This past week, at nErDCAMPMI, i witnessed this power of story to connect us. I watched Kathy Burnette talk about doing the exercises in ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET. Her admission resulted in a room full of chuckles from those of us who recall that scene (and, truth be told, also practiced these exercises to build our bustling). As Donalyn Miller talked about the House That Reading Built, she herself was visibly moved, and so were we. Pernille Ripp had us nodding in agreement as she discussed her passion, one we all share. Kate DiCamillo's story of the magic bone and the pony moved us to wonder.
I took a bit of a chance with my own Nerd Talk and shared a piece of my less-than-idyllic childhood. During the day, quite a few folks approached me to share their own stories. These are stories seldom shared with "strangers," but how could we be strangers now that we had shared those stories.
I think this is one of the inexplicable affects of reading. Though I am far removed from my teenage years, I can still share in their stories from YA writers. I might have grown up in a big city, but I can still relate to Anne of Green Gables. I am not mae, but I know Travis' pain in THE SERPENT KING. The list goes on and on. These stories bind us. They bind us to the story and the characters i the story. They bind us to the human experience. They bind us one to the other.
Is it any wonder that political conventions often feature those videos which tell the story of the candidate? Maybe in those stories we can find something of ourselves.
Maybe, this is yet another reason why offering students choice in reading, making sure that there are contemporary stories available, not keeping the tough books out of their reach are important in forging these connections. As a tween, I felt no connection to the characters in GREAT EXPECTATIONS (and Dickens might suggest this is because he was not writing for 5th grades in the 60s in inner city). There were no connections between my life and that of Hester Prynne when I was in 9th grade either. Much of the canonical literature thrust upon me did not elect a response, a personal connection in my youth. I needed to have some more experiences before I could connect.
Eventually I returned to some of these classics and found them more accessible. But there were some books I never picked up again. It is tough to be an English teacher and dislike Dickens and Hawthorne and others. I wonder if we delayed some of these texts, offered some choices, and then gradually helped lead readers to the canon. This was the concept behind READING LADDERS. I do not wish to eliminate the canon, but I would love to postpone these stories until readers might appreciate and relate to and understand these tales.