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.

23 Replies on “When You Reach Me, A Tale of Two Cities, and Mr. Caisse

  1. I love those lines from A Tale of Two Cities. *swoons*

    How very brave of you. My own kids teased me mercilessly when I started crying while reading Prisoner of Azkaban (when Harry’s Patronus comes over and he reaches his hand out to it, and you realize that it’s Prongs – man, that actually made me cry now just thinking about it. I’m crying actual real tears.)

  2. Oh yes…I was a puddle during that scene…and the end of Half Blood Prince as well…and in the graveyard scene in Goblet of Fire, when Harry’s Mum comes out of the wand and tells him to hold on. And also during that Folgers commercial when the kid comes home from college and surprises the mom…well…you get the idea.

  3. I used to have students lined up to finish the books I read aloud — I cried at every single ending. I only read books aloud that I loved, of course, and I always hate leaving a book…reading it aloud makes it even harder. They got used to reading the final few pages while I sat there and blubbered away 😉

  4. I totally agree!

    I told my fourth graders that books tend to make me emotional and I will probably tear up, but that’s a good thing. I often read Long Way from Chicago aloud (sorry Mr. Peck!) 🙂 and I always tear up when they are driving the Troop Train and Grandma has every light on in the house waving. And, fwiw, I am much worse about crying now that I’m a parent. Apparently I see my boys in everything I read.

  5. I love that you read this with your 7th graders, and I especially love that you plan on letting your emotions show. I’ve now read this book 3 times, and cried harder the last 2 times than the first.

    I would love to be able to read this aloud to my 5th graders, but we’ll need a little more time together as readers, before I’m ready to tackle this book with them.

  6. I’ve been hearing a lot about this book. I’m going to have to get is soon! I’m reading Gianna Z aloud to my 7th graders and I’m wondering how I’ll do when I get to the parts that I cried at when I first read it. We’ll see! When I taught Where the Red Fern Grows to a 6th grade class one year and we were taking turn reading aloud, the kids made me read the part about him burying the dogs. I barely got through it. The kids knew they couldn’t get through it reading aloud. What an experience- to share that emotion with your students and for them to know that it’s okay.

  7. Re: I totally agree!

    I will always read aloud to my students (without apology!) because it matters so deeply to them. Some haven’t had the experience of having a parent read aloud, and I think those kids need to hear stories most of all.

  8. I totally agree – it’s one of those books that is more poignant, more beautifully layered with each reading. I hope you and your kids enjoy it when you decide it’s time!

  9. Okay…you just made me tear up, thinking about you reading GIANNA Z. out loud and tearing up. (This blog is going to become a big cry-fest soon!) Thank you so much for sharing my book with your students. I so hope they enjoy it, and please feel free to drop me a note if they have questions after reading and would like to email or Skype to talk about them!