We are doing a project in one of my writing classes where the kids design games, write directions, and create the game boards and pieces. One of the "catches" is that it has to be based on a book they love. Sometimes this can cause a little trouble. Not all books make great games! So, sometimes we have to do a little brainstorming to come up with one that will fit the assignment.
Monday was "book choosing day," so I had everyone brainstorming some books they had read that were usable. Of course, a few kids knew immediately what they wanted to do and got started without my help. As I saw faces becoming perplexed, however, I mentioned that it doesn't have to be something they're read recently during their middle school years. It can even be a children's book from elementary school I explained.
Still, faces looked a little blank, so I told them I had some books they could look through to get ideas. In my storage closet, I have several books that were my standbys when I taught 3rd grade a few years ago. I taught that age for 6 years, so when I moved up a few levels, I felt like I was leaving friends behind when I couldn't use the same texts.
Of course, I know that some books can be used at any grade level, and I do utilize them on occasion, but not nearly as much as when I lived among 8 year olds. My 6th graders have read all my favorites, and so they sit, like old dolls on a shelf, in the dusty closet, only to be pulled out when I need them. It's been awhile since I was back there.
I took a few of the kids into the closet, propped the door, and started going through the titles with them. Before I knew what I was happening, I was hugging 3 or 4 of these treasures against me, like long-lost friends. The students looked at me strangely.
"I just...it's just I haven't seen them in so long!" I gushed. Their faces looked amused now.
I lovingly pulled more books off the shelf, asking as I went, "Have you read about Alexander and his bad day? What about Edward Tulane? Surely you've read about Despereaux and Mrs. Frisby?" I realized I was listing off the character names, not the titles, unknowingly.
Those books, read so many years to so many students, were filled with my dear friends, the characters. Those characters had worked hand in hand with me to help many reluctant readers learn to appreciate the beauty of words on a page. Their stories were my stories.
I left the closet with my arms full, lugging books back into my room. I just couldn't leave them sitting in the dark for another moment. I needed them on my desk, near me.
After the kids left that day, I sat and flipped through the books, the familiar words, phrases, and pictures jumping out at me. I tried to make myself read them, but I was filled with an emptiness I couldn't identify. They stayed on my desk. I couldn't bear to take them home.
Today I realized what that weird feeling was, why I couldn't bring myself to turn to page one and begin.
I had no audience to experience them with.
To me, those books have always been shared with wide-eyed, young readers at my feet on the carpet. Often it was after recess and they were hot and sweaty, yet they crammed together to be nearer to the pictures. Without children listening to the voices and sound effects, the words on the page weren't worth reading, even silently to myself. I was surprised at myself.
I wonder if anyone else out there has felt this feeling before. Those precious books, for me, are reserved to be read during read-aloud time, with the funny voices, the sound effects, and a gusto that can only be achieved under special conditions.
It must be still, quiet, the air alive with a touch of magic. If those circumstances cannot be arranged, I cannot read. Maybe that sounds picky, but I just can't bear it. The memories of past journeys through the books haunt me without my enthralled young audience.
You know what, though?
I think I still can arrange those circumstances with 11 and 12 year olds. I believe there is still wonder in the air, still imagination enough to appreciate the voices of the friends from my books. I think that together we, the characters and I, can create an atmosphere of quiet joy in my room that will lure kids in and capture them in the net of a good story.
I think there are still stories to be told and children to tell them to in my life.
I can't wait to begin.