Monday, February 24, 2014
Heidi Heckelbeck Series
One of my second graders recently recommended this series to me, so I purchased the box set of the first four books and began reading them aloud to my class after lunch. They love it! Maddy recommended it to the class because "she is a witch and I liked it because she always to tries to cast spells to make things better, but she makes it worse."
Let me preface the rest of my remarks with this information: this year is my first year back in the primary grades after spending the past 7 years as a 4th and 5th grade reading teacher. During those years, I had the opportunity to introduce my students to some truly outstanding literature. When I arrived in 2nd grade, I packed up 14 boxes of amazing chapter books and began to fill my shelves with books better suited to the needs of my young students. It has been an adjustment :) Every time I finish a read-aloud, I struggle to find one that my students will enjoy but will also not make me want to die. It's not easy. I love Beverly Cleary, Patricia MacLachlan, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. My students are being raised in a Captain Underpants world.
Chapter books written to capture the fancy of young readers and encourage them to keep reading, by necessity, must be simple of phrase and plot. The Heidi Heckelbeck series meets that criteria. It will never be considered great literature. That said, I am delighted by the fact that my students are so engaged that they beg for more at the end of each brief chapter. The plot is simple, but not too simplistic. The language is plain and clear, a must for early chapter books. The word "said" is used far too often, but it gives me an opportunity to hammer home our writing lessons on finding synonyms for overused words :) Every character's name is an alliteration, which gets old for me, but the kids love it and, again, I can use that to my advantage during language arts lessons :)
Heidi Heckelbeck is an 8-year-old who is just starting public school when we meet her. To this point in her life, she has been homeschooled. She is as upset about going to public school as her little Kindergarten brother is excited. Once there, she meets the usual cast of characters in a school setting - the nerd, the bully, the mean girl, the new best friend, etc. Naturally, Melanie, the mean girl, makes Heidi's life miserable and Heidi has to figure out a way to either live with it or make it stop.
Although author Wanda Coven drops subtle hints early in the first book, it took my class completely by surprise to find out that Heidi is a witch. Her mother is a witch, her grandmother is a witch, but her dad and her brother Henry are not. Anyone who grew up with "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie" understands the appeal of this development. And...didn't the author's name just become more clever?
Heidi's challenge is to handle life's problems without using magic. Of course, she always uses it anyway, it backfires, and she learns a lesson. But that doesn't keep her from trying it again.
I foresee another Heidi Heckelbeck purchase in my near future because we are almost done with the 4th book. My students ask every day when I am going to put them in our classroom library. Thanks, Maddy for recommending it!