April 20, 2017

Phoebe Sounds It Out

Written by Julie Zwillich
Illustrated by Denise Holmes
Owlkids Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
April 2017

Too many children like Phoebe avoid that which seems difficult or problematic especially in school.  So it’s not surprising that the young girl would prefer to play with her rain boots and a pencil rather than practise writing her name as instructed by the teacher.  Even though she has her name written on her backpack to use as a guide, she knows the letters don’t match the sounds that she is able to distinguish in her name. (Her Mama must have made a mistake.)
From Phoebe Sounds It Out
by Julie Zwillich 
illus. by Denise Holmes
So, Phoebe carefully chooses the sounds and letters that would make sense in her name and, for a child in kindergarten, she is absolutely en pointe!  She’s not copying her name out; she’s sounding it out and spelling it as the sounds dictate.  Moreover, she’s led by her heart to use letters that fit but still she chooses those that might have special meaning or add a little something extra like companionship for lonely letters.
Maybe she could borrow the letter that was at the end of Nicky’s name.  It sounded right.  Nicky wouldn’t mind.”
And though her teacher could chastize Phoebe for incorrectly spelling her name, she instead celebrates all the children’s attempts with glitter glue and a clothespin display for all to enjoy.

From Phoebe Sounds It Out
by Julie Zwillich
illus. by Denise Holmes
Julie Zwillich’s picture book is based on a very familiar premise though not all teachers and parents would recognize it as so or be as accommodating as the children’s teacher Ms. Martha.  As daunting a task as writing your name for the first time, so is reading. Imagine needing to decipher letters before you can even put the sounds together to form words.  Still the story is very straightforward and told in an uncomplicated text so that young children just learning to read will want to attempt to decipher the words, especially since they’ll see themselves within Phoebe’s story.  Everyone is in this book, courtesy of illustrator Denise Holmes who creates a diverse class with students of different races, ethnicities, abilities and challenges, whether they be eyesight or mobility or spelling.  Judging by the names of students displayed (looks like there’s a Lakshmi, Maria, Finch, Ali, Aaron, Miguel, Hazel, Sam, Nicky, June and, of course, Phoebe), Ms. Martha’s classroom is wonderfully rich in diversity, inviting readers to empathize with her students and  respond to Phoebe’s circumstances with understanding.

There’s a wonderful Teachers’ Guide for download that encourages  activities with reading comprehension, writing, and the alphabet, but just reading Phoebe Sounds It Out will suffice to foster discussions about trying and making mistakes as a part of learning.

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