VirginiaLynne is a mother of five. She writes about parenting, crafts, and games for children, family fun, and Christian ministry ideas.
Favorite Family Children's Book
Hooway for Wodney Wat is about bullying and about dealing with a speech impediment. It is also about being shy and feeling inadequate and unloved. All of these are serious, yet this book manages to handle these difficult subjects in a subtle way, making us laugh and cheer for Rodney Rat, and ourselves, as we face difficulties, inadequacies, and bullies. In fact, I'd have to rate this as the best children's book I've ever read.
If I had any doubt about making such a strong recommendation, it was just eliminated a few minutes ago when my college senior (who had a speech impediment until he was 9) saw Hooway for Wodney Wat laying on the counter, ready for me to use in writing this review, and said, "Hey, that is a great book. I remember it. I loved that book!" Moreover, a few minutes later my husband walked by, looked at the cover, and said, "That is my very favorite children's book. I will choose that one first when I get to read to the kids."
Now, it isn't as if we don't have a lot of other reading material in our house. We have at least a thousand children's books on our shelves, and today we just returned from our weekly trip to the library with about 40 books. So, after all of those thousands of great pictures books, why is it that Hooway for Wodney Wat gets put as number one? You can listen to the book read below and see for yourself.
My Son in Second Grade Still Struggled With Speech
Book That Teaches Us to Accept Differences
Hooway for Wodney Wat is a great book because it sensitively explores the fear we all have about being different and encourages us to embrace our differences as advantages. Author Helen Lester gives the story of an underdog (rat!) who triumphs in spite of his shyness, insecurity, and a speech impediment. For Rodney, his misery is caused by his inability to pronounce "R," which provides constant teasing at rodent school. The other kids wink at each other and ask Rodney, "And how does a train travel?" To which he miserably replies "A twain twavels on twain twacks," before hiding himself inside his coat.
Often books for kids focus on overcoming problems, inadequacies, and insecurities. This book is different. Rodney Rat doesn't learn to say his "r's" correctly, nor does he overcome his terrible fear of the big bully Camillia Capybara. Instead, he hides in his jacket and watches while the bully Camillia is made a fool of by her own intense self-confidence. Meanwhile, Rodney and his friends learn that being different can sometimes have advantages.
Like Helen Lester's more well-known Tacky the Penguin books, Hooway for Wodney Wat explodes the common schoolyard myth that kids have to "fit in" by dressing, acting, and thinking like everyone else. We love Tacky and Rodney because they are rebels without a cause who end up being the unlikely hero of the day.
Why does the story of Rodney Rat resonate so strongly? I think we've all had a moment when we've quavered before the bully even when the bully didn't seem to notice us. Rodney is never actually attacked by Camilla, but he hides in his jacket anyway when she says, "I am bigger than any of you. I'm meaner than any of you. And I'm smarter than any of you. So There!" Whether it is on the schoolyard or the workplace, we have all faced someone like this who has made us want to hide in our jacket too, wondering like Rodney, "What will she do when she hears me speak?"
Children and Speech Impairment
Message: Bullies Don't Have the Last Word
Ultimately, Howay for Wodney Wat gives the message: Bullies don't have the last word. People of integrity, honesty, and humility are a lot stronger than selfish bullies. That is a lesson I want to teach my kids, and every time I read this book, I realize it is a lesson I need for myself.
That lesson comes home to me and my kids more strongly when we get to experience it together as we root for Rodney rat along with his friends in the climax of the book. The terrifying moment comes when Rodney is picked to lead the game of "Simon Says." Rodney has fearful visions of Camilla tying him up in his own tailor pouncing on him. However, trembling in his jacket he squeaks out a command, "Wodney says weed the sign."
To the amazement of Rodney and the delight of his classmates, while the other rodents calmly read "P.S. 142 Elementary School for Rodents, "Camilla begins to frantically pull weeds up around the sign," making them all smile at her mistakes.
Emboldened, Rodney begins to improvise other commands which cause the overconfident Camiliia to hit her head ("Wap your paws awound your head"), fly around confused ("play wing awound the wosey"), and get openly laughed at for trying to talk to leaves ("wake the leaves!"). Finally, when Rodney calls, "go west," Camilla, proud of knowing how to read directions from the sun, heads west with a, "So there," and stomps away forever.
We all know that bullies aren't defeated that easily most of the time, but Rodney's triumph over Camilla satisfies a deep-seated belief we all have that nice guys should win. When we learn on the last page that the rest of the rodents at P.S. 142 never teased Rodney again, we know as adults that to some extent that is the truth. The terrors of the schoolyard don't follow us all our lives. Those that are bullied when younger are often the ones who develop greater compassion and become kind, strong leaders as adults. What is so satisfying about Wodney Wat is that he triumphs in the midst of his inadequacies, rather than because he overcame them.
Lynn Munsinger, who has illustrated many of Helen Lester's books, including the Tacky series, once again draws pictures that tell the story vibrantly. With pen and ink and watercolor washes, she deftly shows the action and the emotions of all the characters. Hooway for Wodney Wat is a great book and I hope you will get it for your collection.
Make Your Own Family Movie of Wodney!
HAexpressions on June 14, 2011:
Great review and a great hub!
ajc_80 from Northwest Ohio on June 12, 2011:
I agree, I used to read these books to kindergarten classrooms in order to teach them about bullying and being kind to others. Great review!