The first story in Cynthia Rylant’s book The Van Gogh Cafe is titled “Possum,” and this particular possum seems to be on a mission! At least, once the possum arrives at the Van Gogh Cafe, things begin to happen. As explained in the story, the arrival of the possum is something of a story, but then the story gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger! It seems that somehow the arrival of this possum is having a very positive effect on the people of Flowers, the town in Kansas where the Van Gogh Cafe is located.
This would be a good story to read aloud to the class. As they listen to the story, students could be on the lookout for changes that happen as a result of the possum’s presence. After hearing the whole story, students could demonstrate their understanding by completing a cause-and-effect graphic organizer like this one.
Here is what happens after the possum arrives:
- The possum attracts people. As the people go outside to look at the possum, they begin talking and soon even people who were fighting the day before are on friendly terms.
- People start bringing food outside for the possum. Soon the possum isn’t hungry anymore, but the people keep bringing out food and feeding other hungry animals as they show up.
- A man who is depressed after the death of his wife shows up at the cafe, and when he sees what is happening, it inspires him to go home and turn his farm into a sanctuary for stray animals.
As you can see, this is not a realistic story, but it is a fun, magical one that kids will enjoy. As a follow-up activity, you could suggest other unusual events, such as those that follow, and have the students write or draw changes that could happen as a result of that event.
- When the bus arrives at school, the students see a hot air balloon that has just landed on the roof.
- In English class as the students are busily typing on the computer, a mysterious image of a sand castle suddenly pops up on everyone’s screen.
- A sudden storm during a baseball game causes popcorn to rain down on the field.
“Possum” is just one of the stories in The Van Gogh Cafe. The others would also be great for read-alouds and for more fun follow-up activities.
If you are looking for a novel study with questions and activities for each chapter/story, check out this one in my TPT store:
And if you are looking for more reading resources, check out these novel studies from my Teachers Pay Teachers Store:
Linked with Focused on Fifth for “Books to Read and Love.”