Elementary: Great For All

, Elementary: Trends Younger

Three Good Deeds

Vivian Vande Velde
2007

Bullying

Friendship

Fun!

Kindness

Resilience

Animals

“You, young man, are in serious need of a good lesson.” (p. 8)  

So says the witch in Three Good Deeds. She’s addressing young Howard, a boy who is— there’s no other way to say it—kind of a meanie. He visits the pond to steal goose eggs from the nests there, but these geese are protected by the witch. She exacts payback on young Howard to teach him a lesson. She turns him into a goose. What’s the best way to start empathizing with others, including geese? To waddle in their webbed feet! 

Vivian Vande Velde pulls off a playful, funny, wholesome old-fashioned tale in a tight 150 pages. Three Good Deeds is immediately accessible to a wide variety of students and families, entertaining while delivering a valuable moral lesson.  

Howard struggles as a goose. He is awkward. He is lonely. When he finally meets other geese, he is teased because he is so un-gooselike. But he does make friends. And he does learn. 

Can Howard ever return to human form? Only after doing three good deeds. 

First good deed? He meets a lovely goose who goes by the name of Moonlight-Gives-Her-Down-a-Silver-Glow. She’s got a strange red sheen in her feathers, and Howard knows exactly why. It came from one of his bad deeds when he threw red dye at the geese. He makes amends by comforting Moonlight, by showing her how to appreciate the sunset, by complimenting her, and by giving her a new name that makes her feel terrific: Sunset-Dances-Like-Flames-on-Her-Feathers. 

What does it feel like to do a good deed? 

“He felt a bubbling sensation—not exactly good, not exactly bad, but definitely strange—that started inside, then in the space of four or five heartbeats grew and burst through his skin with such force that he looked down at himself to see if his feathers were rippling.” (p. 35) 

Howard’s second good deed takes a little longer to play out. It requires Howard to discover he can care about another goose’s eggs enough to risk his own safety to protect them.  

The last good deed turns out to be the hardest. The witch is slowing down. Howard notices, but he fails to realize what the signs mean. Vande Velde surprises the reader when Howard is stuck, thinking there is no way to complete his third deed, and thus no way to turn back into a boy. But then he performs a final act of benediction straight from the heart. 

Vande Velde, the author the quick and witty 8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos, manages to package the lessons of this book in a warm, traditional-feeling tale. That’s her genius, and it will make Three Good Deeds a perfect reading experience for your students and families.  

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