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When a Book Makes You Cry

Do you remember the first book that made you cry?

I do.

It was Message in a Bottle, by Nicholas Sparks.  I read it when my family lived in Coral Springs.  My children were in elementary school, and I remember sitting up late one night in our front living room.  I was the only one awake.  The rest of the house was dark except for the small corner of the room where I’d set up shop for the evening.

Y’all, I had, to that point, read hundreds of books.  I was a voracious reader in my youth; the stories took me away from the angst of teenage-dom.

Up to that point, I’d been quite stoic.

Well, maybe the reason why I hadn’t cried was because I’d never met a writer who could break my heart the way that Sparks did with that book.

Oh, how I sobbed when I read the ending, quietly of course because keeping the kids asleep was kind of important.

I’m just going to be honest with you.

I don’t like watching movies or reading books that make me cry.  I don’t like the headache I get afterward, but I especially don’t like having my feelings trod upon.

That’s why I don’t watch movies or read books about animals . . . especially dogs (except that I did see Benji when I was a kid and whew, what an emotional roller coaster ride that was!).

A few years ago, I happened upon The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart.  I read it during summer break and cried as I sat at my kitchen table with that book in my hand.  I loved it so much that I read it aloud to my classes that year . . . and the year after . . . and the year after.

Every single time I read it to a class, I cried in exactly the same places even though I knew what was going to happen.

That’s a lot of crying.

Dan has such a way with words; his characters’ voices are childlike but so easy to connect with no matter the age of the reader.

I’m a member of Pernille Ripp’s Facebook group, where someone recently mentioned something about another book Dan had written, Good Dog.

He’s actually written four books (how have I not known this?).  Good Dog is his most recent novel.

I read a summary of the book on Amazon, and I had a little chat with myself.

“Don’t you dare buy this book.  You know you’re gonna cry.”

“Be quiet.  I need to read this so I can tell my students about it.”

“You don’t need this book in your classroom.  You already have books that your students love.”  (I think this may have been the Mr.’s voice arguing with me.  Ha!)

“But I don’t have this book, written by this author.  I know it’s gonna be good.”

“That may be true, but you don’t have to be in the know about every book.  Stop trying to be tough.”

“La la la la la.  I no hear you.”

Add to cart.

Purchase.

Done.

I couldn’t take my own advice.

The Mr. receives emails of all of the purchases on our Prime account, and he walked in from work saying, “What in the world are you doing?”

He knows me so well.

The book arrived a few days later.

Aubie and Molly’s collars in the background

Good Dog is the story of Brodie, a dog who has just died and is stuck between death and Forever.

Yeah.  That should have been enough to make me tuck my own tail and run.

Even that picture on the cover.

Sigh.

I prepared myself mentally, armed myself with Kleenex, and sat down to begin reading . .

The first two sentences made me cry.

I knew it was going to be a hard, hard read.

I read about Brodie getting used to where he wakes up, acquiring words in the process – words that, as a living dog, he did not possess.

Although it was told in short, simple sentences, this part of the book – the opening chapter – held me captive.

Brodie meets other dogs who explain what’s happened to him.  He can’t remember anything at first; memories come back to him very slowly.  However, what becomes clear fairly quickly is that he has to return to Before, where he was alive and with his boy.

Oh my gosh.  His boy.  Y’all, this part made me think of Rooster and his connection with Gambit.

Gambit never left Rooster’s side when Rooster lived at home.  Rooster was his person.  Fortunately, we still have Gambit with us, so that’s where the similarity to the story ends.

Mostly, what I thought of Molly, who you know I’m still grieving for.

This book, and the story of Brodie going back to find his boy, who he senses is in danger, made me smile in some parts, because Dan was wise enough to know that his readers would need some comedic relief to balance out the heavy stuff, and it made me hold my breath in other places.

It’s a book that made me root so hard for Brodie and the fur babies helping him, feel sorry for the bad dogs trying to stop him, and hope for some sort of happy ending that I knew wouldn’t be there because y’all, Brodie is dead.

Sigh.

I stayed up really late Wednesday night to finish the book because I knew that I would need a few hours of sleep afterward – the emotional price too steep for this tender heart.

The last chapter of the book completely broke my heart, and I tried really hard to cry quietly so I wouldn’t wake the Mr., who was sleeping in the other room.

I thought of Molly, and how I wish I could hug her one more time.  I wondered if she, like Brodie, had a hard time letting go of her person.

Now, don’t be thinking that I’m all emo and need medication.  I’m fine.  Really.  I just have my moments when remembering is so very hard and the missing is so very painful.

You can’t go almost eleven years with a breathing soul and not feel something when that bundle of happy is wrenched away.

Herein is the power of books – even books that make you cry.

Yes, there’s hurting and a whole lot of tears and big, puffy eyes.

There’s anger at the unfair twists and turns and the ugly parts where the bad is happening.

There’s even disappointment when things don’t turn out like you want them to.

A good book, one that makes you cry, should imitate life.  It should get you in your feelings and hurt you where you’re vulnerable.

That’s when the healing can happen.  Sometimes, when we can’t find the right words to match our sadness, a book comes along that does exactly that.

That is why I made myself read this book, even though I knew I’d be doing the ugly cry the entire way through . . .

Until the wee hours of the morning . . .

With a certain fur baby on my mind.

I love you Molly.  You were a good dog (most of the time), and I will never forget you.

“You.  Me.  Together.  Always.”

Choices

It’s summer break, as I might have said a time or two in recent days.

Part of my routine has been to read . . . as often as I can (in between working out, PT, and household chores).

I brought home a pile of books from my classroom library, but I have also ordered a few . . .

I’ve been wanting to read this for a couple of years now; however, I found that I couldn’t locate it at the end of the school year, so off to Amazon I went.  One of my students did her final project on this book.  I hope it’s as good as my kiddos keep telling me.

I had another book delivery a couple of days ago . . .

Thanks to Rebecca for raving over the first couple of books in the Jenny Han series.  I actually had the first two (the one pictured above is the first in the series), but again, one of the books magically “walked” off by the end of the year.

I saw the book, Wonder, on a friend’s Instagram feed and knew, after reading a synopsis of it, that I had to order it.  I suspect that it will become one of my read alouds this next school year.

I am not sure if I’ll get through all of the books that I brought home, but I certainly don’t lack for choices!

That Moment

You know that one of my favorite things about teaching is watching my students change from being non-readers to kids who cannot put their books down.

It’s a metamorphosis, y’all…a process I am honored to witness every single year.

This year, I am teaching two intensive reading blocks.  These kiddos have the pleasure (ahem) of getting read to nearly every day.

This year, we’ve read The Honest Truth (gripping), Stuck in Neutral (nail biter at the end), and most recently Life Happens Next.

The last book is a sequel to the aforementioned one…both written by Terry Trueman.

Stuck in Neutral is about a boy named Shawn.  He has Cerebral Palsy.  Everyone thinks he’s a vegetable.  He’s not.  He has perfect auditory memory and can read, when his eyes will light on text long enough for him to focus on it.  He also thinks that his father is planning to kill him.

Is your interest piqued?  I know that my kids’ were.

So, we read the first book.  I didn’t tell them there was a second book, relishing their anguish at the cliffhanger of the first.

I am evil that way.  It’s one of the fun parts of being a teacher.

Anyhoo, the second book picks up where the first left off, introducing a couple of new characters.

My kids have been mesmerized.  Shawn’s personality comes through loud and clear…sarcastic but oh so relevant as a teenager.

I finished reading the book today, and I decided to share the author’s notes at the end.  I remembered being blown away by the fact that Mr. Trueman based his characters off of people in his own life.

My kids were in awe, and they had great questions about what happened to the “real” people.

So, being the fangirl that I am, I tweeted out to the author.

And he responded.

Don’t you just love being acknowledged by royalty?  In my world, authors rank right on up there with Prince William and Princess Kate.

For real, though.

Here’s what I received late this afternoon…

As I’m typing this, I am literally giddy.  I cannot WAIT to share this tweet with my kids.

It is a moment like this that solidifies their journey as readers…connecting with characters…reaching beyond their own lives in their quest to understand others.

I mean, y’all…you should have seen my kids’ responses when a character in the book passed away, unexpectedly.  The class had begged for “one more chapter.”  I had acquiesced to their request.

And then the character died.

And the room was dead silent.

For longer than a minute.

Until they blamed the gal who had finally convinced me to read that chapter.

Nobody saw it coming.  This would have ranked as a first class blindside on the show Survivor.

The fact that they were flabbergasted was “that moment.”

It was the moment that preceded today’s “moment.”

In the course of the year that I have my kiddos, we string many “moments” together that keep the kids coming back year after year until they graduate.  We often talk about books.  Sometimes, they’ll borrow some from me.  Mostly, our exchanges are about the bonds that we formed while they were students in my class…teacher to student…human to human.

So, I thank authors like Terry Trueman who stick their necks out and write about difficult topics to get us to think outside of the box…to ponder on things that go beyond the surface…to pick at feelings we didn’t know we had.

Popular in the Classroom This Week

I snapped a few photos of the books my students finished this week…

The gal who finished By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead was mightily upset at the ending.

The reader gets no closure, and that frustrated her to no end.

I chuckled in understanding because I’d felt the same way when I read the book a couple of years ago.

As I put a new book into her hands, I assured her that she would get a resolution in the end.  She breathed a sigh of relief as she began reading.

The gal who read P.S. I Still Love You is tearing through my books this year!  She is one of the most voracious readers I’ve ever had.  She’s also got an open mind and is willing to read just about anything!  She already read the Lunar Chronicles series…a girl after my own heart.  One day this week, she got to school and pulled out three of my books.  She’d been holding them hostage at home, unbeknownst to me.

I was super proud of the young man who finished Takedown.  He’s one of my Intensive Reading kiddos…a nice young man…quiet.  It can be difficult to get my guys to read.  He’s already started on his next book.  I can’t remember the title.

The gal who read Burned eagerly began tearing into By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead.  In fact, we found a sticky note stating that this girl wanted to read it next…the result of a book talk I’d done the first week of school.

Everything, Everything was finished by a quiet young lady in my first period class.  I had training on Wednesday.  When I returned to school on Thursday, the gal was absent, but the students sitting at her table were quick to inform me that she’d finished the book.  I might have teased her on Monday about not finishing it for me last weekend.  I was eager to steal it away to read myself.

Needless to say, it came home with me.  I’m about a third of the way through with it and will probably finish it in the next day or two and then give a book talk on it.

Taking pictures of my kids with their finished books is a new thing for me.  I plan on putting the photos in my end-of-the-year class slideshows…the uncropped versions.  I cannot wait to see them sit up straighter as their faces cross the screen.  I hope they will be as proud of themselves as I am every single time a back cover gets closed.

The Art of Finessing

Finesse…it doesn’t always mean what you think it means.

Especially if you teach at the high school level.

If you’re old, like me, when you hear the word finesse, you think of doing something with style.

In a way, this sort of fits the new-fangled slang that the kids have turned it into.

According to the Urban Dictionary, finesse means, “To talk someone out of their things. Not stealing persuading someone out of their belongs, or to do you a favor.

Please do not go to Urban Dictionary and look this up for yourselves.  The sample sentence that uses the word is definitely rated PG-13.

I’m just sayin’.

So anyhow, what in the world am I doing writing about a slang word?

Well you see, I tried really, really hard to finesse something from one of my students.

It all started last night when I posted the following picture on my favorite social media sites:

This book had arrived at my house just two days prior, and although I’m already in the middle of one book, I was curious, read the first two chapters, and was hooked immediately.

Rebecca commented on Facebook and told me how much she had enjoyed reading Everything, Everything by the same author.

I got excited because I already had that book in my class, so that’s what I looked for when I got to school this morning.

I couldn’t find it.

That meant one of two things:  1) A student was reading it, or 2) Someone had made off with the book already.

As my first period students began their silent reading today, I mentioned that I was looking for the book, and one of my girls told me that she had it.

Oh my.

I was so relieved and began hatching a plan.

A plan to finesse that book right out of her hands for the weekend.

When reading time was over, I asked if she was leaving it in her folder.

No such deal.

Dang.

I admitted that I had planned on finessing the book when she wasn’t looking because I really, really want to read it.

The entire class started laughing…because I was using their slang…and because I wanted her book.

She did take it home, which really is fine because I still have the newer book to read.

I’m going to have to work on my skills though.  Apparently my modus operandi is not stealthy enough.

And that’s Latin, not slang.

Celebrating Readers

My students continue to impress me with the rate at which they are finishing books.  It seems like a day doesn’t pass when a student stands in front of me and announces the end to another story.

I love hearing them explain why they liked certain characters over others, or why the stories touched their hearts.

As you can see in the picture below, Kwame Alexander continues to be a favorite for my boys, while Jennifer Brown is reigning supreme for the girls.  The Bluford series is also popular with the kids who aren’t exactly in love with reading or get intimated by larger books.

Oh, and the gal who read Lucy in the Sky?  She read Go Ask Alice a week or two ago.  This gal is on a roll!!!

When Boys Read

I teach a LOT of boys.  In fact, my last block of the day is currently comprised of 15 boys and four girls.  Until Friday of the week before, that number was 17 boys and four girls.  This doesn’t even count the young men in my other three classes.

It can be challenging to find books suited to them; young adult fiction seems to be permeated with “girly” books.

As a result, I’ve been searching really hard for books that will appeal to the young men who grace my classroom each day.  Kids are good at fake reading; many don’t actually finish books but float from one to another because they lose interest quickly.

Thus it is that I’m especially excited when one of my guys announces that he’s finished a book.

This past week, TWO of them did just that, and I had to capture photos.

I’m extra fond of the young man on the left (don’t tell my other students this).  I taught his sister two years ago; she’s a senior this year.  I really like teaching siblings!

He LOVED the book you see pictured.  It’s about a boy who is the only Muslim student in his school.  Tensions run high with the profiling that naturally accompanies such immigrants, and the lead character in the story finds himself in a quandary about how to come to terms when a federal investigation is launched against his father.

My student told me that he felt like it was incredibly relevant to what’s going on in the world today.

Cha-ching!  Connections made.  A teacher’s dream.

The guy on the right, another sweetie with an easy smile, picked up Code Talker after I gave a book talk about it.  He remembered his father mentioning this topic in passing one day.  The book is about the group of Navajos serving in the Navy during World World II who were tapped to send messages to one another in their native language while overseas.  They saved a lot of American lives because of this special task.

I’ve wanted to read this book for awhile.  I’m such a history buff.

Although my student liked the content itself, he said that parts of the story were a little boring.  I was so proud of him for not giving up on the book and seeing it through to the end.  As a result, he’s got background knowledge that might come in handy one day.

Cha-ching! Another teacher’s dream.

My biggest hope for my students is that they will become life-long readers.  With each book that is opened and each story devoured, my kids are certainly one step closer!

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