The Boy Who Cried Tears of the Heart


Chapter reading is one of our treasured moments of the day at school.  I know this, and so does Jackson.  Books bring to life the imagination, the world, and the past.  The anticipation of ‘what happens next’ stirs excitement every day.  Children listen and talk.  They ask questions.  Jackson is first to remember what we read yesterday and ask questions about what we read today.  When I ask children, “At chapter reading where do you make the pictures?” they answer “In your head.”

When we finish reading a good book and then start a new one, emotions run high and low.  The end of a good book is so satisfying and pleasant, yet…it is over.  That is the wonderful roller coaster of reading.  And, with each chapter book we read, we ride that roller coaster again and again.

In the fall I begin the school year by reading “Charlotte’s Web”, always a favorite.  When I chapter read, it is rest time, the lights are out, children are on their nap mats, and they listen.  Boy, do they listen.  Often I stop and ask questions.  We talk about Templeton and his unsavory character.  We laugh about the goose that repeats things three times.  Of course we talk about Wilbur and Charlotte.  Children are learning new words and using their brain to associate all that language with the story.  More importantly, children are learning right and wrong, values and morals.  They are beginning to develop character and goodness.

Jackson worried when Wilbur went to the fair.  He became very fond of Charlotte.  The more we read about Templeton, particularly when he refused to get Charlotte’s egg sac, the more Jackson became bitter towards Templeton’s character.  Jackson ‘got it’; the language and literacy and learning for him now included the subtleties of morality.  But, the best was yet to come.

As the year progressed, I read aloud the chapter books “The Story of Doctor Dolittle”, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”, “My Father’s Dragon”, and finally the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  “Little House in the Big Woods” had three components that were quite important to children and to making a difference.  First was learning about the past.  I connected generations.  When I told the children that my grandmother was born when Laura’s child was born, and they had the same names, that was huge.  Yes, my grandmother was Rose, the same age and name as Laura’s daughter.  I told stories about living in a log cabin, because my grandmother did, and I also slept in that log cabin in Lowell, WV.  Connecting the past for young children is a great learning experience.  Secondly, Pa told stories.  Well, I tell stories much the same way as Pa, real ones about my childhood.  They always start with “It happened like this…”.  My stories (the children call them ‘Jennie stories’) helped bring Pa’s stories to life.  Storytelling is equally important to reading chapter books aloud, as children get a huge dose of vocabulary and have to ‘make the pictures in their head’.  Finally, this book is non-fiction, the first chapter reading book all year that is real.  So, each time we talked about something that happened, it had an entirely different feeling.  Our conversations became much more in depth, a bit serious, simply because this was real and true.  Children were learning.

Jackson was really learning.  He was becoming ‘one’ with the book.  Every fact and Pa story seemed to notch another mark in his learning; and by now it was pleasure learning for him.

Our last chapter reading book of the school year is “Little House on the Prairie.”  Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, and baby Carrie move from the big woods of Wisconsin to the Kansas prairie.  Every child was so vested in both chapter reading and “Little House in the Big Woods”.  This next book was like frosting on a cake. We used our big map book to find Wisconsin and follow a route to Kansas.  I was able to incorporate my family history when Pa and his neighbor Mr. Scott dug a well.  Pa was careful to light a candle and lower it into the well.  Mr. Scott thought the candle was ‘foolishness’, and therefore did not light the candle one morning.  My grandfather worked in the mines, and I brought in his painted portrait, as a boy, with a candle attached to his mining cap.  Now, that brought the story and the chapter to life.

One of the characters throughout is Jack, the dog.  As the family travels in a covered wagon, Jack happily trots behind the whole way.  Then I read the chapter, “Crossing the Creek”.  The creek rises quickly; Pa has to jump in to help the horses get the wagon across the water.  After they are on the other side, Laura says, “Where is Jack?”

I read this chapter with heart, and the passion of what is happening.  I always read like that.  When Laura says those words, the children are stunned.  Shocked.  They know.  I finish reading aloud, sometimes standing and pacing, because this is a big deal.  I, too, have a lump in my throat.

Jackson pulled his blanket over his head.  His body was jerking in sobs, yet he was holding those sobs deep inside.  I scooped him up, and we disappeared to a quiet place to read aloud, together, the next chapter.  Jackson needed to know that Jack the dog found his way home.  I think I was calm when I read the chapter to him.  We were wrapped together in his blanket; perhaps we both sobbed a bit.  It was my greatest moment in teaching.  I had taught the most important values through reading aloud, and Jackson was moved to tears.  He cried tears of the heart.  So did I.

Reading aloud is the best thing I do with, and for, children.  They are preschoolers.  Yes, I chapter read to four-year-olds.  It is marvelous.  After three decades of teaching, I know this is “it”.  Jackson is proof.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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44 Responses to The Boy Who Cried Tears of the Heart

  1. Tanya Cliff says:

    Wonderful post, Jennie. I think reading to children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. I am a substitute teacher, I’m mainly in the high schools but go to pre – school a few times a year. I’m always toting books and stories. Excellent job. Teachers are the most important people in the world, if you ask me 🙂

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Thank you! And I have to agree that teachers are the most important people in the world; they seize every moment with a child to teach and make a difference. Keep reading aloud to your students, and read with a voice. It doesn’t matter if it’s high school or preschool, when you read aloud, it really makes a difference.

  3. This is such a heart warming story bringing back memories of chapter reading Lord of the Rings to my two small boys. Thanks for a lovely post

  4. This is such a beautiful post. You are a wonderful teacher.

  5. Sweet times. What wonderful memories you’re creating with children! I know with parents busy and/or glued to their smart phones, it’s reassuring to know there are teachers like you around. 🌷

  6. You touch so many lives and open so many hearts…

    I remember sometime in elementary school our class reading “The Yearling” and seeing the boys
    trying hard to not cry at the ending…us girls, well, we didn’t have to cover up our tears.

  7. Tess DeGroot says:

    As a speech-language specialist working with high school students with special needs, I have found many have never learned the love of reading. I get criticized for reading with them – “What does reading have to do with speech?” What they don’t understand my job is so much more than correcting R’s. This year we read “Old Man and the Sea”. Watching them respond when the big fish jumps for the first time is magical. The worry that crosses their faces when the sharks attack, priceless. They learn more than just the skill of reading and vocabulary. As did your young man – reading is where we learn empathy and how to deal with emotions and situations from a safe place. Thank you for sharing your classroom adventures with us.

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Yes, yes, yes! Tess, you are so right. It means the world to students, as you know. Making a difference by planting the seeds of empathy and language through reading is as good as it gets for education. Like you, I’m so glad to be a teacher. Many thanks! -Jennie-

  8. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you for sharing an extraordinary example of teaching!!!

  9. This demonstrates the power of an author’s words in a very concrete way. Thanks for sharing., you sound like a great teacher.

  10. reocochran says:

    This is a wonderful way to motivate those who may not realize how young children may listen to chapter books. . . The way books with great language and caring emotions displayed through most of the characters contrasted to those who are not always kind characters is important. Those specific characters, “good and bad” show children problem solving and empathy, lifelong skills.
    Great but teary-eyed post. This got to me and I feel guilty of not totally knowing if Jack is alive in the next chapter. If you know he is safe, I read your words while you were joining Jackson in crying and was puzzled by this.
    I have to ask since I forget, does Jack make it safely to the next chapter, Jennie? Thanks and sorry to ask. Hugs, Robin

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Thank you, Robin. This post got to me as well. I love ending the school with a fact book that can bring so much emotion and teaching into play. Jack did not die. He found his way to their campsite. The tears were a combination of a happy ending and releasing all the emotion that comes with the roller coaster of both chapters. It was a good thing, especially wrapped together in a blanket. -Jennie-

      • reocochran says:

        Thank you for not minding me to ask this question, Jennie. I cry in happiness and relief, too. Poor sweet Jackson and thank God you read to him so he could also feel both comfort and relief, dear.
        Children have so much going on in their lives that reading books which continue gives them something to look forward to, as well as allowing them to feel close to characters. I love many picture books but you don’t feel “attached” to many.
        I think my own kids liked the sound of my voice reading from the hallway between the girls’ room and my son’s. The question before I began was like yours: who remembers what happened last night? It was hard when my children went to their Dad’s house so I usually reread the last chapter.
        Someone compiled 50 best books from 1940 – 2016 in Parade magazine Sunday newspaper insert. They included your favorite, “Charlotte’s Web” and mine, “A Wrinkle in Time.” 🙂

      • jlfatgcs says:

        Thank you, Robin! Reading your comments is as good as reading a post. I think you know what I mean. I love all your stories and the things you share. Many thanks for that! I told Jackson’s mother and father that I hope to be invited to his high school graduation. And, I mean that. Just started reading Kate DiCamillo’s new book “Raymie Nightimgale”. Good!

  11. There’s nothing quite like a good read. Your kids will forever be touched by your desire to share this with them. Well done. 🙂

  12. Oh, I love this. I cried and cried as a kid when Charlotte died, and reread the book so I could cry again 🙂 Reading chapter books with kids is amazing, and I have fond memories of doing it with my mom. Now, I’m waiting for the grandson to get a little older and then off we go! What a lovely thing to do with your students. I bet they’ll grow up to be readers 🙂

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Many thanks! I think this was one of my favorite posts, probably because of the passion of reading aloud and how much it means to children. Charlotte’s Web… when I hear a car going along the road on a quiet day I am instantly brought back to E.B. White’s words when the fair was over “…and the cars whispering along the highway”. I don’t know why that sticks with me. I think good writers just leave their mark. -Jennie-

  13. We so often forget that when we read — even as adults — we are looking for ourselves, our problems, and solutions….When we are kids, we are looking for a friendly face in similar circumstances and a believable happy ending — even and perhaps especially — if that ending is magic.

  14. Pingback: Project BMG -The Boy Who Cried Tears of the Heart – Roberta Pimentel

  15. Nina says:

    This is very heartfelt story Jennie. Thank you for sharing your beautiful experiences with the children.

  16. I just found your blog through the blog party! This post is so inspiring and I agree with you completely! This is beautifully written! xx

  17. Great blog post! I love reading with my students. x

  18. I didn’t know that “chapter read” was a term! My sixth grade teacher chapter read to us because my class was so badly behaved, it was the only way she could get the class under control. It was her first year of teaching, and it was her last (at least at Enosburg Elementary). I felt so bad for her, but I did appreciate the chapter reading. Cheaper by the Dozen was my favorite. My dad chapter read Agatha Christie mysteries to me until I was in the 9th grade.

    • Jennie says:

      She did a great thing for your class. You remember, and you enjoyed it. That is a testament. And, she picked an excellent book to chapter read.

      • Yes, she did. I read Cheaper by the Dozen myself later, but I liked it better when she read it to us. Maybe the book was meant to be read aloud, the way some poetry is meant to be spoken.

      • Jennie says:

        I know what you mean. Some books are meant to be read aloud. Maybe your 6th grade teacher knew that.

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