As may be true for many a bookworm, my earliest mentors, truest friends, and first loves lived in novels.
And sometimes, I still find them there.
Anyone moved by a good paperback knows, something undeniably sincere rests between the pages. Something deeply, uncannily revealing. As Frederick Buechner explains in Wishful Thinking (1973), “In popular usage, a myth has come to mean a story that is not true. Historically speaking that may well be so. Humanly speaking, a myth is a story that is always true.”
Humanly speaking, it is also true that as a teacher, the most I can manage some dreary days is to slap a worksheet in front of my kids. So, as much as for them as for myself, my class created a bulletin board to serve as a tribute to the power of books. The project acted as a reminder, not to turn novels into dreaded exercises on uninspiring days, but rather places of refuge, guidance, and encouragement.
Each member of the class chose their favourite character from a text, after which two students with artistic inclinations painted a large display in the centre of the room. Bold block letters proclaimed the words of C.S. Lewis: “We read to know we are not alone,” encircled by faces. Faces of characters from Game of Thrones, The Little Prince, Harry Potter, Jekyll and Hyde, The Help, The Lord of the Rings and The Mysterious Benedict Society, among others. If you’ve ever wondered what Syd Carton from the dystopian novel Proxy might have in common with Cosette from the historical French novel, Les Miserables, one look at the bulletin board made the connection abundantly clear. The best stories don’t depict events so much as they unearth parts of ourselves. These were characters that revealed us to each other.
As educators, our classrooms have the potential to become containers for creative expression, imagination, and empathy; odes to a shared humanity. Here in the midst of mine we constructed a tribute to the stories which had shaped us; the characters who journeyed with us in our own personal becomings. If the goal is to engender a love of reading, don’t we owe students as much?
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