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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Magic of Books

Pin It “Tell about your favorite childhood book and why it means so much to you.”

To pick a single book from of all of those which have comprised my childhood is a daunting task. Finding that ‘one book’ that speaks to me is like asking which of my students has been my favorite since I commenced teaching.

Okay, I might have two or three.

However, there are so many wonderful stories that have pulled me into adventures—beyond the scope of my own imagination—and picking a single one proves to be far more difficult that I’d originally anticipated.

This morning, as I rifted through the foggy memories interconnected with these various books, I remembered the first time I discovered Watership Down. I was in the seventh grade and Richard Adams had me hooked…so much that I read his novel straight through 28 times in a row. Consequently, I was also banned from checking it out at the public library because I kept rechecking it out and no one else could read it when I did.

I thought of the first time I heard Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my fourth grade classroom—I found myself transported into a factory beyond my wildest dreams, right along with Charlie. I remember wishing that I could find a golden ticket that would allow me to embark on a similar undertaking.

I recalled Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and wishing that the characters were real. I recall that feeling of horror in wondering if one of the rats at the end was indeed Justin, but had that feeling eased when I learned of Robert C O’Brien’s daughter, Jane Leslie Colny, had since written two ensuing novels to answer so many of the questions I had at the end of the story.

These, and other titles, cavaulted about my head, nothing more than a jumble of stories and characters, and similes and metaphors. That’s when it came to me…that one book that seemed to stand just a little taller than all the rest. In fact, the first time I heard this story I was in Ms. Hushing’s fifth grade classroom. She read through the pages of book, and like a libretto floats unseen upon the winds, this book carried us on an journey in which I was to forever be captivated.

James and the Giant Peach.

For those of you who’ve never had the opportunity to read this fantastic, little book, it tells the story of a lonely, little, orphaned boy, James. He is sent to live with his two horrible aunts, and his once-happy life becomes something that would never be tolerated in today’s society. Nearly every day, James is beaten and is forced to work for these two hag-like women, until the day James meets a little, old man who gives him a bag of glowing, little crystals—with the warning to not lose them, or their magic would be loosed upon someone or something else. But alas, poor James, when running through the garden, he trips on a root of the old peach tree and loses each and every crystal. And just when it seems that nothing will ever work out, James sets out on an journey far more wonderful than anything he ever could have imagined.

One thing that makes me love this book so much is the beauty of the words Roald Dahl combines into a crockpot of tastes and smells, of images and moments. In fact, one of my favorite selections from the book is:

“The moonlight was shining and glinting on its great curving sides, turning them to crystal and silver. It looked like a tremendous silver ball lying there in the grass, silent, mysterious, and wonderful.

And then all at once, little shivers of excitement started running over the skin on James’s back.

Something else, he told himself, something stranger than ever this time, is about to happen to me again soon. He was sure of it. He could feel it coming.
He looked around him, wondering what on earth it was going to be. The garden lay soft and silver in the moonlight. The grass was wet with dew and a million dewdrops were sparkling and twinkling like diamonds around his feet. And now suddenly, the whole place, the whole garden seemed to be alive with magic."

As you can easily tell, James and the Giant Peach most certainly has won its place in my life…and into the lives of each and every class I’ve ever taught, as it’s the first book I read to them at the commencement of the school year.

There are books that have won a place of honor in my memory, but it is James and his friends who are most certainly my favorite.


Lori said...

Ah. These are wonderful. I had read them so long ago, when I was so young, the magic of the words was all but lost to me. James & the Giant Peach was 2nd or 3rd grade, if I remember correctly. I think that's the only problem (if there is one) with programs that are vastly "accelerated"...even when we are fully competent in areas of comprehension, sometimes the appreciation is lacking due to maturity. I have a mission: re-read.

Teachinfourth said...

Books are wonderful, aren't they? No matter how old we get, those friends we've made are still the same age, and waiting for us.

It makes me feel young again.

Gerb said...

A few of these are my favorites as well. It's been quite a few years since I read Watership Down with my oldest - I need to crack it open again with some of the younger kids.

Teachinfourth said...

It's been a few years since I've read it, too. I really should take that journey to Watership Down yet again.

Rachel said...

This is an amazing post T4. I'm having hard time writing a comment that does it justice. I'll just leave it at that because anything else I try to write doesn't convey.

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