Sunday, December 2, 2012

Book #337: Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest, Illustrated by Jon. J. Muth

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In the morning Harry walks to the house next door and sits down next to his friend, Mr. George Baker, and they wait. Mr. George Baker is a hundred years old, no kidding, but he never learned how to read. “That must be corrected,” says George. And they wait. George is a drummer man and his crookedy old fingers beat out a rhythm on his knees, “tappidy-boom-boom-tap.” Finally, the school bus arrives and although George is popular with everyone on the bus, he always sits by Harry. Each and every day. At school George and Harry are in different classrooms, but both of them are learning and it’s hard. But George says, “We can do it,” as he sounds out the letters in his book and his fingers tap out a rhythm on his knees, “Tappidy-boom. Tappidy-boom. Tappidy-boom-boom-tap.”

Written from Harry’s point of view, this story celebrates an intergenerational friendship between Harry and George. The text is descriptive and urges the reader to take a closer look at George. Although the text doesn’t rhyme, there’s a rhythm to it that sets a rolling pace and makes the words just right for reading aloud. The watercolor illustrations match the subtle tone of the text. Muth expertly uses light and shadow to create realistic characters and settings. The relationship between the young, fair-skinned Harry and the African-American George, in his baggy, baggy pants and his three button sweater, is set up in the text and cemented in the illustrations. It is clear that Harry not only enjoys the company of his friend, but looks up to him as well. In turn, George takes care of Harry, making sure his shoelaces are double-knotted so they never come undone and loyally sitting next to him on the bus.

After you read this book discuss the idea that learning is something we do every day, not just in school or when we’re young. If you’re reading this book with adults in the room, you might ask a few of them to name something they are learning to do. Pair this book with other titles that emphasize lifelong learning, such as Miss Rumphius or The Pink Refrigerator.

You could also use this book as a part of a storytime about the many different kinds of friendship. George’s age is mentioned, but ask the kids how old they think Harry is in the story. Do you think age matters in this friendship? Pair this story with other books that emphasis common goals in friendships such as, Forsythia and Me, Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat, Tanya and Emily in a Dance for Two or A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

Watch the clip of the Reading Rainbow episode that featured this book read by Wayne Brady (skip to 1:30).


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