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SEL with ALM: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Posted by Anna-Lisa Mackey, PATHS Program CEO on May 5, 2023 4:51:12 PM
Anna-Lisa Mackey, PATHS Program CEO

Hoot is an award-winning book for a good reason. The SEL themes in Hoot by Carl Hiaasen are dealing with a bully, unlikely friendships, responsibility, overcoming challenges, decision-making, handling difficult confrontations, and giving back to the community. 


Hoot is a book about a boy named Roy, whose family

moved from Montana to Florida because of his father's job. There are two threads in this story. The first is about a school bully named Dana Matherson, who torments Roy on the bus, classroom, and schoolyard. The second storyline is about a boy named Mullet Fingers, his sister Beatrice Leep and some burrowing owls.

One morning, Roy sees a boy running incredibly fast while riding the bus. He can't believe someone could run that fast that far, and he becomes intrigued by the boy. Roy is fascinated by the running boy and begins to watch for him on the way to school. Sure enough, several days later, Roy spies him running. Unfortunately, at that same moment, Dana decides to accost Roy by grabbing him around the neck. Roy is so intent on following the running boy that he blindly swings his fist over his shoulder and punches Dana in the nose! Roy leaps off the bus and runs after the boy. This incident begins the connection between Roy, Mullet fingers, Beatrice, Dana, and some very small burrowing owls who have made a home on the construction site of Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House.

Next is a series of mishaps designed to prevent the restaurant's completion and save the tiny owls and their homes. 

The interesting fact about this book is about burrowing owls who live in open prairies and deserts of the western states and Florida. They are not just nocturnal, moving about during the day, making their burrows, and looking for insects, small mice, and lizards. The western burrowing owls often take over a prairie dog home and can often be spotted living among prairie dog colonies. However, the Florida burrowing owl will regularly excavate their own homes.

If you travel to Florida, the best place to see a burrowing owl is in Cape Coral, where over 1,000 nesting pairs live. The city is devoted to these little guys and installs PVC pipes and ropes around the nests so that landscapers don't disturb them.

If you're in Arizona and want to see these little guys, you can visit the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, which runs along the Salt River. There are excellent hiking trails where you might glimpse one of the area's burrowing owls. If you're inclined, you can volunteer with Audubon Arizona and help the rescued owls by observing and mapping owl sightings.

To say that Hoot by Carl Hiaasen is an award-winning book would be an understatement! It is a Newbery Honor Book, The SEBA Book Award for Best Children's Book, an ABC Children's Bookseller Choice, an ALA Notable Book, a YALSA Best Book For Young Adults, a Child Magazine 50 Best Children's Books Selection, a New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing Selection, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, a Book Sense Book of the Year Finalist, a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year, A New York Times Bestseller and last but not least, a Book Sense Bestseller!

Phew! That's a lot of awards, and Carl Hiaasen still had time to write numerous other stories and a column for the Miami Herald. PS. He also writes adult novels too!

Socratic Seminar Questions

hoot-Carl-HiaasenChapter 1 

Roy describes being bullied on the school bus by Dana Matherson. Nobody on the bus who sees this does anything or tells the bus driver. Why? Have you ever seen someone being bullied? Did anyone jump in to help out or tell an adult? Why or why not? What do you think is the best way to handle a bully? Why do you think some kids become bullies?

Officer Delinko gets called out to deal with a vandalism situation. During this call, he trips and falls into an owl burrow. Curly, the foreman tells him about the owls but then says, "But I ain't never seen one, officially speakin'." (p6). What does he mean by this? Is he being truthful?

Officer Delinko says that he doesn't think it's vandalism but malicious mischief. What does it mean to be malicious? Have you ever felt malicious? When?

Office Delinko asks Curly what will happen to the owls when they start clearing the land to build. Curly answers, "What owls?" (p. 8) What does he mean by this? Why don't you think Curly doesn't care about the owls? Should the company care? Should anyone care? Why?

Roy talks with a boy named Garrett, who invites him to go skateboarding. Roy says that would be cool, but he doesn't seem interested. Why does Roy agree to do something he's not interested in doing? Have you ever agreed to try something you don't want to because you want to befriend someone?  

lessons that connect to the SEL themes in this book

Grade 6

Unit 1

  • Lesson 2 Understanding and building self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Lesson 4 Using compassion to stand up to bullying
  • Lesson 9 Teamwork and collaboration
  • Lesson 10 Decision-making
  • Lesson 12 Responsibility and accountability

Unit 2

  • Lesson 7 Perspective taking
  • Lesson 8 Healthy and unhealthy relationships
  • Lesson 9 Making and maintaining friendships
  • Lesson 10 Rules

Unit 3

  • Lesson 1 Resilience
  • Lesson 3 Fear Less
  • Lesson 4 Reaching out for resources
  • Lesson 5 Respect for living things
  • Lesson 10 Leadership skills
  • Lesson 12 Perseverance and hope

Grade 7

  • Unit 1 
  • Lesson 4 Confidence
  • Lesson 5 Flexible thinking
  • Lesson 7 Morals
  • Lesson 11 Conflict

Unit 2 

  • Lesson 3 Advocacy
  • Lesson 5 Fear
  • Lesson 7 Overcoming obstacles
  • Lesson 9 Bullying

Unit 3 

  • Lesson 7 Resilience
  • Lesson 9 Being responsible
  • Lesson 12 Community Involvement and giving back

Grade 8

Unit 1

  • Lesson 4 Problem solving
  • Lesson 7 Belonging and Rejection
  • Lesson 8 Getting your point across
  • Lesson 10 Ethics and Integrity

Unit 2

  • Lesson 1 Rules for life
  • Lesson 9 Conflict
  • Lesson 11 Leadership skills

Unit 3

  • Lesson 5 Bullying
  • Lesson 8 Negotiating
  • Lesson 11 Standing up for yourself

For the full Socratic Seminar for this novel and full lesson plans for the topics listed, please visit our website for more details on how to get Emozi for your classroom!

Dive deeper into SEL for adults and students in my new book, The Social Emotional Classroom: A New Way to Nurture Students and Understand the Brain.

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Topics: middle school, Emozi® Middle School, Anna-Lisa Mackey, M.Ed., SEL and Literature, Socratic Seminar