Feast of St Agrippina the Martyr of Rome
ONE OF THE great things about parenting and/or teaching is experiencing old things again, as if they were new. A few months ago, I was able to go back to Narnia with a group of nine fourth-grade students. They had never experienced Narnia and it was a true delight, a wonderful diversion from the district curriculum guide and the relentless pressure of mandated assessments.
This group of students admitted they didn’t read much on their own. They were more likely to browse YouTube or play video games. When asked to read independently, a few of them did but they didn’t seem all that excited about their books. When I inquired about their reading habits, one girl finally looked at me from behind her rectangular glasses, “Mizz Awe, we pretend read.” It was time to intervene. I picked up ten copies of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and plunked them on the table. “Go classic or go home” is my usual philosophy for teaching reluctant readers because I’ve learned they are too smart for books written with the sole purpose of getting kids to read.
There are so many ways to “teach” a novel. And there are endless resources to engage students in crafty activities and to test comprehension. But I just wanted to go to Narnia with these beautiful, young, pretend readers. I wanted to see what we could find together. So, a small group of Daughters of Eve and Sons of Adam, most of them ten-year olds, sat in a circle and read a book that was written over 50 years ago. And they enjoyed it. I know this because at 3:10 each afternoon, they rushed into my room saying, “I can’t WAIT to see what happens.” They always knew what page we were on. Several of them checked the book out from the library; the others asked their parents to buy them their own copy. Before we were halfway through the book, they were begging to continue the series.
I kept the tone informal so they’d know it was okay to make comments and ask questions. Almost immediately, the questions were flowing: “What’s a row?” “Does the wardrobe just lead to Narnia when it’s raining?” “What’s up with Edmund? Why is he always in trouble?” I tried to be careful not to wrap up anything too neatly. I wanted them to go back and rediscover Narnia over and over as I have been able to do.
To summarize each chapter, I asked one student to collect a quote for the day. I began each day by reading that quote from the previous chapter. I then asked the students to identify the source and to explain the quote. It was a great way to recap the events of the previous chapter. I loved hearing the reactions of the kids as they struggled with some of the themes. It was so freeing to know I could just ask a question and let them wonder and discover. “What does it mean when it says, ‘He’s not safe, but he’s good?’ What’s the deep magic? The deeper magic?” Here is a striking answer one student gave: “The deeper magic is when, you know, you didn’t do anything wrong, but you take the place, give up YOUR life for someone who DID do something wrong.” Behold the gospel.
In the final pages, we all raised our voices together, “Long live Queen Lucy! Long live King Peter!” and all the rest. We were all a little sad to tumble back to Spare Room.
To conclude, we did something called, Black Out Poetry. I found a damaged copy of the book and gave them each one page. I asked them to circle the words they wanted to keep and mark out the rest of the words. Here’s part of one young man’s poetry:
“Trees said to see. My handkerchief I gave to poor Mr. Tumnus. The wind must stand tickled by Aslan. Now. Everyone felt quite different.”
What will stick with these kids from their experience with this great Narnian story? I hope they gained a new perspective on reading and literature. But I also hope they had a sense of being tickled by the presence of something (or Someone!) so overwhelmingly good and loving that they will somehow, even if ever so slightly, have been transformed.
Ellen Herr Awe lives in Wichita and teaches for USD 259. She reads as much as possible, tends a little garden and cherishes spending time with her grandson.