I've spent twenty minutes every Tuesday afternoon this school year reading Charlotte's Web to eight first, second, and third graders. By now I've hopefully mastered Charlotte's calm voice, Wilbur's frantic concern over being turned into ham at Christmastime, and Mr. Zuckerman's amazement at the words in the web. And of course I've also mastered getting out of character just long enough to spot paper airplanes in the making, get them into my possession, and promise to give them back when reading time is over.
Yesterday we all watched the movie together, even the older kids. One little girl, one who hardly ever answered the questions I asked after each chapter even when I called on her, crept up behind me to remind me which words Charlotte was about to write her web above Wilbur's pen. A first grader next to me looked over with wide eyes and a frown as Charlotte passed away. I even saw my rambunctious paper airplane makers whispering to themselves the next major event in the story!
Sometimes I read ahead enough to be able to put a few words into my short term memory which allowed me to look up at the story's listeners for a quick second. I still remember how they sat on the edge of their seats, pausing from their coloring, and looked intently at the front cover of the book as I read the passage about Fern and Avery swinging in Mr. Zuckerman's swing:
"You climbed the ladder to the hayloft. Then, holding the rope, you stood at the edge and looked down, and were scared and dizzy. Then you straddled the knot, so that it acted as a seat. Then you got up all your nerve, took a deep breath, and jumped. For a second you seemed to be falling to the barn floor far below, but then suddenly the rope would begin to catch you, and you would sail through the barn door going a mile a minute, with the wind whistling in your eyes and ears and hair."
At the end of that chapter, I asked them if they liked swinging too. A couple of them didn't answer and just looked at me, at least two or three kept on coloring their pictures of Wilbur and Charlotte, and several nodded quietly.
I only got one enthusiastic yes, from my most loyal paper airplane maker. He didn't draw very many pictures during reading time, and the ones he did draw he wanted to take home so I never saw what they looked like. But I saw his eyes shine with excitement and comprehension of Fern and Avery's thrill in that barn when I asked that question. I've held onto that yes.