Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen
March 31, 2009 in Creative Writing activities, Elementary Educators, Making Personal Connections, Middle Grade Novel, Paulsen, Gary Tags: cousins, farm life, Gary Paulsen, Harris and Me, middle grade novels for boys, tween novels for boys, World War II
Reviewed by Margo Dill, www.margodill.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Older Middle grade (might even be TWEEN) novel, historical fiction
Eleven-year-old boy as main character
Rating: This book is one of the funniest older middle-grade (or TWEEN) readers I have ever picked up. If you love Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, you’ll love Harris and Me in a different way.
Short, short summary: The narrator of Harris and Me, whom we never learn his first name, is shipped to live with his aunt and uncle and their two children, Glennis and Harris, on their farm because his parents are drunks. So, he’s seen a lot, and he’s moved around a lot, but he’s never seen anything quite like Harris. Harris is adventurous and sneaky and just likes to have a lot of fun. Not only is our narrator introduced to hard farm work, such as milking and hay time, but he is also introduced to the many delicious meals that someone has to eat to keep up strength for all the hard farm work. But most of all, Gary Paulsen shows how our narrator is introduced to a cousin full of imagination and excitement like when Harris tries to imitate a Gene Autry movie by jumping on a horse or making his bike move faster with a washing machine motor. Throughout the summer as much as our narrator wants to get revenge on Harris at different times, he also develops a deep friendship that will last beyond the summer. Harris and Me is a book for boys and girls, but boys, of all ages, will fall in love with it!
So, what do I do with this book?
1. This book is begging for a character study. There are so many wonderful characters in this book with their own quirks, expressions, and descriptions. Everyone is different and wonderful in their own way. So let your students study these characters! The minor characters are as interesting as the main characters in Harris and Me! One great way to do a character study is to let students choose the name of a character out of a hat, and then students make a list of different characteristics of that character in their reading response journals. Students can also find some of their favorite parts, featuring their character, and write why they loved these parts. They can also find parts that really show the characteristics that make this character unique and why they choose these parts to explain their character.
2. The setting of this book is a few years after World War II, so this is an historical fiction book even though it doesn’t read like one. Paulsen masterfully weaves the details of the setting into his novel. But what are the details that help identify the time and place of this novel? Ask students to discuss these or list them in their reading response journals. When your students are writing fiction, you can remind them of Paulsen’s wonderful characters–main and minor–as well as the way he worked the setting into the story and see if students can follow some of Paulsen’s techniques. The best way to learn about writing is from the masters!
3. This book makes everyone who reads it think of something silly or even stupid they have done with their siblings or cousins or neighborhood friends. Ask your students to write a personal narrative inspired by events in Harris and Me.
Check out this really great blog about children’s books called Chicken Spaghetti .