In the story, "The Rag Man" is the neighbourhood eccentric who collects castoff items from everyone's curbside garbage. One day a curious little girl decides to follow him to find out exactly what he does with these found treasures...and learns a very important lesson about judging others.
This title was a Finalist in the Indie Excellence Book Awards, (which may mean something to us as adults) but kids don't care about awards, and prefer to offer their own opinions.
I read this story to my students, and they used their little reader's notepads to become mini-book reviewers and share their thoughts about the book. (By the way, we discussed how book reviews aren't always positive, and that I wanted to hear about anything they disliked. Only one student took me up on it. Wait for that.)
Here's what various eight year olds have to say about Ballad of the Rag Man:
"I like how he took broken stuff and fixed it."
"I like the book because the Rag Man didn't even ask people for money to fix their stuff." (One of the students' early predictions was that the Rag Man wanted to sell the junk to make some money.)
"I think that you shouldn't say someone is weird when you never have seen what he actually is. Maybe he's nice, cause you never know."
"I like the writing because it rhymes. I like the pictures too because some of them are drawings and some of them are real photos." (The illustrations are actually very captivating, the way photos and artwork are combined.)
"I like it because it teaches people they shouldn't make rumours about people because you could be wrong and it would be mean."
With the help of links on the Rag Man Project website, parents can use the book as a springboard for valuable family discussions and activities, and teachers can turn it in to a cross-curricular unit of study (incorporating Social Studies, Music, Drama, etc.) I think it would be fun to have kids design a piece of art with "found objects".
Recently in our area there was an incident that made it important to talk to the kids about "stranger danger". This book helped enrich those discussions, as we talked about the fact that it's important to take caution and be safe around those we don't know, but how that's very different from judging, spreading rumours, or being hurtful.
This story also ties in well with Earth Day, and the need to reuse and recycle instead of adding to the landfill. It could also be used with many of our monthly virtues, like compassion, justice, tolerance and stewardship.
For further tips you can "like" Rag Man Project on Facebook to get daily inspirational updates from the author.
Just to prove that you can't please everybody, one more quote from a Grade 3 student: "I didn't like Ballad of the Rag Man because the title was long." To each his own.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of Ballad of the Rag Man for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own. And my students'.
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