• In Other Words

Motivation, Gratitude, Interventions, and a Yellow Lab

by Joanne Duncan
June 5, 2014

Motivation, Gratitude, Interventions, and a Yellow LabI will be forever grateful to Danny Dog for motivating many of my first grade friends to want to read and write.

The Danny series, published by MaryRuth Books, was one of the best investments our district purchased as an intervention/motivating choice for my first grade classroom library. When I saw these books at the 2013 IRA conference in San Antonio I knew I needed them. At the time I had no idea what kind of lifelong impact these books (and Danny) would have on my heart.

A little background: The Danny books are written by Mia Coulton, a former reading recovery teacher. These books are filled with real pictures of Danny and his friend Bee, and tell of their many adventures. The full-color photographs work with appropriately spaced text to enhance word recognition for emerging readers. Each book uses high frequency words and natural oral language—making it a top choice of reading specialists and their students. Who couldn’t resist the silly antics of Danny,a beautiful yellow lab?

I started the year off with Danny songs, shared Danny read-alouds, Danny interactive writing, big Danny reading charts, etc. I decided Danny would be my beginning of the year theme. I had leveled Danny books from A-H so all students could have a chance to share in our Danny discussion. Everyone fell in love with Danny, especially some of my most struggling readers. They found they could be successful reading and writing about these books.

Look at DannyI also decided to purchase the Danny stuffed dog. He was a very popular friend to read with at read to someone time. We all took turns getting to read with our stuffed Danny. Kids were so motivated and engaged with these books that many kids did not want to stop as we would end our reader’s workshop.

One of my most at-risk students—socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically—due to family adversity clung on to our Danny stuffed animal like a lifeline. She couldn’t believe the stuffed Danny Dog was the same Danny in the books from which she was learning to read. She was at a Pre-A level at the beginning of the year and struggled to write her name. She was in a sight word intervention, as well as a letter naming and sounds intervention, and everyday she read Danny books in a small guided skill group as well as receiving one on one reading time. One of her interventions was to have a para pro just sit and read to her. Her book box was filled with Danny books and she even had a Danny writing journal. This student’s courage and resilience was beyond belief and inspired me to continue on the Danny path.

She was finding great success in reading the Danny books and by the middle of the year she had moved up to a level F. She was able to write about Danny and could express herself through pictures and words. She was always at the area where the Danny Books were kept. I kept them near my small table area so that I could always easily access them to add to student’s book boxes.

I attended a conference for three days in January and when I returned my little friend called me over and said she needed to tell me something important. I have taught my students that if there is something in the classroom that they feel like they need, they can’t just take it because that would be like stealing. Instead they need to just ask me to borrow it and I will let them and then they can return it. Well, my little friend said, “Mrs. Duncan while you were gone I had to borrow Danny because I needed a friend at home. I brought him back and he is fine.” I was so proud of her and so thankful to have something in the classroom that she considered a friend that could make her feel safe and secure at home.

Every day she grew more confident as a reader and writer. She was going through some rough times at home and what normally would have been acting out at school turned in to wanting to read more Danny books.

I was very sad to find out that this friend would be moving. She was very sad to leave us, too. She was also worried about leaving Danny and all of the wonderful Danny books behind. I knew the moment she told me she was going to miss Danny that I would be giving her our stuffed Danny to take with her. I will never in my life forget the look of awe and thankfulness in her eyes when I told her she would be taking Danny with her to keep forever!

DannyWe secretly slipped Danny in to her backpack at the end of the day. She asked if she could take some Danny books with her when she moved. I already had them in a baggie with a special note. She hugged me so tight and thanked me the most sincere, heartfelt thank you I have ever felt. I had to fight back the tears. I smiled and said,“Danny will be there to always remind you what a smart, beautiful reader and writer you, and that you have a teacher who loves you and is very proud of you!” Danny truly helped lay a foundation of reading and writing for this courageous and resilient little friend.

I was so touched by the power of this reading intervention that I called MaryRuth Books to share the entire story. I thanked them for sharing their beautiful yellow lab, and their reading recovery expertise. A few days after my phone call with MaryRuth Books, I received a box from them in our office. I immediately opened it and there was a new stuffed Danny Dog, ready to read and make a difference to motivate my eager, first grade friends.


JoAnne Duncan ( received her master’s degree in elementary reading and literacy from Walden University. She teaches first grade at Mt. Stuart Elementary School in Ellensburg, WA. She is an advocate of best literacy practice for students and teachers, which includes using a workshop model to help differentiate instruction.



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