In elementary school I had some really good teachers. I remember all of them reading to the class, while also allotting some personal reading time. Each teacher had their own unique twist. In second grade my teacher read us books that I considered easy, but I’m sure those students who were learning English right along with normal classroom work really appreciated a period of slow, easy to follow along reading.
In third grade my teacher was the best at voices. I could distinguish every character in a book just based on her voice. I don’t’ know if she took classes/workshops to learn that skill but it made listening to stories so much better.
In fifth grade, my teacher read some books aloud, but my favorite stories were the lectures he gave on history. Every history lesson started as a story and he was a master story teller, he drew me in from the beginning and by the end I was so invested I didn’t even need to study for the test unless there were dates to memorize. I still think this is the best way to learn history.
As great as all of my teachers were, there is one who was better than the rest. She was one of those teachers that might have scared you as a first grader because she seemed strict, but once you made it to her class she was the best teacher you could ever have. She taught me in fourth grade and that year my class was the best behaved out of all 12 years I was in school. I credit this miracle of child-wrangling to my teacher. She just didn’t take crap. She went over the rules at the beginning of the year. She told you what she expected and she never talked to you like you were too young. It was an instance where an adult expected more of us than anyone ever did, and yet never expected too much.
I can’t explain how big of a difference it made that she just talked to us like adults and yet maintained the balance of power. Another thing I remember that year was a book, a story she read aloud to the class a story so uncomplicatedly poignant that I think all (or at least most) of us understood it.
The book was Maniac Magee. I read it most recently with my little sister for CCSBC, but before I read it I tried to remember as much about it as possible. Here are some themes and scenes I remember about the book.
1) It takes place in a segregated town, though the main character exists on both sides of town as if both are normal
2) The main character is a runner and the description of him running with worn shoes is the best description I have ever seen
3) The main character unties an “impossible” knot – in my head this was a long or large portion of the book. Actually I thought of it almost as the pinnacle of the book.
4) The main character lives in the storage area for a little league field
Here are some things I learned or re-realized after the most recent reading of the book
1) The book does not really address the racism and yet it does at the same time. Bullies exist on both sides, good families exist on both sides and both sides are what they are in such a way that they could exist on the same side.
2) I remember the description of him running exactly as it is written
3) The impossible knot is actually a super short part of the book
4) The main character lives in a bunch of strange places in this book, including the storage area of a little league field.
5) The author of this book so perfectly writes for and as the age-group this book targets. The sentences are long enough and they flow, but there are no big words, there are no long paragraphs, but the descriptions are still phenomenal.
6) There is death in the book. Death of an old man, a man who has a great relationship with the main character. There is no gruesome description, no dark attitude, but the death is there and the mourning is there. It’s almost as if the author felt the need to make death real, without sugar coating and without sensationalizing it. Absolutely the best presentation of a very hard topic.
7) I didn’t realize how many nicknames were in the book and how the protagonist was bothered by the nickname he was given
This book won the Newberry Medal in 1991 and a bunch of other awards as well and I truly suggest you read it. It's quick (since it's written for young readers) but absolutely worth reading. Drag it out to read with your kids or start a book club with a kid you know.