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Tom Sawyer, Jo March, Anne Shirley, and Oliver Twist

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

The summer of 2014 I attended Summer Term at Faith Builders. The syllabus for my Children's Lit class included a criteria essay at the end of the five weeks. It was a welcome assignment. After being introduced to new and flavorful books and literature, I became reflective on my growing up years and how majorly my parents and teachers influenced my life through the books they put in front of my nose.

In 4th grade, Miss Elizabeth Mullet read The Wheel on the School to us and the book called The Rats of Nimh during the time we raised class rat pets. In my 5th grade year, Miss Elona Martin read the trilogy of Tales of the Kingdom to us. I never forgot those stories, and picked up copies of those books for my own. My personal experience with books like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Cheaper by the Dozen, Little Women, Andrew Henry’s Meadow, and the Cat in the Hat, were good ones.

Sensitive by nature, my heart yearns for goodness, charity, and the finer things of life, so I gravitated toward authors like L. M. Montgomery, and Louisa May Alcott. Sally Jo by Zenobia Bird changed my life totally. It was my favorite book as a teenage girl. While my sisters dove into Sherlock Holmes stories, and novels like The Saints and Angels Song, I kept to easy reading. I didn’t care for fine print reading very well, but read a few classics such as Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. My emotions were pulled into all directions when I read some of those classics. I enjoyed The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas, and In His Steps by Charles Sheldon.

- Jennifer Yoder, Children's Literature Essay, Faith Builders 2014

I put reading response lessons into the writing curriculum for three main reasons.  What better way to introduce emotion and humanity to students than through books? What better way to immerse students in compelling works, and push them toward reading than through books? What better way to develop critical thinking habits than through books with high morals and excellent themes?

I find that reading response lessons are valuable in a writing course to give students high quality examples. On the other hand, occasionally adding a piece written by a student is also valuable to make writing feel more doable. Reading good examples makes writing more fun.

Let's explore the three reasons for a bit...

Reading response lessons introduce emotions relative to all humanity. They are timeless. Down through the ages people have always been people. Circumstances may change, but people generally experience the same feelings. Emotions; the raw and ragged, the struggling and straining, and the humorous and hopeful, connect the reader to everyday life. Overcoming negative emotions and becoming victorious happen in small increments. Stories pave the way for us. The stories I included in this course from Oliver Twist, A Secret Garden, Man-Eaters Don't Knock, the Bible, Five Little Peppers, Little Women, Tales of the Kingdom, and many more, do just that. 

I include reading response lessons to draw the students toward reading. I place high value on reading classics. However, there are lots of other good books that are just as valuable. There is also excellent poetry that I think every child should come in contact with. The poem by Sergeant Joyce Kilmer, "Trees", is simply an artistic written piece I think students should be acquainted with. I always like to add current authors as well. "Start With the Heart", "Oceanside", and "Voyage of the Submitted", are several of those. Simply put, I added reading response lessons into this curriculum to pique the child's interest, so they want to keep reading. 

The third reason I added reading response lessons was to help develop critical thinking skills in students. As soon as you get a child wrestling with whether Tom Sawyer was clever in pouring the medicine down the crack in the floor or not, the child is engaged, putting himself in that situation. Writing down responses to what you just read helps develop critical thinking skills. Writing is thinking. Summarizing is thinking. Being able to discern between light and darkness spiritually is something you will need the rest of your life. Critical thinking is imperative for a well-rounded response to the experiences of life. Our reading response lessons are just a small way to help with that.

When I teach the reading response lessons, I generally bring a copy of the book along. I like to read the excerpt out of the book if I can. Students are allowed to borrow my copies. If only one student goes on to read the rest of the book, I'm happy. :-) 

Being an excellent reader helps as well. I will never forget professor Jonas Sauder reading "Scuttle, Scuttle, Little Roach". Practice the excerpt well before you read it to your class. Emphasize new words and ask students to define them. Talk about the author. Share your favorite thing about the excerpt. Add a childhood memory that goes along with the story or is similar. The enthusiasm pouring from the teacher will inevitably seep into the student's mind. My childhood experiences with books still affects my teaching and curriculum development projects. I encourage you to be the person who gives the next generation of students a good experience with books.

Happy reading! I'm off to gather goldenrod and calendula, for a bouquet on my bookshelf. I think it'll get along rather happily with Daddy Long Legs. Don't you think?

-Jennifer Yoder

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