27 May 2012

For Love of Children's Literature

 A teacher at the kids' school had a baby and I offered to take her maternity leave so I have been teaching first grade since the beginning of March.  It has been fifteen years since I have been in the classroom.  The actual teaching and time spent with the students has been enjoyable.  It is interesting for me to flex my teaching muscles once again.  There are ways that I think I am a better teacher now and ways I was a better teacher then.  There are things I like better about teaching now and things I liked better then.  One thing has not changed.  I love enjoying a good book with my class!  I have a scrapbook of notes and cards I received during my years as a teacher.  One of my favorites was a card that said- "You sure can pick a good book."- then proceeded to list all the read-alouds for that year.

My fourth grade teacher read aloud books by Beverly Cleary.  This lead to a life-long love of the author and her books.  I read Mrs. Cleary's books to almost all of my students, then to my own children.  I have read books about her life and even brought my children all the way to Portland just to see the Beverly Cleary sculpture garden.  Recently, on Facebook, a student of mine sent a photo of a street sign he saw in Portland that is a mainstay in several of her books.  I teared up knowing that those books had touched him as much as they had touched me.

My fifth grade teacher read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us which introduced me to the literary giant, C.S. Lewis who is among my favorite authors.  I came across a quote by him about children's literature and as a lover of children's stories, I couldn't agree more.

"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children 
is not a good children's story in the slightest." 

 One year while teaching, I had announced that I was pregnant.  I had a miscarriage and was struggling with how to share this with the children.  I was heartbroken and wishing I had waited to share the news.  At the time, I was reading Charlotte's Web with the class.  The goose on the farm was hatching eggs and one didn't hatch.  Templeton the rat was drooling over it and asked the goose if he could have it.  That one is a dud, she replied matter-of-factly and turned it over to the greedy rat.  That was my moment.  I explained that my baby was like that egg.  It just couldn't be born and that was that.  It was healing to put it bluntly and succinctly.  It also reminded me that this happens all across God's creation and I needed to trust him.

The same teacher I am substituting for taught several of my children.  She read The Trumpet of the Swan to them and I have been wanting to read it.  I decided that reading it aloud with this class was the perfect opportunity.

You know, it's funny the slight difference in reading aloud to the class a book which you have read before and one which you have never read.  The first is like introducing two people you care a great deal about.  You are excited for them to meet and eager that they feel the same about each other.  Reading a book with the class for the first time is like getting to know a new friend with someone you love.  They are both enjoyable experiences, just different.  It has been quite sometime since I have been able to fall in love with a book with my class.  And falling in love, I am!

The writing of E.B. White is so achingly beautiful.  You can't imagine you would ever want to be friends with a talking swan but E.B. White writes him as personable as any human being you can imagine.  To read a particularly poignant or funny passages and to look out at that sea of bright, young children and see the emotion in my heart spread across their faces is nothing short of magical.  To think someone who is no longer on this earth can still evoke such joy through his writing is amazing to me.  I had been pondering this very thing then was blown away by this quote from the author himself:

“Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, 
for books are people-- people who have managed to stay alive 
by hiding between the covers of a book.”

I am thankful so many fabulous writers have managed to hide themselves between the covers of countless great books for us to encounter again and again.  If you are a reader, don't overlook children's literature.  As C.S. Lewis says it is only good if it can also be enjoyed by adults.  It is fun to reread a book you loved as a child.  You will be amazed how differently you experience it the second time around.  If you have children, never underestimate the power of reading a good book out loud together.  I think this is especially true with older children since we tend to stop reading to our kids when they can read themselves.  Reading books with my third, fourth and even seventh grades are among our favorite memories.  We often recount favorite passages and characters.  It greatly enriches our shared memories.  The stories and characters become woven into the fabric of our lives.  I think this is true of every book so be careful what books you pick.  If you are going to weave it into your life's tapestry why not choose one with sparkling thread.  Like E.B. White also said:

"Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder."

This summer I challenge you to be on the lookout for the presence of wonder in the books you read.  Children's literature is a great place to start.


No comments:

Post a Comment