“Jennie, is chapter reading over?” That was Parker’s worrisome question today. He just wasn’t ready to let it go. “Can we read more?” Isn’t that question the Brass Ring? The one that validates not only chapter reading, but one of the best books, ever?
Children are authentic. They speak the truth, from the heart.
Every year I start chapter reading with my preschool class on ‘day one’. And, the first book I read is Charlotte’s Web. We have had only nine days of school and children are totally hooked. They adore Wilbur and laugh at the goose repeating words three times. They trust Charlotte. They have just met Templeton the rat, and learned of Wilbur’s fate.
I am reading to three and four-year-olds about the beauty of life and the fear of death, about morals (and lack thereof), and about friendships (and lack thereof). That sounds pretty sophisticated for preschoolers, but leave it to the beautifully crafted words of E.B. White.
“The barn was very large. It was was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell–as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world.”
We often underestimate children. Their brains are absorbing the world around them like a giant sponge. Let’s give them the world through words, the best words written. I tell the children, “The words in the story go into your ears and then into your brain, and you make the pictures in your head.”
That’s just what happens, every day at chapter reading.
I stop when we read a new word, such as ‘gratified’, or ‘salutations’. Children are excited to learn new words. I stop when something happens; I certainly stopped when the old sheep told Wilbur he was going to die. That was a long and thoughtful conversation, including all the different meats that come from a pig.
The beauty of Charlotte’s Web comes from learning about the world, and about every feeling that is important in order to grow into a good person. Goodness and knowledge, all on a farm.
By the end of the school year I have also read Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, My Father’s Dragon, Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and more. I ask the children their favorite chapter reading book, and Charlotte’s Web is consistently their choice, even though nine months have passed since we read the book. That says it all.