My students from last year are now in second grade, which is in a different wing of the school than my classroom. I only get to see them at lunch time and recess time, and most of them make it a point to come visit with me. We reminisce, joke around, and they tell me about what they’re reading and what they’re up to. It’s nice.
I have to say, the most frequent question I hear from second graders is,
Have you read them Stone Fox yet, Mr. Teut?
Now, at this point, I know some might shake a finger at me and disappointingly shake their heads because I read chapter books to first graders. It’s a practice I believe is highly valuable. Throughout the course of the day, we do about 5-6 (sometimes more) read alouds- as they fit in with writing, reading workshop, math, science, etc. My favorite time of day, however, is right after lunch. I pick a picture book to read, and then I read them a few chapters from a chapter book or early reader. I usually start the year with all of Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series. Most first graders have never read a chapter book before coming into my room, and DiCamillo’s series make a nice bridge between picture books and chapter books. This year we moved on to Roald Dahl’s The BFG.
I do chapter books because it really provides opportunity for students to practice making mental images of what they read. It also is a great segue into discussions, and being able to retell the story and recall key points from day to day.
Now, back to Stone Fox. Why did that book resonate with so many of my readers? Why, almost a year later, does it still remain as one of their top first grade memories?
Let’s rewind to January and February of last year. Each day I read about two chapters, and whenever I closed the book there was an audible gasp followed by a “NO! NO! NO!” John Reynolds Gardiner had these students in his grip. The book is so well written that it’s one that’s hard to put down. I probably could have read it all in one afternoon, and the students would be able to stay focused. But this was something I wanted to savor.
When we finally reached the end, and the tragedy that occurs in the book, I cried. For the first time, in front of my students, I cried. Their eyes got wide as they too tried to come to grips with what had just happened in the book. If you haven’t read it before, it’s something you don’t see coming. And they didn’t see it coming. For a moment, time froze in the room and there was silence.
We weren’t in the room anymore- we were in the book. The classroom wasn’t there- there were no desks, chairs, books, or anything. The children weren’t there. The school wasn’t there. We were in the book- cheering on Searchlight in the race.
When reality sunk in, many students got up and brought me Kleenex. A few put their heads down between their knees (they were sitting on the carpet) and cried. And when we had accepted the tragedy of the book, we soldiered through to the end.
When the book was over, and the tears were shed, many students started hugging each other. We talked about how this book had sucked us in, and really took us for a ride. I told them to just think about all of the adventures in books that were still out there waiting for them to join in. Doors to be opened. The key being reading.
That remains one of my favorite reading memories.
So today as I was planning for school to resume on Thursday, I scanned through the chapter books I have trying to decide what we should start next. Stone Fox stuck out. “I think we’re ready.” I assured myself.
Just a few weeks ago when I told a second grader we hadn’t read Stone Fox yet, he said “What are you waiting for??” I wanted to be sure we were ready. I think we are.