We have just begun our memoir writing unit, and although I try to bring in new mentor texts to share and investigate every year, this is one I will always rely on:
Cuomo’s poignant memoir reaches back into his boyhood, when his father tells the family that his dream has come true: they are at last moving to a real house with a real yard. At first, Mario is sad to leave behind his friends and the neighborhood he has always known. But his father’s joy moves him, and he magnificent blue spruce in front of the house becomes his new place of refuge and play. One night, a terrible storm rages on and powerful winds uproot the tree. Mario’s father, however, refuses to give up on his beloved tree. With his son’s help, he is able to make the tree stand upright once more. As they work together in the lashing rain with lightning blazing through the sky, Mario comes to realize what the tree means to his father : it is the embodiment of working towards a dream and never giving up in its pursuit. Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen’s illustrations add a lovely sense of time and place to this story, and it serves as the perfect readaloud for our genre study.
I’ve typed up the narrative and make copies for my sixth graders to mark up after we’ve shared the readaloud, which allows for my students to have the text at hand when they begin crafting their own memoirs. This way, they have Mr. Cuomo to turn to for a quick check about qualities in great memoir writing.
This week, I also re-read another old favorite before passing it along to a sixth grader who will be sure to love it: Ralph Helfer’s wonderful book Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived. Published in 1998, I first saw this book in the Chinaberry catalog – my go-to place for books for my own children in those pre-Amazon.com days.
The back cover copy reads:
Spanning seven decades and three continents, Modoc is one of the most amazing true animal stories ever told. Raised together in a small German circus town, a boy and an elephant formed a bond that would last their entire lives, and would be tested time and again; through a near-fatal shipwreck in the Indian Ocean, an apprenticeship with the legendary Mahout elephant trainers in the Indian teak forests, and their eventual rise to circus stardom in 1940s New York City. Modoc is a captivating true story of loyalty, friendship, and high adventure, to be treasured by animal lovers everywhere.
This is a complex story with many twists and turns – the one constant is the bond between Bram Gunterstein and and his beloved Modoc, born on the same day as he and forever within his heart. No matter how many events and years contrive to come between these two, Fate always finds a way to reunite them…sometimes by design, sometimes by chance, sometimes through a miracle. And, when I finished this 10th. or so re-read, I found myself in tears all over again. This is an amazing book.