Gooney Bird Greene series by Lois Lowry introduces early chapter book readers to a spunky second-grader that is anything but average. Just like her unique name, Gooney Bird has a unique personalities that helps the kids in her class learn more from their teacher than they otherwise would. Some of the books we read from the series would also work well as mentor texts in helping children learn how to organize a story.
Books in the Gooney Bird Greene Series
Gooney Bird Greene (published 2002) is a delightful short chapter book about the creative, independent, and spunky new girl to the second grade classroom, Gooney Bird, who loves to be “right smack in the middle of everything.” With her outgoing and confident personality, Gooney Bird helps teach the class about story structure, taking the place of teacher (much to the teacher’s delight) as they learn.
As a mentor text, Gooney Bird Greene is truly fantastic. The tight story captures unique personalities of the 18 children in Mrs. Pidgeon’s second grade classroom, showing change in many of them. Gooney Bird’s unique way of seeing the world is heart-warming and truly humorous. It’s a great book for the second grade listener, and my daughter was no exception. Rated 5/5
Although it lacks the same charm as the first book in the series, Gooney Bird and the Room Mother (published 2005) adds to the class story by sharing how the children learn to use dictionaries to find the meaning of words in their class dictionaries. Gooney Bird shares some stories with the class, but the emphasis is on finding definitions. I wanted to like Gooney Bird’s second story, but there were many issues that bothered me. The term “Room Mother” felt dated and inappropriate in our society, and in some respects it was shocking that this was the designated term for a volunteer that will bring cupcakes to a holiday celebration in the 2000s!
Further, as a book taking place in November, Gooney Bird and the Room Mother also centered on the creation of a Thanksgiving play about Squanto and the Native Americans, who are often called Indians, and the children create buckle pilgrim hats and feathered headbands. It was mostly common knowledge, even in 2005, that this is not the accurate portrayal of the early pilgrims and their native helpers in 1620 Massachusetts. Twenty years ago, people were not quite as sensitive to cultural accuracies as today, but as these issues were central to the plot, it seemed quite dated and insensitive to portray the holiday in such a stereotypical way.
It was not a horrible book. In terms of structure, it provided a nice resolution to getting to know Mrs. Pidgeon, the teacher, just as the first book provide character change and insight into the children of the class. But, in general, I was quite disappointed in Gooney Bird’s second story. Rated 2/5
Gooney the Fabulous (published 2007) was published just two years after the previous one, but it felt a little less awkward to me. With the mentor concept of fables and fairy tales, Gooney Bird helps lead the second graders in creating their own animal themed moral tales reminiscent of Aesop. Again, it was not nearly as fantastic as the first book, even as a mentor text. While the children were able to create their moral fables, there was not any instruction on how to figure out what to write. In that sense, it could not quite help children (as a mentor text should) as they try to make their own. It gave some great example of new and original fables, though! If only it gave more ideas on structure. Rated 4/5
Gooney Bird Is So Absurd (published 2009) uses poetry as the mentor texts to learning and expressing oneself. I enjoyed that the poetry discussed faced a variety of styles, including rhyming couplets, haiku, and list poems. The subplot undergirding the poetry learning moments is a tender personal struggle for their beloved teacher, Mrs. Pidgeon, who is supporting her ailing and elderly mother throughout the book. Mrs. Pidgeon’s mentor poems are written by her mother, which was sweet.
As a fan of poetry, I did think it would have been nice to hear from actual classical poets or hear their names. I also wanted to read more of the student’s creations, and see how their unique personalities (as discovered in the previous three books) are revealed in a poem.
But, as an early chapter book, I realize the need to keep the chapters short. Each of these books introduces concepts that allow teachers to expand upon a learning concept and encourage student writing. As such, I suppose Lowry is right in letting the teacher introduce those things as she keeps her own text the just right length. Rated 4/5
Gooney Bird Series Summary
There are two other Gooney Bird stories that we have not yet read:
- Gooney Bird on the Map (published 2011).
- Gooney Bird and All Her Charms (published 2013).
While I do hope we return to Gooney Bird some day, I’ll say that so far the first is by far the best. I loved the character development, as Gooney Bird helped them express themselves and become more comfortable in the second grade classroom. The others were uneven, but in some respects I’m not surprised: It’s hard to improve on the compact, entertaining, and educational first book in this early chapter book series.