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Schoolday reading

With the summer season coming to a close (I know, I know, it’s a harsh reality, but we all have to accept it), I was thinking fondly on how excited I used to get to go back to school. Clean, fresh notebooks, brand new pens, new seat assignments and, of course, finding out what books we were going to be reading that year.

I remember in elementary school when there was a whole separate class called “Reading,” and that was amazing. I relished in having read a little ahead of the class and knowing what was coming next and learning about the culture surrounding each book. I think my favorite thing, however, was when we read aloud, a paragraph per student, which was excruciating when it got to those who didn’t care or couldn’t read as well (by “well” I meant with emotion as a performance because I also fancied myself a budding actress. Naturally.), but was empowering when it was my turn and I got an especially long paragraph to say.

Reminiscing about some of my very favorite books we read in grade school, my mind immediately went to Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins which easily led me to the rest of the books in the series and will forever be remembered initially as the first time I learned what a cormorant was.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is another one that struck me hard and I think was the catalyst for my fervent love of middle grade and young adult fiction that centered on WWII, the Holocaust and wartime in general. The memories are coming back to me in floods now and my next immediate thought is of The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig about a family exiled to Siberia. I don’t remember too much about the plot (though I did just look it up), but I do remember declaring that it was my number one favorite book for a while…and of course it turns out that it also took place during the early 1940s.

And then there are those books that I remember pieces of, but have no idea what they might be. Struck with a thought, I just searched “wearing broccoli around your neck,” and weirdly, that worked. Apparently a fourth grade favorite of mine was called Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days by Stephen Manes. I should have known that searching “everything you touch turns to chocolate” would provide me with a book titled The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling. Should have figured that one out, Rachel. I think I just liked that book so much because it’s actually a dream of mine to have chocolate whenever I want it.

It’s funny the way certain parts of stories, especially stories from childhood, stick with us even if the rest of the book doesn’t. Vivid scenes, like the making a cape of cormorant feathers in Island of the Blue Dolphins or the main character in In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson learning how to play stickball (also when I learned what stickball was, myself). Is it because there is so much new information that we’re learning for the first time or because a kid’s imagination works in overdrive, much more easily able to relate fantastical stories to his or her own life?

Whatever the reason, it was a nice little trip down memory lane—and a relief that my images of broccoli necklaces and chocolate mailboxes were based on something real and not a sign that I’m going insane. What books immediately come to mind for you when you think back to grade school? Were there any that you remember hating? Loving? Maybe it’ll jog my memory, too!

2 Responses to Schoolday reading

  1. Simone says:

    Reading was my favorite part of school too, but I read so much outside of it too that I don’t remember the assigned books as well as the ones I read on my own. I loved “Superfudge” by Judy Blume and remembered random things from it like the way the sink in their new house had separate taps for hot and cold water. Also the Ramona Quimby books, from which I’ll always remember the NOSMO KING sign and her teacher’s wrinkled pantyhose. “The Four Story Mistake” by Elizabeth Enright taught me the word cupola! And the name Rush which I thought was awesome until I grew up and found out about Rush Limbaugh… “Eloise” was fascinating because who knew people could live in a hotel?

    I do enjoy looking up the ones I only vaguely remember, like “The Little White Horse” by Elizabeth Goudge.

  2. D. C. DaCosta says:

    I was blessed to have two teachers who were very talented at reading aloud.

    The fifth grade teacher chose “The Ghost in the Noonday Sun”, a wonderful pirate tale that I ended up reading to my kids later.
    The seventh grade teacher (yes, as late as seventh grade she was reading to us!) chose “Treasure Island”.

    I remember these, not because I have a fixation with pirates, but because both these ladies read with enthusiasm and wonder — and actually made “voices” for the more menacing characters.

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