It was the summer of the read aloud. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, somewhere between first and third grade. And I have no idea how it started, or why he chose this book. But my family has a boat, and when I was a kid we’d go out on the boat nearly every weekend in the summer. We would throw down an anchor, then jump in the bay–swimming and sunbathing to our hearts’ content. But during the summer of the read aloud, before we did anything else on the boat, my Dad would read a chapter from the book James and the Giant Peach. My Dad’s usually a pretty quiet, serious guy and so my family would be in fits of laughter as he would sing/scream the centipede’s song and do different voices for all of the characters. I loved that book, still do, and I remember being so excited when I was able to read the words by myself, eventually devouring all of Roald Dahl’s books.
Flash forward to today. I caught the flu in the middle of last week, and have spent this week not-so-gracefully recovering. We were off on Monday, I was out Tuesday, and between the short week, a full moon, and my needing twice as much sleep as normal to function– we were all pretty off our game today in Room 149. I hate ending any day on a sour note, but especially a Friday, so while the kids were at lunch I went to the school librarian and got a copy of James and the Giant Peach. I half hid it in my read aloud bin, so that the more “inquisitive” kids would find it and a create a buzz. Because the only things bigger in first grade than Justin Beiber and Blay Blays are chapter books.
We ended math a few minutes early, which means agendas were signed and kiddos were packed a few minutes early, which meant that instead of the usual dismissal scramble I was able to say the magic words, “Everybody come to the reading carpet–and you can lay down.” We started reading it, and about two minutes in, when I saw 18 pairs of eyes staring at the book, could hear a pin drop, and nobody moved when the bell rang, I knew I hit gold.
Originally I thought the book might be too “hard” for my six year olds. But in the first chapter, James’ parents die and he is sent off to live with his aunts, with nothing in his suitcase but a toothbrush and a pair of pajamas. Now granted, none of my students parents were killed by an angry rhinoceros. But two of my kids live in shelters, three are without mothers, twelve are without fathers. I thought of C, who moved in with his aunt last week when Mom went to jail. It was text to self connections galore. They get this book. So we will pack up a few minutes early over the next few weeks, and read a page or two each afternoon. Just like that summer on the boat, I won’t be in any particular rush to finish it, no assignments associated with it; I just plan on enjoying this book with my students. And as we left the classroom today, everyone much calmer and less cranky than when we entered, I couldn’t help but think
“marvelous things will happen”, just as the story says.