When I read the author, Caralyn Buehner and illustrator, Mark Buehner, I knew the team was creating another ‘wow’ book. Rich is the word I think of when I hear their names. Rich meaning beautiful language mixed with stunning illustrations. Their story, Dex: the Heart of a Hero, sticks in my mind. I think of the words, the message, the inferencing long after reading the story. I have recommended this book to our principal to read to the grade levels at at he beginning of the year.
Dex: the Heart of a Hero is a story about determination and a dream. Mixed in is bullying and bucket-filling. Dex is a dachshund, small in stature but big at heart. Listen to the way Caralyn invites the children in to visualize her character.
Dexter was a little dog. His legs were little, his tail was little, his body was little. He looked like a plump sausage sitting on four little meatballs.
‘Poor Dexter’ is your first thought when you read about how he is often overlooked, … except when the very large tomcat, Cleevis, decides to pick on Dexter. Kids will relate. I have shared other bullying books. The topic needs to be discussed over and over in order for the message of kindness to sink in. Kids relate to stories and the authors know how to draw children in. They synthesize the message and relate.
But beyond the bullying, Dexter has a dream. He dreams big. He wants to be a HERO. But Dexter doesn’t just want to be a hero, he acts upon his dreams. First he reads (yes, I love the illustration of Dex reading in the library with a stack of books next to him). Then, he exercises. When the exercises become too easy, he sets more challenges ahead for him. Finally, the day arrives, suit on and confidence high, Dexter ventures out to help the world. A point to make with the children is to notice that Dexter doesn’t just wait around for something to happen; he acts. He begins to look to help others. What a message for the students in our class – to look to be kind, helpful, considerate to their classmates.
Throughout the scenes, Dexter is still tormented by the tomcat. His problems don’t go away. He chooses to focus on others instead. In the end, Cleevis needs the help. Dexter does not choose to retaliate, but rather helps the tomcat and makes a friend in the end. Once again, what a great message to teach your students.
Savorings for reading and in writing for Dex: the Heart of a Hero:
- Character lead (see above quote) with Magic of 3 and parallel sentence structure plus a simile – WOW!
- Community building – Everybody counts! – “… after a while they forgot to invite him at all. No one really seemed to notice him,…”
- Hybrid text – inserts of a comic scene with the story line boxed in (very unique and will grab the attention of the boys) “Faster than a rolling ball, stronger than the toughest rawhide, able to leap tall fences in a single bound!”
- Semi-colon (used several times) – He could run like the wind; he felt as if his legs had springs!
- Parallel Sentence Structure – they use the same words in predictable groups – Dex loved the way it felt, he loved the way it looked, and he loved the feeling he had when he put it on.