For a fun St. Patrick’s Day activity, or as part of a unit on folktales, parents and teachers can use the ideas from this elementary reading lesson plan for Jamie O’Rourke and the Pooka by Tomie dePaola [G. P. Putnam's Sons: 2000, ISBN: 0-399-23467-5]. This funny children’s picture book works well for teaching kids how to look at the way an author creates a character, and how to use one’s understanding of a character’s personality and his or her behavior to predict what will happen next in a story.
When the wife of Jamie O’Rourke, the laziest man in Ireland, leaves him alone for a week, Jamie is in charge of keeping their cottage neat. Luckily for Jamie, a magical pooka visits him at night to take care of the housework for him, but will Jamie’s luck hold once he thinks of a plan to thank the pooka?
Reading Comprehension Activity – Preview Illustrations to Make Predictions
Read the title of the book and point out Jamie and the pooka’s shadow in the cover illustration. Then have kids use the pictures from the front and back covers and the title page to predict what Jamie’s character might be like. Remind them to use details from the pictures to support their opinions. For example, Jamie is sleeping in the title page picture and there is a pile of dirty dishes shown on the back cover, so perhaps Jamie is lazy and does not like to do work.
Explain that this is one author’s version of a traditional Irish folktale, or a simple story that people have told each other for many years. Note that folktales often contain magic or magical creatures, such as a pooka. Have kids use picture clues from the cover to make a prediction about what kind of creature the pooka will be and what kind of relationship it might have with Jamie.
Reading Comprehension Activity – Make a Character Map
Provide children with a character map with headings such as What the Narrator Says About Jamie, What Jamie Says, What Jamie Thinks, What Jamie Does, and What Jamie Feels. Check to see if kids have any prior knowledge about Jamie’s character from having read Tomie dePaola’s other book about Jamie, Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato.
When reading, pause after each page or so and ask children to add information from the book to the character map. Help boys and girls think about what each piece of information tells them about Jamie. For example, what does it say about Jamie’s personality that he thinks it is a good idea to stay in bed during the day so as not to get the house dirty?
Reading Comprehension Activity – Make and Check Predictions
Read the book aloud, pausing from time to time to have kids use the information in their character map, their prior knowledge, and their current understanding of Jamie’s character to make predictions about what will happen next in the book’s plot. Prompt predictions by pausing at the places indicated below and asking questions such as:
- After Eileen leaves: How well do you think Jamie will take care of the cottage?
- After Jamie’s friends mess up the cottage for the first time: What will Jamie do about this mess?
- After Jamie’s friends mess up the cottage for the second time: What will Jamie do about the mess this time?
- After the pooka leaves with the coat: What will Jamie do about this final mess?
As you read on after each stopping point, make sure children check their predictions to see if they are correct. At the end of the book, assess kids’ overall understanding of Jamie’s character by having them describe what kind of person Jamie is and what he will most likely do in any situation when he is expected to do work.
Reading Comprehension Activity – Analyze Author’s Craft: Characterization
After reading the book once, examine the text and illustrations with kids as part of a discussion about Tomie dePaola’s use of characterization, or how he provides information about Jamie to help the reader understand Jamie’s character. Elements to examine might include:
- dialogue, or how Jamie speaks and the sayings he uses
- illustrations, such as the expressions on Jamie’s face in different pictures
- actions, or how well the things Jamie says match up with the actual things he does or is doing
- descriptions, or detailed information the narrator tells the reader about Jamie
For assessment, have children identify one example of how the author uses each of the strategies you have discussed.
Reading Comprehension Activity – Make Text to Text Connections
Help children increase their reading comprehension by encouraging them to make text-to-text connections and think about how this story connects to other stories they have read, particularly ones about people giving items of clothing to magical creatures.
For example, the shoemaker in the folktale “The Elves and the Shoemaker” gives tiny clothes to the elves to thank them, and Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is tricked by Harry into giving the Malfoy house-elf, Dobby, a sock so as to set Dobby free. Work with children to make a text-to-text connection and compare and contrast these or other similar texts with the scene in this book where Jamie gives the pooka the coat.
This elementary reading lesson plan can be used while studying the genre of folktales or as a standalone St. Patrick’s Day reading lesson plan. At any time, examining how an author shapes a character and how a reader can gain a deeper understanding of a text by analyzing the characters in the text will help boys and girls become better readers.