There are Two Sides to Every Story, and Then There is the Truth

Everybody knows the story of the three little pigs. Each little pig builds its house out of a material sturdier than the last. One chooses straw. One chooses sticks. One chooses bricks. The big bad wolf blows down the houses of the first two pigs and is unable to destroy the home of the third.

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The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka presents the wolf’s side of the story. It provides a hilarious, new twist on a childhood classic. 

According to A. Wolf, he was baking a birthday cake for his dear old grandma when he ran out of sugar. He visited his neighbors, the three pigs, looking to borrow a cup of sugar. It just so happens that A. Wolf had a cold, which caused him to sneeze. He claims, blowing down the houses of the first two pigs was an accident.

The True Story… (Guided Reading Level: Q) is great for readers of all ages, from kindergarten to 5th grade. I’ve used this picture book with upper elementary students to encourage them to consider different perspectives in the texts they read, whether they are reading fiction or non-fiction. Near the end of the school year, we have a unit on Independent Writing Projects. Each year, inspired by this book, at least one student will try his/her hand at rewriting a classic fairy tale from a different point of view.

A Bi-Cultural Read Aloud

Throughout the school year, my fellow 5th grade teachers and I select read alouds that closely align to our units of study in reading and in writing. Our fiction read alouds are always rich texts that are slightly above what is considered “on grade level” at that time of year. They present opportunities to do some pretty sophisticated work as readers. For example in our work with developing character theories, we constantly collect text evidence to help revise or add to our ideas. We consider how characters interact and change across a text. We even analyze author’s craft moves and use our understandings to identify larger lessons or themes in a text.

As we prepared for the state tests this year, I had the flexibility to select any read aloud. I knew that I wanted to read a book that integrated different cultures and languages. I’d seen this type of work on past year’s ELA tests. Over the course of the school year, I surveyed that books my students were reading and noticed that very few of them gravitated toward these books in our classroom library. During conferences with those students who did, I noticed that they weren’t paying attention to the important role this different culture or language played in their stories. 

As soon as I read Becoming Naomi Leon (Guided Reading Level: V) by Pam Munoz Ryan, I knew I had found our read aloud. 

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The main character Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw lives with her brother Owen and Gram in a trailer park in California. Naomi is a quiet fifth grader who prefers to keep to herself. In addition, she is highly anxious and carves soap sculptures to help ease her nerves. Owen is a fun-loving kid who gets bullied because of his physical differences. 

One day Naomi and Owen’s mother, Skyla, shows up following a seven year absence. Skyla is seeking custody of the kids, which leads Gram, Naomi and Owen on an expedition to find their father in Mexico. The characters take the reader on their journey as they learn about the culture, traditions and the language of the paternal side of their family. 

My fifth graders were absolutely riveted by this book. Each time I had to stop reading, I was met with protests and requests for “Just one more chapter!” (This is probably one of my favorite parts of teaching, when students are so deeply immersed in a book that even though it’s the end of the school day, they want to be late so that we can read one more chapter.) 

Though the book addresses some mature topics, including substance abuse, it does so in a subtle and thoughtful way that allows the reader to understand the severity of the issue within a meaningful context. 

Becoming Naomi Leon is a beautiful story about finding one’s true identity.