I was so touched to read these two letters from readers of The Benefits of Being An Octopus. What powerful introspection and perception. And the fact that their class specifically tracked the dynamics of power blows my mind! Here’s to fabulous educators and their fabulous students!
I am writing to motivate you to continue writing books like The Benefits of Being An Octopus for middle school students.
I have recently finished reading your book The Benefits of being an Octopus and I feel passionately that students should continue to learn about and read this book in our middle school classrooms. This book is about a 12 year old girl named Zoey, who is in seventh grade just like me. Zoey’s mom has divorced more than once and Zoey lives with three siblings from different fathers. Zoey mom’s boyfriend Lenny doesn’t them the right way. The pressure from Lenny is starting to change the way Zoey’s younger brother and sister Bryce and Aurora act. Her family is also poor and can’t afford nice clothes, or go to nice places. While Zoey struggles with these problems at home, she has trouble fitting in at school because of her cheap and “not cool” clothes. This book made me realize that a lot of people judge others on their appearances and sometimes I do it too.
Zoey’s home situation and perspective is very different from mine. I believe it is important to explore a perspective that is different to your own because you learn about issues or problems other people face. It is good to learn about other people’s struggles because you see and understand people better. For example in the book, Zoey faces a lot of problems at school. When Zoey gets judged and made fun of at school, she doesn’t really show it, but the things other students do to her hurts her a lot. Zoey doesn’t have a lot of confidence at school because of her clothes and her economic status. After I read this part of the book I realized that when people get judged in school they don’t say how they’re feeling and they act like they are fine. It is important to explore perspectives that are different because you can learn and improve how you act and think.
This book helped me appreciate what I have, and I’m sure it will have the same impact on others. In the book Zoey’s family is poor and Zoey doesn’t get clean or nice clothes often. This made me realize that some families aren’t as fortunate as others and I should appreciate what I have. Seeing the hardships that Zoey had to go through opened my eyes to the outside world and all the struggles people go through because of money. The problem from her personal life put a lot of pressure on her, and made her school life a whole lot worse. People like me who are fortunate enough to have a house, food, and water, should appreciate all that we have. Being grateful for what we have is the very least we can do.
I was able to read this book with a book club in my Critical Literacy class. While we read, we were challenged to read about books with perspectives different from ours. We also did many lessons about how to think deeper and connect with our books. One lesson we learned was about how to track power in a book. In the book, Zoey gains and looses power often. For example, when Zoey gets made fun of at school she looses power but when Zoey makes new friends at debate club she gains power. Another example of power in this book is with Lenny and Zoey’s mom. When Lenny and mom fight, Lenny usually gains power and zoey’s mom looses power. I think it is important to understand power within book characters because it helps you understand the characters more, and connect with them. The lessons I took away from this book were powerful. I learned that you shouldn’t judge a person by what they look like or their physical appearance. You should judge a person on their personality, and their heart. This book inspired me so much, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read it. I hope that kids from all middle schools have the ability to read this book, and I can’t wait to read more books from you!
Thank you so much for writing such important books, I hope you continue to write books like this.
7th grade Student
To: Ann Braden
Dear Ms. Braden,
I am writing to let you know that you should keep writing books like The Benefits of Being an Octopus.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus is an amazing, relatable book. It deserves to be read by all children around the world so they can see other experiences like theirs or maybe new ones. Even being that my experience is very different from Zoeys, I still managed to find this book relatable in some ways. I had both empathy and sympathy for Zoey through her tough times during the book.
Exploring experiences and perspectives different form yours are very important. They help you see reality in the world you live in. In The Benefits of Being an Octopus I got to see the life of Zoey and how she is left as the only one in her family caring for her siblings. A clear example that shows this is when she is spending time with her moms best friend Connor at his job (the Pizza Pit). Zoey realizes she’s running late to pick her siblings up form the bus stop. She rushes as fast as she can to go meet her siblings but when she arrives across the street, her siblings are waiting there as the bus drives away. She felt terrible after that but she felt even worse after her sister Aurora came running at her through moving traffic. She rushed across the street to stop her sister and get her brothers who was still sitting at the bus stop. This changed my whole perspective on caring for my brother because I’ve never had to do anything like this for him. Now, I feel like I should help him more due to what Zoey does for Aurora and Bryce.
This book also helps readers to be grateful for what they have in many ways. At one point in this book, Zoeys power stops working in her house. Turns out its because her mom wasn’t able to pay the electricity bills and the power company cut their family’s power off. Zoeys siblings started crying and she had to put them to bed in the pitch black dark. After that, Lenny (Zoeys moms boyfriend who was supposed to watch the football game with Zoey) leaves with the food that Zoeys mom cooked for them. Zoeys mom is going crazy to get her baby Hector to calm down and Zoeys siblings are going insane. All of thus is happening while no one is paying any attention to Zoey. This makes me think about how grateful I am that my parents are able to pay bills and that my family pays attention to me instead of always being in a craze. Other people may not be grateful for these things and think of them as something basic that they’ll always have which is why they need to read books like these. So that they can learn to be appreciative.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus shows many windows and mirrors for readers. Students can see experiences like their own and experiences different form theirs. They get a lease into Zoeys life where she cares for her family and does almost everything for them at home. Wether readers are in the same situation or a completely different one, they can learn something new through this book.