Petunia, by Roger Duvoisin, was published in 1950, but it’s still in print and children still love it. Petunia is a goose who picks up a book. “He who owns books and loves them,” Petunia has recently overheard, “is wise.”
Petunia takes this literally, deciding that ownership of the book has made her wise and giving advice to the other farm animals. There are a number of misadvenutres, and at last Petunia realizes that merely owning a book isn’t enough. “I must put it in my mind and in my heart,” she concludes, “And to do that I must learn to read.”
Petunia decides to work hard on learning to read so that she can be helpful to her friends.
Prepare for this lesson by writing the names of the animals on word cards. You can use the word cards to help guide students through discussions of the story.
Start by reading the book aloud.
Next, ask students questions to retell the story:
- What was Ida’s problem? [She feared she had lost one of her chicks.] What was Petunia’s solution? [She used multiplication to calculate how many chicks were present, but made a mistake and ended up with the wrong number.]
- What was Straw’s problem? [toothache] What was Petunia’s solution? [pull out his teeth]
- What was Cotton’s problem? [stuck in a tree] What was Petunia’s solution?[Pile all the animals up to reach the tree, but they all fell.]
- What was the question about the box? [What was inside?] What was Petunia’s solution? [candy– but it was firecrackers]
Ask students whether Petunia’s solutions made things better or worse. [worse] Look at the pictures of the animals feeling sad and wearing bandages in the book. Use the animals’ name cards to go back through the problems and “solutions,” focusing on the consequences of Petunia’s suggestions.
Ask students why Petunia kept on making problems. Discuss how Petunia became so proud of herself that she didn’t think about the other animals in the barnyard. Discuss when it might be good to be proud of yourself, and when it might be a problem to be too proud.
Talk about the other animals, too. Why did they choose to go along with Petunia’s ideas so often? Ask your students whether they ever go along with someone else’s idea because they were confident or persuasive. Talk about what the other animals could have done differently.
Finally, celebrate Petunia’s wise decision to learn to read and become truly wise. Have students draw a picture showing why they want to learn to read. Those who can read can draw a picture showing why they’re happy they know how to read. Put the pictures on a bulletin board to motivate the students, and head it “Why We Want to Read.”