I’m pleased to say that today’s lesson went quite well. The smartboard was a bit challenging, but the kids did not seem that distracted and, happily, really picked up on the whole concept of close reading — even finding a couple of new interesting things to point out in the first chapter.
They will now annotate their own chapters and present the results to the class seminar-style (pencils in hand, book at the ready.)
The children’s questions always take me into new directions. One year a child asked, “How can Fern understand the animals?” Their answers included:
• Because the animals know and trust her.
• Because she was so quiet and silent and listened hard.
• Because the whole story is in Fern’s imagination.
• E. B. White did it to keep the child reader interested.
• The author needed to do something to keep Fern in the story.
• Watching something a long time makes you understand it.
I also posed the question on child_lit. Those answers (including those suggesting something about the magic of childhood and issues of faith) are in the October 1999 archives.
I always like to ask the children who the heroes of the story are. This provokes such a fascinating conversation about what it means to be a hero. It was particularly important the year of 9/11 and you can see what we did that year here.
Finally, for anyone interested in doing a study like mine with children, here are some useful resources:
Edinger, Monica. (2001). Using Beloved Classics to Deepen Reading Comprehension. New York: Scholastic Professional Books, 2001. Chapter 2, “Digging Deep with Authors: A Study of E. B. White.” In this chapter I provide detailed information on how to do this study, including and especially the close reading.
Nodelman, Perry and Mavis Reimer. (2003) . The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, Third Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Chapter 4, “Strategies for Reading a Literary Text” has a wonderful section on Charlotte’s Web. The whole book is well worth reading, for that matter.
White, E. B. (1994). The Annotated Charlotte’s Web. Introduction and Notes by Peter F. Neumeyer. New York: HarperCollins. Peter was on child_lit and I was a bit dismayed when this book first came out, worrying that my students would now stop doing their own annotating and just look at Peter’s instead. However, his annotations are very different from ours and the book is actually a useful resource for children who become stuck. The year this book came up my class wrote Peter of their findings and he wrote back a beautiful email, commenting on what each child had discovered.
Elledge, Scott. (1984). E. B. White: A Biography. New York : W. W. Norton. This book is filled with interesting information and has some wonderful stuff that I haven’t found elsewhere.