Too Darn Cute

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Written by Carl Hiaasen
Ages: 10-14

Roy Eberhardt just moved to Coconut Cove, Florida. He doesn't have any close friends in his new middle school, but he does have a bully. While trying to stand up for himself without getting beat up too badly, Roy becomes captivated with a mysterious, barefooted boy he sees running by the school bus one day. When Roy meets the mysterious boy and his bully-defeating sister Beatrice, the unlikely group of friends tries to stop Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House from building a new restaurant in Coconut Cove. The new restaurant would destroy a colony of borrowing owls, so Roy battles with issues of right and wrong and he tries to figure out what to do.

This is a fun story filled with interesting characters (both children and adults) that I think children will enjoy. Though I didn't love the book, it was enjoyable and there are several reasons I would keep this one in my classroom. There are so many things about the story that children can relate to that finding connections will likely be easy for any student. It connects well with curriculum taught in the classroom, so it would make a great literature circle novel, class novel, or read aloud. Hiaasen includes lots of humor in his story and provides enough mystery that kids will enjoy reading and want to keep reading to find out what happens. Here are a few ways you could use it in the classroom:

There are several cross-curriculum connections between this book and science. It's a great one for connecting with the science content I taught in a 4th grade Utah classroom, and I would suppose the core standards are similar for 4th-graders in other states (they are in Pennsylvania!). While I wouldn't use the novel to teach the content, it provides a great support to concepts that have been taught. Here are some things I would want to connect the novel to:

  • Animal classification: There are quite a few animals mentioned and described in Hoot. My 4th graders and I spent a lot of time talking about and looking at the different classifications of animals (amphibians, reptiles, mammals, etc), so this would be a fun way to review those classifications by identifying the groups of the animals mentioned in the book. Some of the animals in Hoot are burrowing owls, osprey, tarpons, white herons, alligators, blue crabs, mullet, and cottonmouth water moccasins.
  • Environment: We also spent a good chunk of time learning about the desert environment of Utah and the plants and animals that exist in that climate. Hoot is set in Florida, which has a very different climate than Utah. It would be fun to compare and contrast the two environments (or wherever you teach) and identify which type of environment is found in Florida.
  • Plant and animal adaptations (or characteristics that plants and animals have that help them survive in their environment) were a fun part of the 4th grade curriculum. While reading, I would review this concept with the class and talk about some of the adaptations of the animals found in Hoot, such as Borrowing Owls.
  • Changes in habitat: A big theme of the story is how the building of a new business will affect the habitat of Burrowing Owls. I would definitely use this to ask students to predict how the changes proposed in the book would affect the animals and how the animals might react if they are made. 

Persuasive Writing
While this was a really big deal for the 5th graders in Utah, we started learning about and practicing persuasive writing in 4th grade, too. This is a fun novel to connect to writing because it brings up a great topic students can think about and respond to. Here are a few ideas:
  • Discuss how Mullet Fingers, Beatrice, and Roy tried to persuade Mother Paula's to stop building a new pancake house on the empty property. List the things they tried. Why do you think those things worked or didn't work?
  • Choose a side: Do you think Mother Paula's should be allowed to build a new pancake house? Write a 5-paragraph essay to express your opinion and convince your reader to agree with you.
    • *We expected our 5th-graders to write a well-thought out five paragraph essay to back up their position. Depending on the age you teach, that can be adapted. Younger students may be asked to make a list of reasons they think one way or the other. 

I would definitely keep this one in mind and put it on a list of recommended books for students. Whether used with the whole class or read by an individual, I think any student will get a "hoot" out of this one!

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