Whose Book Was It, Anyway?

A couple weeks ago, I looked at my older son’s homework assignment after he complained that he didn’t understand it.  I was thinking, it’s third grade…how hard could it be?  I picked up the paper and read the paragraph and the very first question stumped me.  I don’t think there was a right or wrong answer, but neither answer made sense to me.  What’s worse is that some of the other questions left me puzzled, too.

The assignment had to do with making inferences based on the text provided.  The paragraph depicted a story of two children – a boy and a girl – fighting over a book.  The teacher walked over to the children to resolve the disagreement.  Both children claimed the book was theirs, so the teacher suggested the following compromise:  tear the book in half so each child could have half.   <gasp!> 

The book was unharmed by this demonstration

The boy agreed and thought that was fair.  The girl said the boy could have the book.

Whose book was it?

Looking at it from the girl’s point of view, I didn’t think it would be her book because it doesn’t make sense that she would give up a book that was rightfully hers.  That just seems wrong.  I didn’t think it would be the boy’s book because agreeing to have your property destroyed for the sake of solving a disagreement seems far-fetched.  (I’ve seen how territorial my children are with their property.)  I decided it was Tara’s book and she wasn’t even in the room.

Telling the story to a friend last week, she gave me her take on the story.  She thought it was the girl’s book.  I asked why the girl would so easily give up a book that’s hers (I’m waaaaay too stubborn to comprehend that!)  Her response:  she gave the book up because the stupid boy would keep whining and not shut up until he got it.

I paraphrased because I can’t remember exactly what she said.  Somehow, I can’t see my son writing that on his assignment 🙂

I talked it through with my son and put him in the situation to find out how he would react.  (Surprise!  His reasoning was in line with mine.  Have I mentioned that he’s just as stubborn, if not more so, than me?)  Then, I had to admit that I didn’t know and suggested he come up with his best answer.  I’m aware that in a few years, he will have figured out that I don’t know anything (like most teenagers do), so I’m a bit disappointed that I had to reveal this fact prematurely.

I didn’t read what he wrote and I haven’t seen the graded assignment in his returned homework papers.  The fact that I’m still thinking about this assignment reveals a lot about me, I’m sure.  I’m still coming to terms with the discovery that I’m a college graduate, but I am not smarter than a third grader.

Whose book do YOU think it was?  Why?

P.S.  It’s already that time again:  Thursday is the day for my short story post for April.  I do hope you have a chance to read it.  The story holds a special place in my heart because it was inspired by someone whom I love dearly, and is very much alive in my heart.  More about that on another post 🙂


42 thoughts on “Whose Book Was It, Anyway?

  1. J. P. Cabit April 19, 2011 / 6:54 AM

    Wow, this assignment was a clear and blatant rip-off (and by rip-off I don’t mean not getting your money’s worth…I mean a more serious version of spin-off) of the story of Solomon in the Bible. If I were to judge by the said story, I’d say it was the girl’s book. But only because it mirror’s solomon’s decision. But in the Bible, the object of interest was no a book…but a BABY, which is a bitty bit more serious story, because in real life, where you might not care about the book getting torn cause you’re going to lose it anyway, and you don’t really LOOOOVE the book, a baby would be something more to have a conflict like this about.

    That’s my long-winded, run-on sentence of an answer. 😀

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 8:44 PM

      I agree, Seph! For some reason, I didn’t recall this story of Solomon (and I know I must have heard it during all those years of Sunday school as a child.)

      I also agree that the object in question makes a huge difference on the story; a living creature is not the same as an inanimate object. I still say I wouldn’t give up the inanimate object as a matter of principle – yes, I am that stubborn. However, if it were a kitten or a puppy (or anything that bleeds) I would give it up (and then sneak in and take it back later :))

      It’s kind of funny how our country is so insistent that religion stay out of schools, but then they use a modified biblical story for a reasoning exercise. (I think this may have been practice work for some standardized testing they had coming up. That doesn’t make me feel any better, though…)

  2. Kristin Brænne April 19, 2011 / 7:42 AM


  3. AH April 19, 2011 / 7:44 AM


  4. chlost April 19, 2011 / 8:09 AM

    I’m with JP on this one. I think it is a story that is mirroring the Solomon story. Interesting that it is assumed that the girl would love the book so much that she would give it up to save it, and that the boy wouldn’t care, as long as he got part of it. Pretty sexist as well, I think.
    Who writes these things, anyway……oh, yeah, I do know the answer to that question, but won’t go into it here.
    Glad I am past the homework assistant position in my career.

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 9:00 PM

      I didn’t even think about it being sexist, Chlost. It does seem that way, doesn’t it? I guess if they wanted to keep “God” out of school, and make the story less similar to Solomon, they could’ve made it two boys fighting over a hamster or something.

      I didn’t think it was possible, but I think I like that assignment even less than I did to begin with and I’ve only responded to a few comments 🙂

  5. dorcas April 19, 2011 / 8:55 AM

    Totally my thoughts JP. Just thought I’ll add the ref as well. 1st Kings 3:16-28.

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 9:04 PM

      Thanks for the reference, Dorcas! I did read the verses and see the similarities. I do think that the “life or death” situation in Solomon’s story is more powerful. To me, the object being a book doesn’t make sense.

  6. momsomniac April 19, 2011 / 8:58 AM

    I am an avid reader who grew up without much money. I love and cherish books. It’s a serious point of contention in my marriage because my husband treats books like….objects…and allows our children to do the same. And I am not kidding, though now that I have written it out, I realize I might be a little…over the top on this. : )

    Anyway, because I can relate, I would assume that this was written by someone who loved books but was rarely able to own any. So – it was the girl’s book and she’d rather give it up than see it destroyed.

    It is obvious that this was inspired by Solomon and the baby….and a book is not a baby…but if you didn’t always have the priviledge of owning books, I can see making this leap to illustrate the same point to kids…

    Does that make sense?

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 9:21 PM

      I do see your point (to a point), Momsomniac. But even if it was a cherished book and it was the only book the girl ever had, why would she give it up and let the bully have the whole thing? (Yes, I think the boy in the example would be a bully because he’s pushing to take something that isn’t his and forcing the girl into a no-win situation.) She can either allow the book to be torn in half, or she can have no book at all (while the boy gets to enjoy the whole book by himself).

      I’ll write my own ‘fair’ ending to this and say that she gave the book up, but the boy got bored with it and left it on the floor. The girl picked it up after he walked away and sat down at her desk to read her book.

      I appreciate your thoughtful contribution to my book ownership question. It does help to see others’ perspectives, and I do see how given your experiences, the example in the assignment isn’t that far-fetched.

      • momsomniac April 20, 2011 / 9:36 AM

        : ) She’d let the bully have it because when something is a treasure to you, you won’t want to see it destroyed…even if it means losing it.

        A more powerful example might be…a Native American painter had a show at the Denver Museum of Art several years ago. There was an interview posted and he had been asked what he did when pieces didn’t go as he wanted them to – did he throw them out, etc.? He replied that he found a way to make use of the piece somehow – because as a child, he had little access to paper, so PAPER was precious to him. As a child, he used the backs of advertisments as drawing paper…that sort of thing.

        When things are THIS precious, you will give them up rather than see them destroyed. And yes, it DOES often mean that bullies get their way (and the adult who grew up poor gets called co-dependent). At least third graders shouldn’t have to deal with that last bit! : )

        I apologize that I can’t remember that artist’s name.

        • momsomniac April 20, 2011 / 9:38 AM

          By the way, I like your story of how it turned out!

        • jannatwrites April 20, 2011 / 9:14 PM

          Thanks! What can I say…I still love a good fairy tale 🙂

        • jannatwrites April 20, 2011 / 9:12 PM

          Well, momsomniac…I think I’m just too stubborn for my own good. I was almost too stubborn to even admit that 😉

          That is an interesting story about the artist’s extreme need to not waste paper – thank you for sharing it. It is fascinating how early events of childhood so solidly shape the adults we become.

  7. Tori Nelson April 19, 2011 / 10:14 AM

    Was this question part of the new 3rd Grade Rocket Science class? Yikes! I would say it must not belong to either one of them. The girl wouldn’t give up her book. The boy wouldn’t want his book torn in half.

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 9:25 PM

      I have a feeling this was to help them ‘study’ for standardized testing that took place last week. Based on this, I’m not sure if I should be happy or worried if he did well on the test…

      We’re on the same wavelength, Tori. Based on the book example, I still stand by that. When we look at King Solomon and the baby, well, I can understand backing down (for the safety of the baby.)

  8. Debbie April 19, 2011 / 10:55 AM

    J.P. got it right. However, knowing schools today, it was probably a library book the kids were fighting over, one neither really wanted to read. When the teacher came by and suggested a compromise, the boy figured that half a loaf was better than nothing; the girl agreed to let the boy have it because girls are taught to give in rather than fight for what they want. Odd way of “teaching” third grade, in my humble opinion!

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 9:33 PM

      Yes, it is odd, Debbie. Relating their assignment example to King Solomon has given me some peace so I can write this off as a silly comparison and move on.

      I didn’t catch the subtle gender role cues in the story, which is a bit disturbing. I have the opposite problem of the girl in the story: I will support what is right, even if doing so hurts me, too. In my warped mind, it’s worth it because the other person shares the suffering and “doesn’t get away with it” 😉

  9. 2blu2btru April 19, 2011 / 11:38 AM

    It was the girl’s, in my opinion. Anyone who is a lover of books would selflessly give it up rather than see it harmed. Anyone satisfied with half didn’t know what it was to begin with. Besides, it’s exactly like Solomon’s first recorded decision as king: the one who hasn’t nothing to lose would gladly take half of something that isn’t theirs.

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 9:37 PM

      I like how you worded this, 2blu: “the one who hasn’t nothing to lose would gladly take half of something that isn’t theirs.”

      I think I may be outside the norm on my thinking…I am a lover of books, but my dislike of being taken advantage of is stronger. I think this may stem from my childhood days of being everyone’s doormat. I finally said “enough” and meant it 🙂

      Thanks for weighing in on the discussion!

  10. pattyabr April 19, 2011 / 11:46 AM

    It is an interesting problem solving story because of the gender differences in looking at the problem. I think the book belonged to the girl. I think the girl gave up the book merely because she didn’t want it destroyed. I don’t think the book belonged to the boy because he was looking at solving the problem from the shear equality of division for sake of equality, whether or not it was his book or hers. He obviously didn’t care about the book if it was his.

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 9:43 PM

      Your reasoning is very logical, Patty. It makes more sense when I substitute the baby back in for the book. In the case of the baby, I can completely agree with stepping back so that the baby could live. It also makes sense that someone is more likely to go along with something getting destroyed if it’s not theirs (or if they didn’t have to work hard to get it.)

      I’m glad you stopped by and shared your thoughts on who owned the book in question!

  11. widdershins April 19, 2011 / 1:36 PM

    Yeah. I’d have to go with the book belonging to the girl.

    Interesting take on gender politics though. The girl gives up what is hers to protect it in the short term, while probably knowing that as soon as the conflict was over, the boy would abandon the book anyway, and if she was lucky she might get it back damaged by whatever processes it went through in the meantime. The boy was prepared to sacrifice the book in order to score points.

    No-one picked up on the fact that the teacher offered to destroy the book in order to resolve the issue, thereby placing both children in an untenable position and forcing them to make a grown-up decision that children do not have the life experience to make. Not to mention reinforcing the stereotyped conditioning that I and other commenters have made.

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 9:55 PM

      I agree with your insight, Widdershins. All of it! I did not think about the adult decision/lack of life experience aspect of the situation. That is a great point (and probably explains much of my son’s confusion with the whole thing.)

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your take on the book ownership situation 🙂

  12. knotrune April 19, 2011 / 2:04 PM

    The teacher should have made them share! Getting each to take it in turns to read a chapter out loud to the other one would have been either a good punishment for fighting or perhaps a way for them to bond. I think lateral thinking and coming up with unexpected answers is good and should be rewarded. How was the homework marked is another interesting question.

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 10:03 PM

      Sharing! What a concept…do we still do that? 😉

      The assignment also called for the kids to form opinions about the character of the girl and boy. I’m afraid this assignment may be lost in the black hole of my son’s school desk…

      The King Solomon parallel cleared up my uncertainty, so I’m considering reading it to my son (stopping before Solomon offers his judgment) to see if he is able to determine ownership in that scenario. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.

      I’m glad you shared your thoughts on the topic, Knotrune 🙂

  13. nrhatch April 19, 2011 / 3:49 PM

    Yup. Wise old Solomon knew that a mother would never agree to harm her baby. 😀

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 10:04 PM

      You got that right, Nancy! It was a clever way to uncover the truth.

  14. Carol Ann Hoel April 19, 2011 / 7:43 PM

    I see a similarity (small similarity) with the Bible account of two women arguing over which one was the true mother of a baby. The story went like this, I think. (I’ve been trying to locate it, but it must not be indexed.) There were two women sharing a bed. One mother rolled on her baby and killed it. The one with the dead baby took the live baby for her own. She put her dead baby next to other woman, who was still asleep. Their dispute over the baby was taken to King Solomon. Solomon decreed that the baby should be cut in half. The real mother spoke up and said the other woman could have it, obviously, because she didn’t want her baby killed. Solomon then gave the baby to the mother that cared enough not to allow the baby to be killed.

    It’s a ridiculous comparison. A book and a baby are not similar in any way. Possibly, this had nothing to do with the example the children were supposed to make a decision about. It’s no wonder schools are having problems teaching kids. The whole thing seems absurd to me. Blessings to you, Janna…

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 10:13 PM

      It’s hard to know if they based the assignment example on King Solomon or not. (Yeah, they probably did.) If that is the case, they had to change key elements to make it suitable for the third grade crowd, as well as satisfy the requirements that “God” stay out of school. In doing this, they came up with a poor example that is unclear and confusing. I agree that it is absurd.

      But at least I can rest now, being confident that it was supposed to be the girl’s book…even if the example is still silly 😉

      Thanks for adding your thoughts on the story. I appreciate your comments, Carol!

      • Carol Ann Hoel April 20, 2011 / 8:48 AM

        I appreciate your comment. You have shed some light on it, too, by suggesting that someone modified the story to make it bloodless for the children, but in doing so, messed up the motivating point. Perhaps some sweet Christian teacher was trying to slip in a Bible principle the best way she knew how. Blessings, Janna…

        • jannatwrites April 20, 2011 / 9:05 PM

          That’s a positive way to look at it, Carol. I think I’d like to believe in that idea. Thanks for adding your comments 🙂

    • Carol Ann Hoel April 20, 2011 / 9:02 AM

      I found the account in the Bible if you are interested in reading it: 1 Kings 3:16-28. It’s an interesting story. I remembered it correctly. I was a little worried that I might have had it wrong. Blessings to you…

      • jannatwrites April 20, 2011 / 9:06 PM

        I read the section and am impressed that you got the story correct from memory. Thanks for sharing the reference, Carol.

  15. Desi April 19, 2011 / 7:45 PM


    JP is right though. I was just about to point out about the story in the book of kings. 🙂
    Will wait for the short story!

    • jannatwrites April 19, 2011 / 10:16 PM

      This was a strange assignment! I’m glad I posted the question and you all were kind enough to clue me in to the King Solomon verses. I still don’t know I don’t remember that story…I’m sure I must have learned it at some point…Oh, well.

      I hope you do stop by and check out the story, Desi 🙂 I’m glad you had something to say about today’s post!

  16. pattisj April 19, 2011 / 11:37 PM

    Solomon’s decision was the first thing that came to my mind when I read the question. And I agree, it was probably the girl’s book.

    • jannatwrites April 20, 2011 / 9:01 PM

      It’s funny…I think I was the only one who didn’t draw that connection… Well, I think the verdict was unanimous – the book had to have been the girl’s 🙂

      Thanks for weighing in, Patti!

  17. crumbl April 21, 2011 / 2:18 AM

    So many comments. I confess, I didn’t read them all, JT. Yes, the biblical reference is very apropos. I would say, however, that, with some exceptions (can you say gold digger), women tend to be less materialistic, possessive, and would more willingly give the book up than see it damaged/destroyed. I agree with your assessment. Now I have to go look into exchanging my gender in shame …

    • jannatwrites April 23, 2011 / 4:21 PM

      I didn’t realize this post would create so much discussion (it’s been great)! I also didn’t see the gender stereotypes perpetuated in the piece, either. If it makes you feel better, Crumbl, each gender has their own faults….I’m afraid an exchange would simply be trading one set of faults for another. Gee, I don’t know if that helps, or makes it worse?


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