Ode to a Nobody by Caroline Brooks DuBois (2022) is a verse novel set in Nashville. On one level, it is a story about Quinn, a tornado, friendship, survival, and family. On another level, it is a love letter to English classes and poetry month. On yet another level, it is a story about how writing can help someone find her voice. It is all of those things and more. As one of my teacher candidates said, “This book is about writing and seeing kids.” Another said, “I found 27 poems that I could use as mentor texts tomorrow with my students and I am only halfway through the book!”
I shared this book as a read-aloud to a small group of 4 middle school students. We started with an activity called “Judge a book by its cover.” Using a picture of the cover, the students do the following:
- Identify what they notice about the cover.
- List the “things” that stand out about the images on the cover.
- Break apart the title.
- Make an educated guess.
Noticings of things on the cover:
- I notice the back of a girl’s head and her hair is blowing like it is windy.
- I notice that there is a house and trees. The trees are blowing like it is a windy day.
- I notice a hamster and a game controller flying around. A teddy bear and a skateboard too.
- I notice that the colors are blues and pinks and salmon colors. They seem “moody.”
- The trees and swing are blowing a different direction than her hair—like it is rotating.
- The title is Ode to a Nobody.
- The two words that stand out are ODE and NOBODY.
- Ode is an English class word. I think it is a type of poetry—maybe one when somebody died or is real famous.
- Nobody is a word everybody knows. It’s common—it often is a negative word. Kind of.
- I think the book is about a girl who writes a poem about somebody who dies in a storm.
- I think the book is going to be a book about a tornado because of the wind images. I think the girl is the main character and she loses her house and her stuff in the tornado because I see stuff blowing in the wind.
- I think the book is a mystery about a girl who finds someone’s stuff that gets blown away during a storm and she has to find the “nobody” the stuff belongs to and give it back.
The educated guesses are based on evidence the students found on the cover; their predictions are close but not exactly what they will find. They are now curious about the book and look forward to figuring out who was the most “right.” We move on to one more introductory task—figuring out the title and more about the book by focusing on the word “ode.”
We begin by talking about and defining the word “ode.” I start by asking them where they might have heard the word “ode.” We talk about what it sounds like (owed) and what we think this word means. One student reminds us that he thinks it is “an English class word” and another student says that she thinks she heard it in a video game. I read them three of the poems from the book “Ode to the Dogwood Out My Window” (pp. 23-24), “Ode to a Stationary Ollie” (p. 32), and “Ode to My Bedroom (and Pumpkin)” (p. 33).
“I didn’t know you could write a poem about skateboarding!” One student says. The students nod. “I thought it had to be about nature and big stuff.” More nodding. We talk more about the poems and what they mean to us. Then I ask, “Based on these three poems, what do you think an ode does?” The students list what they notice about the three poems.
- Each poem talks about what is special about the thing its about.
- It seems like the poem wants us to think it is as special as the author does.
- The poems have details that make it seem real.
The students and I are just beginning our journey together reading this book. They are already excited about reading it. I look forward to the discussions and writing projects they create!
Ode to a Nobody is a book that both Emily and I love. As reading and writing teachers, we are excited about how we are seeing students respond. As teacher educators, we are thrilled with the responses from our teacher candidates.
Melanie and Emily