I’ve asked you all to tell me about the lessons you’ve learned from one of the characters while reading The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty, so I’ve decided to answer my own question by writing about Lydia Jaackson-Oberman.

I particularly admire Lydia’s imagination. She has the ability to make fiction seem so real that you believe every word is true, and she can do this while hardly thinking about what she is creating. She can turn the smallest question (i.e, What is your greatest fear?) into something akin to a military investigation. Her imagination has often made her seem detached from the world, and it often prevents her from understanding her own feelings. However, Lydia uses her wild imagination and secret assignments to repair friendships and help a hurting friend. Whether she knows it or not, Lydia’s imagination is her greatest strength and her greatest weakness.

In the same way, we all have traits that can be used to build up and to tear down. I am a perfectionist in every way. Sometimes I am glad to pay close attention to details so I can do a job correctly the first time. Most of the time, though, I am overwhelmed by the details. I see everything that is wrong, and I cannot find a way to fix everything. At this point, I usually give up because I do not want to try to complete a task I cannot do properly the first time. For an example, perfectionism always affects my writing. Occasionally, I can be happy because I feel that I have written perfectly effective. However, I tend to feel that I have missed something or not presented my ideas coherently, but then I have no idea how to fix it. It is why I hate proofreading. No matter the perils of perfectionism, though, I love the feeling when I finally do make something “perfect,” and I am sure that Lydia is glad to know that her imagination can help her friends.

Have you learned anything else from Lydia and The Year of Secret Assignments?

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So, you’ve finished reading The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty. I hope I haven’t made you wait too long for the review, but I wanted you to savor every page of this book. As I was reading through it myself (for the third time) I realized just how many important lessons we can learn from this book.

From the main characters, we learn individual lessons.

  • Lydia: A girl who wants to be a writer but believes she will never succeed. Her wild imagination constantly keeps her out of the grip of reality because she experiences only fear and failure when she acknowledges that life is not her own perfect creation.
  • Emily: A bit of an airhead, she has a love of life that borders on recklessness. Emily appears to only care about having fun every chance she gets, but she will fight heart and soul for the things she believes in and the people she loves.
  • Cassie: A tender and caring friend, Cassie lost her father to cancer a year ago. She doesn’t want to burden Emily and Lydia with her pain any longer, so she begins slipping away from them and follows her therapist’s advice to confide in a stranger.
  • Sebastian: Lydia’s Brookfield penfriend, Sebastian struggles with abominably low grades and a volatile temper. He is Lydia’s perfect counterpart. He plays along with and, eventually, encourages her games, but he maintains a rational and practical view of life (even when he compares it to a soccer match).
  • Charlie: Emily’s penfriend, Charlie is the unassuming scapegoat. Self-absorbed, though not arrogant, he is always the last to pick up on the significance of each situation he encounters. By no means stupid, Charlie learns that, with Emily, it is just easier to go along for the ride and ask for details later.
  • Matthew: Cassie’s penfriend, Matthew Dunlop is the catalyst in this entire story. He responds to each of Cassie’s letters with venomous hatred. When she keeps writing, he finally decides to befriend her, only to throw her goodwill back in her face and stomp on it (figuratively). In actuality, Matthew Dunlop is Paul Wilson. A top student at Brookfield, he is respected by every teacher, desired by every girl, and loathed by every self-respecting male student in the school. His craving for power and praise becomes his demise by the end of the book.

First of all, each of these characters proves that teenagers are capable of much greater things than adults usually give them credit for. Even though this book is fictional and maybe a bit exaggerated (but what is the point of fiction if it must be believable, eh?) it teaches a lot about how we treat others. New friendships were forged, and old friendships withstood numerous attacks. Oh, and the good guys caught the bad guy.

So, here’s your secret assignment: Pick a character and tell me what you learned from that character. Did you see yourself in that character? Would you have responded differently in the same position? Are there any qualities you admire in this character? Is this your favorite character, or your least favorite? Why?

Answer one or all of these questions in the comments or with a link to your own blog post. Tomorrow, 15 June 2012, I’ll post my own answers to some of these questions. See you then!

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems is a wonderful story for any child who has an attachment to a stuffed animal or blanket. In this story Daddy, Trixie, and Knuffle Bunny take a trip to the Laundromat. Trixie helps Daddy do the laundry, but she leaves Knuffle Bunny behind.

Every child, no matter how young or old, fears that she will lose something. Mo Willems’ illustrations help the reader see Trixie’s emotions as she and Knuffle Bunny experience their frightening adventure. In the pictures, the background scenes are black-and-white photographs of the cityscape where Daddy and Trixie live, and all of the people are Mo Willems’ own cartoonish color drawings superimposed on the photographs. It is an interesting medium that produces a realistic but whimsical mood for the story. The characters are larger than life, playing to the child’s imagination, but the setting is exactly what any city kids might see.

I know that most children won’t be making comparisons between their own lives and the pictures in the book, but it does highlight the important fact of the story: Take care of your favorite things. When Trixie didn’t take care of Knuffle Bunny, she lost him. However, Mommy and Daddy love Trixie so much that they dash back to the Laundromat, and Daddy won’t give up searching for Knuffle Bunny. As teachers and parents, it is our job to take care of our students and children so we can teach them how to take care of their belongings.

What are your thoughts on this story? Did you enjoy it? Were you able to learn or teach a lesson with this book? Have you had your own experiences with a lost toy or favorite thing?

Find out more about Mo Willems, Trixie and Knuffle Bunny, and all of his other books on his website. Let us know what you think of his other books, too!