Tuesday, March 17, 2015

SOLSC 2015 #17: How do we feel about Mr. Plumbean's house?

Each day during March, I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC). All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for thirty-one days. My slices will be primarily about teaching preschoolers. Check out the Two Writing Teachers  website for lots more reflections on teaching. Thanks especially to Stacey, Tara, Anna, Beth, Dana, and Betsy for hosting this writing challenge. 


Today, we revisited the story The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater, which is our school-wide text this trimester. At our Learning Showcase later this week, students from every class in the school will share special work that relates to this book. In my class, the preschool Big Cats, this book has been on our bookshelf the whole school year...we have probably read this book half a dozen times, with children perusing it on their own regularly. It has long been a favorite of mine. 
I hope you are familiar with the story - after a bird drops a bucket of orange paint on his house, Mr. Plumbean, the main character, paints his home in a new and wild way, incorporating the big orange splot, and reflecting his dreams. 

At first, his neighbors are less than impressed with his choice to paint his house differently, but, slowly, one by one, the neighbors meet and talk with him, only to decide to paint their own houses differently. The entire street is transformed with each house reflecting individual dreams. 

I think it is a great story for introducing preschoolers to our differences, how unique we each are, how we each have our own hopes and dreams. 

I challenged the children to write a letter to Mr. Plumbean, asking them what they might say to him if they saw him paint his house in this way. I gave them each a blank letter to complete, to give them some writing practice, and I took dictation. Remind you, I've read this book many times this school year, so I knew I was just "preaching to the choir," at this point. 

"If you lived next door to Mr. Plumbean, what would you say?"

I knew they would each share what they loved about Mr. Plumbean's house.

I was totally wrong. 

One after the other, they demanded that Mr. Plumbean put his house back to the way it looked originally:

Dear Mr. Plumbean, 
I don’t like your house. I’m going to just put your house in jail. (James) 
I’m going to take that house away from you. (Ella) 
Get your house back the way it was! I like the house. (Wesley)  
Put your house somewhere else. I do like about it, I do like the crocodile. (Simona)  
Why you turn your house to a jungle?  Get your house back to where it was. (Dmitry) 
You should make your house back to normal, back to your neighbor’s house. But, I don’t like the jungle house. I like the other houses that look the same as the others. (Katherine) 
Get down your house! I do like the crocodile but I don’t like the lion. (Henry) 
Change your house! Or else I will take your pictures and put them in my house! The picture of us. (Naima)   
Turn back your house! I don’t like the lion and I don’t like anything on this house. (Nicky)  
Put your house back to your house! You painted it wrong. I would paint it back to his house. (Julian) 
Get the alligator and get it out of the way! (Jackson) 
I don’t like it. It has a lion. I don’t like that you painted a lion. Paint a different house! (Ellis) 
Change your house or I’m going to put it in jail. Because it is not the same as theirs. (Paxton) 
Keep your house where you were. Make it the way you were. Change your house! (Avery)

What was going on here? Mind you, I worked with the children one-on-one as they wrote their letters, showing them the page of the book where Mr. Plumbean's new house is on full display, and encouraging them to react to the picture. They were not simply imitating one another. 

Their adamance, their opposition, their certainty left me shaking my head in wonder -

Is this pre-literacy, preschoolers remembering how all the neighbors were at first very opposed to Mr. Plumbean's new house? Were my students just recalling/echoing the next part of the story?
Is this developmental, preschoolers preferring the same routine, the same old same old, the predictable?
Is this developmental, preschoolers wanting to be in charge, have the power, be the boss?
Something else?

Truly, I don't know. But they sure caught me off guard! I know the families are going to enjoy seeing these letters in print at the Learning Showcase. 


  1. One of my most favorite books ever!!! I honestly think the kiddos were putting themselves in the place of the neighbors when Mr. Plumbean's house was so different from their neat street!! I love that you have shared this rich literacy experience with us! Thank you so much!

  2. Kids surprise us all the time, don't they??? We think we have them figured out and we really don't. :-)

  3. Kids surprise us all the time, don't they??? We think we have them figured out and we really don't. :-)

  4. I guess they like the status quo and don't want to have the unusual in their neighborhood. What a fun discovery!

  5. Very interesting. I'm thinking about my own students and wondering if there response would be the same, I think it would be. You've come up with all the plausible reasons I would come up with as well - but I think the last statement sums up my experience with this age. They would love to be able to tell someone how to be!!

  6. Hi Maureen, I love that book! I remember my mom reading it, and I try to read it to my class every year. I agree with @lettersfromcoachk. I think the kids were putting themselves in the place of the neighbors before they went to visit Mr. Plumbean. Thanks for posting all their responses; it was fun to read.