Attaboy, Sam!

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by Lowry, Lois. (Dell, 1992 ISBN 0440408164. Order Info.) Novel. Grades 1+.

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Review

cover art

Sam is Anastasia Krupnik's brother and he has appeared as a supporting character in several Anastasia books as well as starring in his own sort of sub-series. It is likely that when children finish reading Attaboy, Sam! they will be anxious to read other books in the series and other books by Lois Lowry.

The series starts with All About Sam (Houghton, 1989. ISBN 0395486629. Order Info.). In that volume he gives his viewpoint on the household Anastasia has described in her volumes. See You Around, Sam (Houghton, 1996 ISBN 0395816645. Order Info.) has Sam running away from home for a reason that might seem trivial but Sam takes it very seriously. As he stops to say goodbye to the neighbors before leaving for Alaska, he gathers more and more things to take with him until he begins to think he'd better stay home.

Sam is sincere and, to say the least, inventive. Although readers may well think he's hilarious, Sam seldom tries to be funny. He is usually quite serious about his deeds and the reasons for them. Sam's family is warm and loving without being too good to believe. Lowry captures the thoughts, deeds and perceptions of children in many of her books and this series, starring pre-schooler Sam, is no exception. The family respects Sam and the feeling is reciprocal. Often older children, even those in 3rd to 5th grades, are not interested in reading about children younger than themselves, but the Sam books are so funny and delightful that they will capture readers of any age, even those who don't have siblings Sam's age.

These are funny, full of light writing that still leave us things to think and talk about between and after the laughter. Most third graders will be able to read them independently.

Although all the Sam books are wonderful, we've chosen Attaboy, Sam! to highlight because it deals with a family's knowledge of and respect for everyone in it. In Sam's attempt to make his mother's perfume, he shows how carefully he has watched and listened to her. We begin with a question that seems very silly to Sam. His mother asks, "What on earth are you doing, Sam?" He feels that she should know what he's doing by just looking. As he's thinking about that, we learn of some of his previous mischief-making. This time, however, Sam is using his father's typewriter to type his name. With his mother's help, he goes on to type her name and then various symbols. His mother proudly tacks the paper on the bulletin board in the kitchen.

As Sam eats lunch -- done for him precisely as he had asks -- he declares that now that he is a "typer" he will no longer need the magnetic refrigerator letters by which he was learning to read. His father and Anastasia return from grocery shopping and Mr. Krupnik has bad news. Sam is delighted because he finds bad news much more exciting than good news. This bad news isn't quite what Sam had hoped to hear. It turns out that his mother's birthday is coming up and Mr. Krupnik had intended to buy her a bottle of her favorite perfume. However, the store no longer carries it.

At first this is of little interest to Sam until he remembers that her birthday is next week and she had asked for homemade things. He's been making her a birthday card in nursery school but he begins to think about her perfume. He knows what all her favorite smells are. He could collect those favorite smells and put them together for her perfume. The first quest is to find a suitable container and he settles on a grape juice bottle with a little grape juice at the bottom. He places it in his toy box which he now renames: Lab.

The first smell he acquires is the smell of his father's pipe. Even though she hates that his father smokes, Sam has heard her say that she loves the smell of his pipe. He commandeers one from his father's pipe rack and places it and some water in the grape juice bottle.

While eating lunch Sam hears his mother say that she loves the smell of babies. Sam is surprised to hear that. He asks if he can accompany Anastasia on an afternoon baby-sitting job. There he takes a tissue that was used to clean the baby's bottom and one that Anastasia had used to clean the baby's spit-up and places them in a Zip-loc bag that he thoughtfully brought with him. Although he thinks their smell is gross, at home he places both in the jar and closes it up inside his toy chest.

Next, Sam's mother mentions that she likes the smell of chicken soup. She also admires the smell of Sam's shampoo.

At nursery school Sam is sent to the time-out chair for cutting a piece of his hair off. This he has placed in another Zip-loc bag. Getting the chicken soup is easier because his mother is making some. He also hears her say that she loves the smell of fresh baked bread. Sam's neighbor, Mrs. Stein, has just made bread and Sam visits her. She tells him that it's the yeast that makes bread smell so good. He takes some yeast home and puts it in the jar.

The jar is beginning to exude an unpleasant odor. Anastasia notices it when she comes in to tuck Sam into bed. Even Sam thinks the smell is disgusting by morning. He gets his mother to promise to stay out of his room.

Since his mother has also admired the smell of the sea, Sam is delighted when his nursery field trip is to the Aquarium. He puts some water and a little seaweed from the tide pool exhibit into a Zip-loc bag. As he adds it to the jar, he notices that the jar not only smells bad, it is making sounds and bubbles are popping in it.

Sam is worried about the perfume so again, he follows his mother's advice to do something different when you are depressed. He takes possession of a free kitten being offered by a neighbor. He puts it in his bedroom.

Sam helps Anastasia make the birthday cake for his mother and, after sniffing the vanilla he decides it belongs in the perfume too.

Anastasia, Sam and Sam's dad are disappointed in the gifts they have made for Mrs. Krupnik. They show them to each other before giving them to Mrs. Krupnik. Mr. Krupnik has intended to make an oil portrait of his wife. It looks awful, even a bit scary. They all, including Mr. Krupnik, laugh when they see it. Anastasia reads the poem she has been writing for her mother and they all laugh again. The parts Sam helped her with aren't bad but the other verses are a disaster. They go into Sam's room to see his gift and the perfume explodes all over them and the painting and the poem.

After cleaning up the mess in Sam's room, they survey their gifts. Thick purple liquid covers the painting and has thoroughly destroyed the poem. Both Mr. Krupnik and Anastasia declare that they think both are improved by it, but they still have a problem. Mrs. Stein has arrived and their mother is calling them downstairs. Quickly they clean themselves up but they have no gift for their mother. It's Sam who comes up with the solution. They give her the kitten.

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Activities

  • Social Skills

  • Sam's mother wishes her husband would quit smoking. What are some of the things she might say or do to help him do that? What might Mr. Krupnik do to help himself break the addiction?

  • Find places in the book that show good manners as, for instance, when Sam asks to be excused from the table. How many of those manners are you apt to use? Why bother? What do manners do for society or for the individual?

  • Sam asks permission before entering Anastasia's room. Mrs. Krupnik does not commit Anastasia to a baby-sitting job without consulting her first. Find other instances in the reading that show respect among family members. Is there anything you can do to encourage it in your household?

  • Find evidence in the book to show various family members' knowledge or awareness of each other. For instance, Sam knows where and how his father sits and what he's apt to say when he's watching a football game on TV. Can you do the same for members of your own family?

  • Language Arts

  • Make a list of words that you think describe Sam. Then find evidence in the book to support each word or phrase.

  • Although Sam is a preschooler, he has learned to read and to write many things. Find evidence of Sam's skill in reading and writing.

  • Read the other Sam and the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry (see below) to learn more about this family. Make a chart showing what you found out about each family member in one or more of the other books.

  • Social Studies

  • Mrs. Krupnik is a children's book illustrator. How does that job fit in so well with the household? What about Mr. Krupnik's job -- how does it fit into the household? Find places in the book that show the family's awareness of the work others do.

  • Science

  • Would the perfume mixture that Sam creates really explode? Find someone skilled in chemistry to explain and demonstrate what happened and why.

  • Math

  • Construct a perfume survey. Assemble a variety of fragrances and find ways to chart the results. Include perfumes but also such things as garlic, oranges, and chocolate chip cookies. Are there differences between children's preferences and adult ones? How about between male and female? Make sure that, when you publish the results of your survey, those differences are made clear.
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Related Books

  • cover art Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin. (2010, Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316024525. Order Info.) Easy Reader. 48 pages. Gr PreK-3.
    Here's another charming book about siblings. Ling and Ting are Chinese American twins, but they are not exactly the same. For one thing there is the jagged cut in Ling's haircut due to a sneeze while her bangs were being trimmed. Then, of course, there are the differences in their personalities and behavior. This beautifully done Easy Reader explores the similarities and differences while affirming their affection for each other. Small vignettes break the book up into accessible chunks each with a dose of gentle humor at the end. Grace Lin won a 2011 Giesel Honor Book award for this strong entry in the beginning reader genre.

  • Rylant, Cynthia. Birthday Presents. Illustrated by Sucie Stevenson. Orchard, 1983. ISBN 0531070263. Order Info. Picture Book.
    A parent tells her little girl of how they celebrated each birthday of her life from the very first to the present. There's gentle humor here and a lot of sentiment.

  • Stewart, Sarah. The Gardener. Illustrated by David Small. Farrar, 1998. ISBN 0374325170. Order Info. Picture Book.
    This is a thoroughly delightful book showing that family continues even through separation. During the Depression, Lydia is sent away from her parents and beloved Grandma to work in her uncle's bakery. The uncle, an unsmiling man, is kind enough but Lydia resolves to make him smile. Letters home tell a bit of her plans and we know they involve using the seeds and the knowledge of gardening her grandmother has given her. The lush roof garden she creates gives as much delight to the reader as it does to her broadly smiling uncle.

  • Caudill, Rebecca. Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley? Yearling, 1988. ISBN 0440400929. Order Info. Easy Read Chapter Book.
    Charley is a long way and a long time away from Sam in the books above, but they share some characteristics including how fortunate each boy is to be a member of a loving, indulgent family. This short, easy to read book takes us to Appalachia many years ago where Charley Cornett can't wait to start "Little School" in the mining country where he lives with his parents and his nine brothers and sisters. They've told him all about school and he's especially interested in the reward given to the most helpful child -- the honor of carrying the flag. Charley is sure that he'll carry it often. At school, however, so many strange new things occur that his own curiosity and independence combine to keep Charley from earning that honor.

  • Lowry, Lois. All About Sam. Yearling, 1989. ISBN 0440402212. Order Info. Novel.
    This is the first of the Sam books. He's a character in all the Anastasia books but this is the family from Sam, a baby's, point of view. Even from the beginning you can tell that Sam is a family member to contend with. Like the others in the series, this is laugh-out-loud funny and brimming with the warmth and love of family.

  • Lowry, Lois. Anastasia Krupnik. Yearling, 1984. ISBN 0440408520. Order Info. Novel.
    This is the first in the series of books about Anastasia, a bright, funny and sincere young girl whose father is a poetry professor and whose mother is, at this point, pregnant. Refreshingly, this family does understand each other. Anastasia is not pleased with the coming baby and, to make her feel a part of the coming event, her parents tell her she can name it. Anastasia's choice will, she is sure, shock her parents for she has chosen "One-Ball Riley". In the meantime Anastasia's grandmother has come for an extended visit and Anastasia is repelled by the older woman. However, after attending one of her father's classes, Anastasia gains new perspective on her grandmother.

  • Lowry, Lois. Anastasia on Her Own. Yearling, 1986. ISBN 0440402913. Order Info. Novel.
    Both Anastasia and her father are annoyed by her mother's slipshod housekeeping. They set up a schedule to make the chores more efficient and divide them up when Mrs. Krupnik takes on a consulting job. Running a household turns out to be more difficult than they had planned. Then there's Sam, the baby, who gets chicken pox to complicate matters.

  • Lowry, Lois. See You Around, Sam. Yearling, 1998. ISBN 0440414008. Order Info. Novel.
    This time Sam is running away. He's headed for Alaska because his mother won't let him wear his vampire fangs around the house. With his mother's helpful suggestions, he packs his bag and sets off. He stops by at his favorite neighbors' houses to say goodbye and get suggestions and further items for his trip. When it begins to get dark and he realizes he doesn't know the way to Alaska and is not sure he'd like the diet there -- there's no place to go except home.

  • Park, Barbara. Mick Harte Was Here. Bullseye, 1996. ISBN 0679882030. Order Info. Novel.
    This is a wonderful book although it's a cautionary tale. Narrated by Mick's older sister, this is a wonderful book although it's a cautionary tale. We know from the beginning that Mick has been killed in a bicycle accident. Although the subject is tragic, Park has a light touch and the flashback story makes you laugh out loud almost as much as you cry. The family deals with grief, guilt and with each other in a very human and realistic way. There's an open and final appeal for wearing bicycle helmets and even that is well done.

  • Van Leeuwen, Jean. Dear Mom, You're Ruining My Life. Puffin, 1990. ISBN 0140343865. Order Info. Novel.
    She isn't really ruining Samantha's life at all. (Sam tends to overstate things, especially in her letters.) In fact, this mother is incredibly understanding although unconventional. Sam, like many sixth grade girls, wants to be just like all the fashionable girls in the class, who live in more conventional households. Sam's mother is a writer and her father is a mathematical genius. She and her mother often communicate through notes on the refrigerator. In Sam's class for gifted children she is encouraged to make daily journal entries many of which she shares with us.
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