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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner

To kick off our year of chapter book read alouds, we shared the first half of a short but great book, Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner.  In this story of a ten-year-old boy, Willy, who is struggling to help his grandfather recover from a depression that's left him in bed, unable to speak or take care of himself or their potato farm.

As good readers, we're working to read "wide awake".  This doesn't mean propping open sleepy eyelids, but rather reading with a vivid mind movie constantly playing in our imagination.  Good readers visualize the setting and characters, from the ground to the sky.  Good readers can imagine tiny gestures and details the author didn't fill in for us.  Good readers can close their eyes and imagine standing on the very dirt road Willy ran on to get to Doc Smith's house -- grass, dirt clumps and all.

But sometimes, our mind movies grow blurry.  We get lost or confused, or we read on and find that our mind movie was inaccurate in some way, and now we need to re-imagine the scene, character, or event.  What do we do then?

Good readers know they need to stop.  Say, "Huh?", and dig deeper to bring their mind movie back into focus.  We've learned we can do this in a variety of ways:

  • Reread quickly to refresh and remember what we've read before.
  • Reread slowly to clarify and help us understand better what we've already read.
  • Read on looking for clues to help answer our questions and fill in the blanks of our mind movie.
  • Refer to other parts of the book for answers -- the back cover, earlier chapters, etc.  
Together in class this week, we shared a few "blurry moments".  Some of these moments revolved around the setting of the story, Wyoming.  In the book, Gardiner never clearly states the time period, which also has made it difficult for us to accurately imagine the setting.  

Readers, when a book doesn't tell you all the information you need to know, good readers know they can go outside the book to find out more.  

This weekend, I did a little research.  First, I started with what we already know about when and where the story takes place:
What if this was Willy & Grandfather's farm?
  • in Wyoming
  • on a potato farm
  • dirt roads
  • horses and wagons & dog sleds used for transportation
  • horses and plows used for harvesting potatoes
  • $500 was A LOT of money
  • general stores (not grocery stores)
  • dog sled race in Jackson, Wyoming every year 
  • Wyoming is a state (tax collector said he represented "state of Wyoming")
  • Grandfather hadn't paid his taxes in 10 years.  
After researching the history of Wyoming, potato farming, and dog sled racing, I found some facts that might help us.

  • Wyoming became a state in July of 1890.
  • First official dog sled race outside of Alaska was American Dog Derby in 1917 in Ashton, Idaho.
  • American Dog Derby was very popular in the 1920s, when the prize money reached amount of $1,000.  (Note: That was equivalent to about $13,000 today.)
  •  Jackson, Wyoming hosted its first dog sled race as a part of its first Winter Sports Carnival in 1932.  The race was 30 miles long. 
  • The second year of the Carnival race, the first place prize was $300.  
  • In the 1900s and 1910s, steam engines began to be used for pulling plows on Wyoming farms.
  • In the 1930s, trucks became more commonplace on Wyoming farms, and 23% of farms in Wyoming had at least one tractor.  
What if Jackson, Wyoming looked like this to Willy in the winter?
Check out this map of the United States to understand more about the geography of Wyoming.

Readers, when you think about all these facts, what are you thinking about WHEN this story took place?  When you study the map above, what are you thinking about WHERE this story took place?  How would this story be different if it took place TODAY?  How would Stone Fox be different if it took place in Florida?


  1. I'm thinking it took place in 1934. I also think the story takes place in a valley. If the story took place today it wouldn't have taken Little Willie 10 days to plow a field. Also if it took place in Florida there wouldn't be sled dog races.


  2. I think the story took place in the 1930s and 1940s range.But if stonefox took place in florida I think stonefox may have been a little shocked to see no snow. Lexie

  3. I really think that this story took place in the mid-1950s.I also think that it is right in Jackson, which is on the borderline of Idaho.I think the story would be different today because their would be cars and their would be GPS's to lead the way.The story would be because theirs NO SNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PS Both of you are great teachers!


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