Reading “Little House on the Prairie”, Then and Now

I have two stories to tell; both happened on the same day this week, yet they are fourteen years apart.  Every year my last chapter reading book at school is Little House on the Prairie.  Here is what happened:

Story One:  My school’s annual presentation of a college scholarship to a former student happened this week.  Martha, the recipient, was a preschooler in my class, way back when.  As her winning essay was read aloud, these were her some of her words:

“I have been fortunate to grow up in an environment where a love of learning was instilled in me from a young age.  Between my mom and Jennie, adults read out loud to me multiple times a day.  They also encouraged me to ask questions and to be a curious learner, which led directly to my success in high school.”

Martha and Jennie…now

Martha was the quiet one, the child who “took it all in”.  Questions?  Bursting with things to say?  Not really.  But, oh how she listened!  I never underestimate the brain of a child. What goes in builds and grows, like all those words from chapter reading.

I thanked and congratulated Martha.  And then her Mother said, “Jennie, don’t you remember?  You didn’t finish reading Little House on the Prairie, and you told me I needed to finish reading the book to Martha.  I did.  That started reading aloud and chapter books.”

Martha is headed to an outstanding college, Trinity College in Connecticut, among the best.  She has been a volunteer at school, and in her college essay she said:

“I have always adored children and believe that I am able to connect with them, so for the past few years I have volunteered at the preschool I once attended.  As I read to the students during rest time, I love seeing how excited they become to see what happens next.  I know how important it is to read to young children, but now I know its value firsthand.”

Martha and Jennie…then

Story TwoAaryan is not a Martha. He constantly asks questions and has something important to say at chapter reading.  He verbalizes all he remembers with great excitement.  We were reading the chapter of Pa going to town, close to three-quarters of the way through  Little House on the Prairie.  Pa’s neighbor, Mr. Edwards, came over to help Ma with the chores while Pa was away.  Immediately Aaryan said, “Is he the ‘wildcat from Tennessee’?”  My goodness!  That phrase to describe Mr. Edwards was ages ago in the book and only mentioned one time.  I threw back my head and belly-laughed.  “Yes, Aaryan.  Mr. Edwards is the ‘wildcat from Tennessee’.”  Remarkable.

I told the children we would not be able to finish reading the whole book.  What!  That did not go over well.  I took a positive spin, reading ahead all the upcoming chapters, like Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Clause.

“You can get the book from the library.  Your Mom and Dad can read the rest of the book to you.”

That did not go over well, either.  Especially with Aaryan.  We talked together.  My words could not soothe him.  He has experienced what all readers feel when reading a good book.  I think for those children who hear the words, the feelings are even more powerful.  It happens in my class, all the time.

Perhaps fourteen years from now Aaryan’s Mother will say the same words to me that Martha’s Mother said; “Jennie, don’t you remember…?”  Perhaps she’ll tell me the same story Martha’s Mother told me.  Perhaps ending the school year with an open book is a good thing.  An open book is an open door.

Jennie

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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45 Responses to Reading “Little House on the Prairie”, Then and Now

  1. magarisa says:

    “An open book is an open door.” I agree! Lovely stories.

  2. Di says:

    Hello Jennie,
    Just such a remarkable story in your post.
    I was captivated wanting to see how this ended too…
    Thank you for an enjoyable post 💐

  3. beetleypete says:

    So nice to see the passage of time, from young reader to college girl. A real vindication of your ethos. I never even heard of that book until the TV series started over here. I watched it occasionally, and could see that every episode was a morality tale. Perhaps UK schools should think about including it in their reading lists? (Maybe they do, I wouldn’t know of course.)
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. Hello Jennie, this is such a wonderful post. I read parts of these same books to my Sunday School class last year and some of them really loved it and went on to read it by themselves. I is so nice when you feel like you have made a difference to a child.

  5. Dan Antion says:

    Two great stories. I remember buying books for summer vacation from the Scholastic Book Club. The hard part was saving one for our family trip, usually in July. Sometimes, I was rereading.

    You do these children a great service. To be remembered, after 14 years, is remarkable.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Dan! BTW, Scholastic Books is still going strong.

      • Dan Antion says:

        That’s amazing. I remember marking all the ones I wanted and then negotiating with my mom. I would have to cut my list, at least in half. She would remind me that I could get the popular ones at the library.

  6. So much proof that what you do makes a difference. For a child to want to hear the end of a story shows his curiosity has been fired. Nothing could be more important.

  7. Jennie, I was not surprised by Aaryan’s response. I recognized my daughter when she was that way and she is an avid reader to this day! What a beautiful heartfelt post, Jennie, thank you! Karen

  8. What a lovely post, Jennie! And may I just say that you haven’t changed one but over the years! You look so radiant and happy in both pics! 😄 I love the Laura Ingalls books and I think it’s a brilliant idea to end the school year with an open book! You encourage the children and their parents equally by doing that. But poor little Aaryan, so devastated. I hope his parents will get him the book soon!

    • Jennie says:

      Ha-ha! So nice you think I haven’t changed, Sarah. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I had always felt badly that I could not get through the entire book, but now I see it is a blessing in disguise. Definitely an open door. Aaryan’s Mother will read him the book.

  9. Oops! That was meant to be “bit ” and not “but” 😉

  10. A. L. Kaplan says:

    Love your post. I loved the Little House books and dug through my local library to read them all. Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane published the last few, including her diary.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much! I’m glad this resonated with you. They’re such great books! My Grandmother was born the same year as Rose, and has the same name, too. Now, if that doesn’t bring history to life!

  11. Reblogged this on Words To Captivate ~ by John Fioravanti and commented:
    Jennie has gifted us with two touching stories from her classroom experiences reading to children. I love them and you will too! Please, read on…

  12. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, This is a wonderful and heart-warming post!

  13. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is another wonderful example of excellent teaching from Jennie.

  14. Rae Longest says:

    Lovely, heart-warming post. TY for the experience.

  15. Christy B says:

    Your last paragraph gave me shivers. Wonderful xx

  16. srbottch says:

    Excellent closing. And so true.

  17. Like actors on an actual stage, there is nothing like being read to… and I don’t know what that secret is, except the intimate “surprise” to the brain of hearing human speech from the outside in!

    • Jennie says:

      You are exactly right. When the brain hears words, it makes pictures and remembers vocabulary. Good literature has the words already written, ready for a reader to read them aloud. The secret is reading with a ‘voice’, yet that happens naturally when the reader-aloud knows how good the words are, and can’t wait to deliver them to children. Make sense?

  18. Such wonderful connections you make through the years. You must have been thrilled to hear Martha’s essay read aloud. I agree, unfinished stories are a perfect way to have parents pick up the ball at the start of each summer. Great post Jennie!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Marcia. I was stunned to hear Martha’s essay. It was a moment! The connections keep growing. And yes, leaving a book unfinished might be the best thing, ever. A good way to encourage summer reading and beyond.

  19. purvi Trivedi says:

    Jennie, Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story. I can’t wait to read “Little House on the Prairie” with Aaryan. This school year we have read aloud over a couple of dozen chapter books to Aaryan. This all started with inspiration from talking with you and how much he enjoys chapter reading. Saurabh, Aaryan and I love escaping on adventures whether it is in Zuckerman’s barn, a voyage across the seas with Doctor Dolittle or with the brave Elmer Elevator to rescue the baby flying dragon. “Just ONE more chapter! … please” happens most nights. We are so grateful that you have instilled the love of reading at such young age in Aaryan and all his friends. I too hope that he follows Martha’s steps and comes back to GCS to volunteer in the summer and read aloud to curious little kids just like him.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your words and your wonderful Aaryan story, Purvi. I think it is the best part of the day, and Aaryan does, too. 🙂 I can see him as a Martha years down the road.

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