Every day of chapter reading is an adventure; a roller coaster of wonder, laughter, and even sadness. Reading the words aloud to children without any pictures means that we stop to talk and ask questions.
As children hear the words, their brains are in “flux capacitor” mode. With only words to hear, the brain has to work overtime to make a mental picture, and more importantly process the story. That means thinking, reasoning, and asking questions. All in a moment.
That’s what happens every day at chapter reading.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins is our current chapter reading book, and a favorite. We’re close to the end. Mr. Popper and his penguins have been sent to jail. They caused chaos in the wrong theater with Swen Swenson and his trained seals. The penguins were disturbers of the peace. The police and firemen (firefighters was not a word back in 1938) were called. When they arrived at the scene, it was humorous with the police taking sides with the seals and the firemen taking sides with the penguins. Chaos escalated, and ended with Mr. Popper and his penguins going to jail.
That prompted quite a discussion with children. It went something like this:
Child: “Who called the fire department?”
Me: “Janie did. Remember? She’s Mr. Popper’s daughter.”
Child: “Did she call 911?”
Me: “No. There was no 911 back then. She picked up the telephone and dialed the number for the fire department.”
Child: “Was there a fire?”
Me: “No, just confusion.”
Child: “But, if you call the fire department and there’s no fire, you get in big trouble.”
Child: “When do you go to jail?”
Child: “If you told the police the wrong thing.”
Child: “If somebody gets hurt and tells the policeman the wrong truth.”
Child: “If you don’t tell the police the truth and you lie to them.”
Child: “If you would do something bad to someone, like shoot them.”
I listened as children sorted through right and wrong, good and bad, and that fine line over punishment- jail. This was tricky. I was adding gray to their black and white world. Wrong doesn’t always mean you go to jail, yet wrong is still a terrible thing.
Silence. Mental wheels were turning. Sponges were soaking up words and sorting them out.
The child who initiated the discussion, asking about calling the fire department, spoke up. She was not only listening and learning, she was remembering the day she accidently pushed the 911 button on the telephone in her house. She told us the story. And, she told us she did not go to jail.
This prompted another question.
Child: “How does fire get into your house?”
We talked about the kitchen stove, and electricity, and lightening. We remembered when firefighters came to visit and dressed in all their gear so we wouldn’t be afraid of them. We talked about what to do, and being safe.
Then, we went back to reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins. How will Mr. Popper and the birds get out of jail? Tomorrow we’ll find out when we read aloud, and I will be ready for what questions may come our way. The roller coaster of reading aloud is a thrilling ride.