is moving it's body in flight, how it dives and captures it's prey. What is a mouse feeling as it is being relentlessly pursued by a hungry, vengeful owl? And how do the lessons and realities of these fictional characters come to real life? Well, when a Red Tail Hawk is pursuing it's songbird prey and slams into the dining room window.

BAM!!! And it was loud, like a small explosion. We had been sitting at my mom's dining room table doing a craft. Charlotte and mom looked up just in time to see it's red tail going down. Charlotte yelled out, "It's a Red Tail Hawk mom! I saw the red tail!" I was at the kitchen sink and immediately went out the back door. My dad was outside just starting out to walk our dog. He heard it too, and saw that it was now sitting up in the Oak tree. It had dropped it's prey and there was the small dead bird on the deck, with a patch of blood and feathers stuck to the window.

The reaction? Mom, Charlotte and I were amazed. "Wow! Did you see that? That was so cool!" We just could not believe we saw it up so close, and that the Hawk actually hit the window. This greatly disturbed my six year old son. Normally, when we find a dead bird around our house when it hits a window, he is the first to want to examine it, wrap it up, and put it in the freezer. We like looking at dead birds. But it was different this time. He was very upset, tearful, very sad. Why was it so different this time? He said "because the big one can defend itself and eat something else." Like in the book, the predator killed it's prey, and we just happened to witness it.

So, we decided to honor the small bird. This seemed to comfort Finn. He and Charlotte carefully wrapped him up and put him in a small box.

Finn created a small cross for the bird's burial site. I helped him write a message on the cross. It reads, Dear Bird, I hope you live another long life. Love, Finn

Finn buried him in the snow under a tree by a crow sculpture.

It's funny how this incident happened while we were in the middle of reading the Poppy book. But that's usually how learning happens in our family. We focus on something, and then it becomes real through other experiences. We make connections between other books we have read, maybe a movie we have seen, a person we have met either real, or fictional characters.

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