Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What's your favorite Roald Dahl book?

My short foray into the world of education was an overwhelming four months spent student teaching in a fifth grade classroom in a teeny, tiny school in PA. I was excited to get the fifth grade placement, feeling that I would really be able to relate to the students - after all, fourth and fifth grade was when I discovered that I loved to read. As it tends to happen (or so I've heard), the whirlwind of student teaching quickly took over, and though I was enjoying my time there, I just felt stressed and worried about the future. And I could honestly tell that the kids could sense this. My lessons were objectively solid and thorough, but I was missing that spark that always seemed present when I was in elementary school. 

My co-op was doing something he called a "read-aloud" every day after recess, where he literally just sat in front of the children and read, emotionless. During the first week, when I was observing, I noticed that most of the kids put their heads down or did other homework or even passed notes during this time. No one was interested in the story - and I couldn't blame them. The book series being used was bland and non-imaginative, and once I had taken this "task" over, I even hated reading them. So after I had finished my second, mind-numbingly dull book about a boy being a detective at a dog show, I decided to switch it up. I plucked Roald Dahl's The Witches from my book shelf, and before I even opened the cover, knew I had made the right decision.

Growing up, my sisters and I were definitely encouraged to read. One of my fondest memories from childhood is when my mom, a reading specialist, read The Witches aloud to me. All of Roald Dahl's books are vibrant and detailed and hilarious, and this book, with its tales of Real Witches paints the grotesque picture of semi-human females who spend their days hatching evil plans to get rid of children who smell like - dogs droppings! The witches have scabby heads and blue spit, claws for hands and no toes, pink shell-like nostrils that can smell the stench of rotten children from miles away. My mom read the book aloud with abandon, doing all of the ridiculous accents and truly bringing the book to life. So when I walked into school on that Wednesday, I knew I was holding a key to changing the dynamic in my classroom.

By the end of just the very first chapter, the change during this half-hour of the school day was already apparent. I had the (smiling! interested!) attention of everyone in the room. I had kids jokingly examining my hands for signs of claws, and asking me if I used my blue spit as ink to grade their spelling papers. It was like a different group of kids around me, and they were fifth graders, not fifth-grade going on high-schoolers. In that moment, the power of writing was so apparent to me. 

Last week when I mentioned The BFG, I started thinking about this and about all of Roald Dahl's wonderful books. I kept thinking that I had pinpointed my favorite story, and then would remember another equally great one. So I'm curious - what is your favorite Roald Dahl book?  Matilda? Fantastic Mr. Fox? Charlie & the Chocolate Factory?? Esio Trot? I finally decided that mine is......

James and the Giant Peach !

 How hard was your decision? :)

Images here, here.

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