Grade Level: 3-6
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Loser, a novel written by Jerry Spinelli, is a story about Donald Zinkoff, a young, unusual character, who demonstrates great self-acceptance and is unafraid to fail. Zinkoff faces the familiar challenges of elementary-aged children -- disagreeable teachers, peer pressure, social conformity, and competition. At first, Zinkoff appears to be an average child, but as he grows older, his classmates begin to view him differently. By the time Zinkoff is in the fourth grade, his unathletic, awkward ways become weird and annoying to his peers. In fact, Zinkoff's poor coordination causes his fourth grade classmates to lose a race during Field Day. By the end of the day, Donald Zinkoff has a new nickname, "Loser". Despite this new name, Zinkoff continues on and remains happy. As fifth grade Field Day approaches however, the other children tell Zinkoff that they don't want him to be a part of their team this year. As a result, Zinkoff skips school and meets up with his neighborhood friends: an elderly lady who calls him "mailman" and a little girl named Claudia. Zinkoff eventually graduates from elementary school and enters Monroe Middle School as a sixth grade student. His life goes on, with one clumsy story after the next, until one winter night when he finds out that the little girl across the street, Claudia, has gone missing in a snowstorm. Immediately, Zinkoff decides to find her himself, as he bravely goes out in the cold and searches for hours. It is after this journey that the other children view Zinkoff in a new light. By maintaining a strong sense-of-self throughout his experiences, Donald Zinkoff teaches us all important and unforgettable lessons of self-esteem, tolerance and happiness.
Element 1 - Self-Love and Knowledge:
This book is an excellent representation of Element 1 because it illustrates issues such as self-esteem, bullying, and self-confidence through an age-appropriate read. Most of the audience can relate to either knowing, or being, a Donald Zinkoff at some point in their lives. Zinkoff is the last person picked for athletic teams, his flute consistently hits the wrong note during concerts, and he is occasionally too eager at the wrong times. But, despite these bumbling ways, Zinkoff is comfortable in his own skin and learns to approach life with a positive spirit. This book teaches students to be proud of who they are and where they come from. It also highlights the negative attitudes of his peers, which allows for discussion about tolerance, stereotypes, and unnecessary judgments. Lastly, this story reinforces individuality and is a reminder to respect everyone's differences.
We just finished reading this novel, as a read-a-loud story, in my fourth grade classroom. As I mentioned above, this book teaches children to embrace who they are and be tolerant of others who are different from them. It also allows for discussion about bullying, self-acceptance and acceptance of others. While it is unfortunate that kids get labeled with names like "loser", this novel could lead to an effective classroom discussion. During this conversation, the teacher can ask the students the following questions: what are some of the different "labels" that children get assigned, what does a kid have to do to get a label like "loser", how do you think you would feel if people perceived you as that "label" every day? After this discussion, students could write about the limits of their own perspectives, for example: what are some examples of times when you've jumped to conclusions about someone and been totally wrong? What are some ways people can expand their perspectives and keep their minds more open?