The Seventh Wish
The Seventh Wish
Written by Kate Messner
Published in 2016 by Bloomsbury
“I must have imagined the voice. I have magic flowers and crystal dresses and wishes swirling around my brain, and that all added up to a fish talking.” Life for twelve-year-old Charlie Brennan suddenly changes when she catches a magical wishing fish while ice fishing on the lake outside her home. With a nod to the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Fisherman and His Wife”, Charlie’s wishes are twisted by the fish’s interpretation of them. She wishes for Roberto Sullivan to fall in love with her only to find that Bobby O’Sullivan falls in love with her instead. With each subsequent wish she makes in the hopes of bettering the lives of her family and friends, Charlie realizes that while her heart is in the right place, she cannot wish away life’s complications. This comes to a climax as Charlie tries to wish away her college-student sister’s heroin addiction. Signature of Kate Messner’s body of work, The Seventh Wish is novel for middle grade readers that is at once fantastical while also emotionally arresting. Her use of thick description drops the reader right in the upstate New York landscape of Charlie’s community and her use of internal dialogue brings honesty to Charlie’s voice. Messner offers a sensitive and empathetic view of addiction through a genuinely compelling, character-driven narrative. While as a society we may want our own magical fish to wish away addiction from our families and communities, Messner has given us a pathway for having necessary, complicated conversations about a national epidemic.
Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:
Small Scenes/ Big Themes. The Seventh Wish opens with Charlie’s memory of winter vacation when she was six years old and her sister, Abby, was twelve. Abby came flying into Charlie’s bedroom to beckon her to see the ice flowers on the lake before they melted. Support students to zoom in on the first two pages of the book noticing and naming the craft techniques Messner uses to paint a picture of the wintry scene including sensory details, powerful action verbs, dialogue, internal thinking, and a variety of sentence types and lengths. While reading across the novel, support students to take notice of these small scenes and how they add up to big themes about family relationships, life’s struggle, the importance of self-reliance, and the mysteries of the natural world.
Character Mapping. Either individually or in partnerships, have students select a character from the novel to study up close including Charlie, Abby, Mom, Dad, Leah, Drew, Mrs. McNeill, Dasha, and Catherine. Next, have students mind map the character’s interests, identities, hopes, and fears using traditional pencil/paper methods or using a digital tool such as Popplet. Support students to go one-step further to include text evidence in their mind map. Have partnerships share their character maps with one another to compare and contrast their selected characters. Which characters do they find themselves empathizing with and why?
The Impact of Setting on a Story. The lake outside her upstate New York home is central to Charlie’s story. Have students list the things they know about the setting Messner chose for this story thanks to her thick descriptions. How does the setting inform their understanding of Charlie, her family, and her community? In what ways would the story change if it took place somewhere else? How are Charlie’s interests and identities tied to the place where she is from? Using The Seventh Wish as a mentor text, support students to write their own personal narratives with an emphasis on setting. How do they describe their own home communities? What do they learn about one another listening to stories that include details about where they are from?
Word Play. Charlie’s family has a ritual around words where one family member is thinking of a word and everyone else has to guess what the word might be. The winner is the one whose answer is most logically associated with the original word. Engage the class in this word play during transition times or as a centers activity. Consider creating a class word jar where students can select words and others have to guess what the word might be. The goal of the game is to support students to logically discuss and categorize words looking for meaningful overlap.
Text Conversations. Text conversations between Charlie and Abby woven throughout the story help place the story in contemporary times. Have students analyze those text conversations noticing the conventions of texts that are different from talk and traditional written language. Have students experiment with writing their own text conversations for Charlie and Abby or by looking back at their own narrative writing and inserting a text conversation for effect. Encourage students to notice the ways other authors also use text conversations to help define characters’ relationships such as in Kwame Alexander’s Booked and The Crossover.
Growing a Theory about Theme: Overcoming Fears and Obstacles. Charlie is self-reliant, determined, and constantly tries to overcome her fears whether it’s stepping onto the frozen lake or performing an Irish dance in a competition. Discuss with students the ways in which Charlie’s actions, talk, and inner thoughts help us as readers to grow a theory about overarching themes central to the story such as overcoming fears in life. Ask students to consider what Charlie teaches us as readers about our own lives. Use this conversation as a springboard for discussing multiple strategies for uncovering themes in stories such as by focusing on what characters do, say, think, teach one another, and teach us.
Ice Flowers as Symbols. The ice flowers that formed on the lake when Charlie was six-years-old are referenced repeatedly throughout the story. Support students to notice these moments in the story. Have students consider the ways in which the ice flowers take on a figurative rather than a literal meaning. Leverage this discussion to support students to notice repeated symbols in their own independent reading selections.
The Power of Wishes Text Set. Charlie’s English class is reading stories about wishes and imagines what they would have done differently if they were the characters. Read some of the stories noting the ways in which Kate Messner drew from traditional tales to craft The Seventh Wish including “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs, and “The Fisherman and his Wife” retold by the Brothers Grimm. What are the overarching lessons in each story? Have students select particular wishes that characters make and restate them as if they were the character much the way Charlie does in her class.
Duet Model: Responding to Trauma with Invention. Messner purposefully weaves in the fantastical element of the talking, wish-offering fish as a counter to Charlie’s difficult family situation. One may be left wondering whether Charlie was anticipating her sister’s struggles and invented an imaginary character that offered her solace in some way. In a duet model, read The Seventh Wish along with Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw. Compare and contrast the two storylines, the main characters’ traumatic situations, and the ways in which the power of their imaginations allows them to cope with trauma in their lives.
Researching Questions to Better Understand. Read as a class Kate Messner’s important Author’s Note in which she explains, “This was a scary book for me to research and to write, because the truth is that addiction is a disease that can strike any family at any time.” Collect information from her note about addiction statistics, heroin’s impact on the body, and treatments for heroin addiction. Support students to ask questions about addiction as researchers. Following the support of school administration, sensitively investigate as a class the resources Messner suggests for more information including the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Alateen. Consider closely reading the serenity prayer which is central to Charlie’s story but which is also a key tenet of the recovery process for those struggling with addiction. Following this research, support students to create their own infographics in partnerships or small groups to display around the school and/or community about addiction. Use digital tools such as Piktochart, Venngage, or Canva model what kinds of information to include on an infographic that will inform viewers about addiction and the national opiate epidemic.
Perspective-Taking. Kate Messner purposefully told this story from the point of view of Charlie. Have students select a scene from the book to imagine what would change if it were told from another character’s perspective. Model how to rewrite a scene from the book from another character’s perspective and support students to select their own scene to rewrite. Have students present their new scenes to a partner or small group through role-playing. Gather student ideas about what stayed the same in their scenes and what changed as a consequence of the new point of view. Engage in a class discussion about how writing about and role-playing characters helped them as readers to understand the characters and their situations better.
Challenging Single Story Representations. Abby in many ways defies stereotypical representations of those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. Discuss with the class the ways that Abby’s story changed their perceptions of addiction and who it affects. View Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famed TED talk on the danger of a single story. Use this framing as a way of further discussing the dangers of having a single story for addiction. Discuss with students the power of narrative, either fictional or biographical, to challenge single story representations of any group of people. To consider other ways of pushing back on single story representations with your class, read the series of posts at Crawling Out of the Classroom by Jess Lifshitz.
Censorship: Debating Banned Books. After the release of The Seventh Wish, a school cancelled their author visit with Kate Messner. Many school and local libraries have returned The Seventh Wish fearing the content is too controversial for middle grade readers. Read with the class Messner’s thoughts on getting The Seventh Wish in the hands of students and what she believes about book selection and censorship. Visit the American Library Association site on banned books and frequently challenged children’s books. Have students share their thoughts on why books might be challenged or banned in some communities. Organize the class into debate teams to take sides on the issue by conducting additional research on controversies surrounding banned books.
Kate Messner’s Site
How to Build a Fictional World: Kate Messner on TED Ed
Bloomsbury Educator’s Guide
Kate Messner on Revision
The Danger of a Single Story: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk
Jess Lifshitz’s Blog “Crawling out of the Classroom”: The Danger of a Single Story Posts
American Library Association Banned Books Site
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
Alexander, K. (2014). The crossover. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Alexander, K. (2016). Booked. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Applegate, K. (2015). Crenshaw. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends.
Kuhn, C. & Schwartzwelder, S. (2002). Just say know: Talking with kids about drugs and alcohol. W.W. Norton and Co.
Messner, K. (2010). Sugar and ice. New York, NY: Walker Childrens.
Messner, K. (2013). Wake up missing. New York, NY: Walker Childrens.
Messner, K. (2015). Eye of the storm. New York, NY: Walker Childrens.
About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
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