How many of you have ever read the letter from Chris Van Allsburg found in the collector’s edition of The Polar Express? I ask you this, not because this is a holiday post, but because as an avid reader and lifelong fan of The Polar Express, I was stunned to have just recently found it; and I think there is a huge message in that letter that can be applied to everyday life, all year long.
Chris Van Allsburg starts the letter by saying that he had been asked by many how he came up with the idea for The Polar Express. He continues on by saying that he had avoided telling the truth until the point when he wrote the letter, ten years after the first copy was published. I won’t tell you the story today because I want you to read it for yourself and feel the magic as I did in the front of my classroom. My fifth graders and I were working on critical reading skills to see the hidden stories in Van Allsburg’s pieces. If you are not familiar with many of his stories, you should take a look. There is so much more there than meets the eye. For example, take a look at The Wretched Stone and see if you can find any hidden or implied themes. This is a very powerful book when viewed through critical eyes. On that particular day, we were drinking hot cocoa and discussing our final book of the unit, The Polar Express. We had discussed beforehand that I wanted them to view The Polar Express, not as a child this time, but for the first time, with newly trained critical eyes. Imagine their surprise when their teacher almost lost it in the front of the room, reading a children’s book about Santa Claus. That isn’t just the magic of Christmas, that’s the MAGIC OF READING!
I gained a tremendous lesson that day from Mr. Van Allsburg. The lesson I gained was that the magic of Christmas is hidden within us. Quite obviously this is a lesson that can be applied to everyday life, but just as important I think, is a lesson that can be applied to our reading lives. As readers, we feel the magic within us, but we have periods of time when we feel as though we may have lost that magic. Of course as adults, we know how to find that magic again.
For children, it may be very different. Some children have found the magic because of a parent, teacher, or friend who shared that magic with them. That magic was nurtured and it grew because of the time and energy the giver put into it. Some children however, have never found that magic. It is our job as parents, teachers, readers, and friends to make sure that magic is shared with those who haven’t found it yet. As with the magic Van Allsburg shared with me that day, we need to make sure we remember how important that magic can be, and that we give it the time and energy it deserves.
As a teacher, part of sharing that magic is allowing my students to see me as a reader and as a writer. In planning for this piece, I called upon my students for advice. We discussed whether or not they had ever felt the magic of reading deep within a book, and because each of them had, they immediately wanted to share. This spurred some wonderful conversations about books which I always encourage. I then asked them how they could pass that magic on to the students that would be entering my classroom in the fall. They began discussing all the books that they wanted to donate to our classroom favorite’s shelf. They also discussed making copies of their favorite Book Talk responses and putting those in a binder so that my upcoming students would be able to read about those favorites. This will give my upcoming students a chance to read my current students’ thoughts and feelings about those books, which to me, is just as important as the titles.
My students are excited to pass on the magic of reading, and I will be certain to share their generosity with my students in the fall. This will hopefully lead to a long tradition of passing on the magic of reading, much like Chris Van Allsburg has done with the magic of Christmas.
Brandee Green is currently a fifth grade ELA teacher in Aiken, SC. Visit her on twitter @bandee123 or www.creatinglllearners.blogspot.com to learn more about her classroom experiences with Chris Van Allsburg and to enter a contest to win a copy of the book mentioned above.