Judy Blume’s first book, although written in the 1960's, captures the pains of isolation and identity crisis kids experience in today's society, even K-1 students. Exploration of this story can offer them a connection to the past while preparing them for social challenges they’ll face in the future.
Often, the analysis that goes into a book review can lend itself to a dissection of a book’s story structure. This book review provides a recommendation of a rich teaching tool in addition to an outline for discussing with your K-1 students the structure of the story in question.
I. Synopsis – “The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo" by Judy Blume
Freddy Dissel is too big to play with his younger sister, Ellen, who’s in nursery school, and too small to play basketball with his older brother, Mike, and his friends. Ellen has her own room where she keeps toys Freddy isn’t allowed to play with, while Freddy has to share a room with Mike. Mike gets new clothes and Freddy wears hand-me-downs. Ultimately, being the middle child, he determines, just isn’t a good place to be. One day, he sees a posting for tryouts for a school play and asks if he can be in it. When he gets the role of the green kangaroo, he enjoys it so much—the costuming, the jumping, and the way it makes everyone laugh—that it no longer bothers him that he’s too small to play with Mike and too big to play with Ellen. He decides that being in the middle isn’t quite so bad after all.
II. Structural Breakdown
- Protagonist Want - Freddy wants a place to belong, to feel comfortable in his position in life
- Obstacle or Conflict - He’s too big for some things and too small for others; he doesn’t seem to have anything special that is his alone
- Resolution - Freddy pursues a role in the school play, gets it, and enjoys it so much that he no longer dislikes being the middle kid
III. Timeless Morals, Relationship/Relevance to modern times
Identity crises affect many people, not just children. But it is true that a great many kids today are plagued by the notions that they aren’t _______ enough; they’re too big, too small, too smart, too dull, stuck in a social purgatory. Many kids feel isolated in our society, and they sometimes resort to dangerous and unhealthy measures in their efforts to feel OK about that. Being lonely is, indeed, an unfortunate thing, but being independent isn’t bad at all, and one thing may well lead to the negation of the other. It’s never too early to convey that to students (K-1 students included). They needn’t worry so about what other people are doing and aren’t doing, what others have and don’t have. If they are being active themselves, standing on their own, pursuing something productive or progressive that truly makes them happy, they will find their place, their niche in life, and people will be drawn to the happiness they exude.
IV. Other lessons taught
- metaphors, symbolism (the kangaroo takes center stage in the play; Freddy is in the middle)
V. Any challenges the stories may present
One caution I hold, considering the surplus of narcissism our culture has bred in recent years (even with all the very real self-esteem issues still rampant in schools), is suggesting that being the center of attention on a stage is the answer to not feeling good about yourself; that can backfire. There are many more hobbies and activities youth can participate in beyond acting or performing onstage. It is a good idea, when sharing this book with the class, to have on-hand a list including the range of such activities available at your school and in your community.
VI. Other Notable Attributes
- The realism of the story makes it very relatable