When You Reach Me, A Tale of Two Cities, and Mr. Caisse

Today in my 7th grade classroom, we started our first read-aloud of the school year, Rebecca Stead‘s amazing WHEN YOU REACH ME.   If you read my review, you know how much I love this book.  I’ve already read it aloud to my eight-year-old daughter, who swooned over it just as much as I did and cannot wait to see Rebecca at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival in November to ask her how she made everything fit together so perfectly.

When I finished reading the first two chapters to my classes and closed the book today, I got thinking…   If this book had come out when I first started teaching, I might not have chosen to share it with my students.  Why?  Because there is absolutely no chance I will be able to finish it without crying.

I actually remember setting aside a couple stories in my first year of teaching because I almost loved them too much…because I knew I couldn’t read them without getting all emotional, and that worried me. What would the kids think?  

But after spending thirteen years with seventh graders, I don’t worry about that any more. I know what they’ll think.  "Wow. Stories are powerful."  And they’ll be right.

I remember two things about my own eighth grade English class.  One was dressing up in an enormously fluffy rabbit costume to give a speech.  (I cannot remember what the speech was about or why it seemed like a good idea to deliver it dressed as a rabbit, but I remember being hot in there.) 

And I remember Mr. Caisse reading the very end of A TALE OF TWO CITIES aloud to us.  I can still hear his voice breaking on the words…

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

And I still remember the impression it had on me. That a book could move someone who had clearly read it about a hundred times to the point where he would tear up in front of a room full of 8th graders.  That a man could love a story, a particular line from that story, so much, that he seemed to forget we were even there.

Not a bad lesson at all.

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