I take student recommendations very serious, I think it’s an honor when a student goes out of their way to tell me about a book that he/she thinks I will like it. That’s a powerful conversation for me. So when a student recommended Clayby Colby Rodowsky and then gave me her copy, I knew it must be a good one. So I saved it and used it as my first read-aloud of the school year.
Clay is told from the point of view of Elsie, an eleven year old girl who, along with her brother, has been kidnapped by their mother after her parents divorce. Elsie’s younger brother Tommy is “off,” he spends his days staring at the wall, rocking his head, and moaning. He’s seven but doesn’t talk much, can’t maintain eye contact with others, and refuses to play with anything but his Folgers can of rocks. While Dad acknowledged something was wrong with Tommy and making appointments with specialists, Mom was planning her escape because she refuses to believe that there is anything wrong with her son.
Now they’ve been on the run for four years with no one going to school, constantly moving when the mom becomes paranoid. They’ve not been allowed to make friends, own a phone, or play with other kids. It’s a pretty sad existence for Elsie. In addition to her mom working all day, Mom also doesn’t know how to handle Tommy and leaves Elsie to handle his refusal to eat, his moaning, and his breakdowns. When Tommy starts getting sick, really sick, and Mom refuses to admit something is wrong, Elsie knows she is her brothers only chance. But who can she turn to when she knows no one and her mom is always watching her?
My students loved this book. Clay by Colby Rodowsky was a great first read-aloud for my new seventh graders. It got them engaged, it got them worked up, and it was short enough so that we got through it in four weeks. Reading aloud to students is one of my favorite parts of the day, we get to share good books (I don’t read ahead so we all find out things together) and engage in book conversations that seem low pressure and relaxed. We use the book in other aspects of our day, writing and responding and researching, but those first ten minutes of class are just to listen. It’s a great way to get kids ready to learn and sets the tone for the rest of the class.
DISCLOSURE: AFFILIATE LINKS USED.