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Love is Lovelier the Second Time Around (or even the twentieth…)

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Tell us about a book you can read again and again without getting bored — what is it that speaks to you?

via Daily Prompt: Second Time Around.

Love is lovelier the second time around
Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground (Second Time Around   – as sung by Frank Sinatra)

As I have mentioned many many times, I am wrapping up my 15th year of teaching.  I am a big proponent of the teacher-read-aloud – even in the upper grades.  I read to my class every day and use it as a jumping off point for so many lessons and discussions.  It is the most special time of our day.  I have students who are now in their mid-twenties who tell me they can still remember certain books I read to them and how much they loved it.  For some of my students, it has been what has made them fall in love with books.

I put a lot of thought in what I chose to read to them.  And I try not to just read the same book year after year.  After all, while THEY may not have read it, I would get bored reading the same things all the time.  With one exception…

I have read Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls to nearly every single class in the past 15 years.  It has become a link to each class.  Siblings from a previous class will ask the brother or sister in my current class if I have read it yet.  It sticks with them.

For those of you who are not aware of the book (and if you haven’t ever read it – read it…it is great), Where the Red Fern Grows, is the story of Billy Coleman, a young boy growing up in the backwoods of the Ozarks somewhere around the Depression.  Billy’s family isn’t just poor, they are dirt poor, living off the land.  However, Billy decides he wants some dogs.  And not just any ol’ dogs.  He wants hunting dogs.  Specifically Redbone Coonhounds.  His parents want to help him, but they can’t.  So, Billy works for over two years to gather enough money to buy his beloved dogs.  And that’s where the story really begins.

“It’s strange indeed how memories can lie dormant in a man’s mind for so many years. Yet those memories can be awakened and brought forth fresh and new, just by something you’ve seen, or something you’ve heard, or the sight of an old familiar face.”  
―     Wilson Rawls,     Where the Red Fern Grows

It is a story of perseverance and determination.  It is about setting a goal and not letting anything get in your way.  But mostly it is a story about undying love and devotion.

I have read the book somewhere around 20 times – independently as a child, to my classes and to my own children.  It still makes me laugh and it still makes me cry.  Real tears, not just brimming in my eyes.  Every single time.

I will probably be looping with my class next year.  Meaning, I’ll be going with them from 4th to 5th, with most of the class intact.  And since I read it to my students this year, I won’t be reading it to them again.  And I am a little sad about that.  I look forward to reading it every year.  So, looks like I’ll have to read it to my own children.  I read it to Monkey #1 when he was 8.  The Middle Monkey heard it from his 4th grade teacher (a fellow teacher who also reads it to her class every year).  The Girl Child has yet to hear it.  Perhaps it is time.

“It’s a shame that people all over the world can’t have that kind of love in their hearts,” he said.  “There would be no wars, slaughter, or murder; no greed or selfishness.  It would be the kind of world that God wants us to have – a wonderful world.”  
―     Wilson Rawls,     Where the Red Fern Grows

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Little Houses on my Bookshelf

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Daily Prompt: Bedtime Stories.

What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the person you are now?

“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”  ―    Laura Ingalls Wilder

I have been reading for as long as I can remember.  Family legend is that I just began reading on my own when I was 4.  I don’t remember the first book I read by myself.  I just did.  When I ventured out of the safety of my Montessori school and into the wilds of my neighborhood elementary school in first grade, my teacher didn’t know what to do with an established reader, so she sent me to fourth grade every day for reading time.  Talk about awkward!

I do  remember Charlotte’s Web being the first book that I truly LOVED.  Even now, after probably 25 readings, I cry at Charlotte’s death – and again as her babies leave poor Wilbur.

I poured over the writings of Beverly Cleary.  I could relate to Ramona and her “spunky” attitude.  Poor misunderstood – ADHD Ramona, boinging the perfect curls of the ever so obnoxious Susan.  When I read her book Fifteen (terribly old-fashioned now, but still) I wanted nothing more than for my first date to be just like Jane’s.  I wanted the dress she wore for the date, a deep blue princess seamed dress with a white Peter Pan collar (out of style even then, but I did not care).

I was fascinated by the quirkiness of Roald Dahl’s characters.  The way the poor, down-trodden child overcame his lot in life and TRIUMPHED!

The books of Judy Blume taught me about the challenges of childhood.  From divorce, to being over-weight, to your first period, and eventually about your first sexual experience.

However, when I think of the books of my childhood, the ones that I still hug to my chest, it is the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I was given a boxed set of the series (yellow paperbacks in a lovely little yellow cardboard box) for Christmas in 1974.  I was eight years old.  I read each of them cover to cover – and then read them all again and again.  The Box of Books was given a place of honor on the top shelf of my bookshelf.  The shelf where I kept special little mementos, like the Chinese doll my parents brought me back from San Francisco, and the lion shaped candle given to me by my father’s hippy sister (because I am a Leo after all).  That shelf was the only neat spot in my entire room.

As far as I was concerned, Laura and I were kindred spirits.  Straight brown hair that never held a curl no matter how long she kept those rags in her hair.  Incapable of sitting still – no matter how hard she tried.   Wanting nothing more than to run around barefoot, like a wild Indian.  I loved her.  I loved Ma’s gentle spirit.  I loved the twinkle Pa always had in his eye – even when Laura had misbehaved.  I wanted nothing more than to slap Nelly Olsen.  And I wanted to marry Almanzo.

I didn’t just read the books.  I all but memorized them.  I was one of those obnoxious little girls who would sit in front of the TV every week, watching the show and pointing out the inaccuracies.  “THAT NEVER HAPPENED!!!!  DID THESE PEOPLE EVER READ THE BOOKS?!?!?”

The summer of 1975 – the summer I turned 9 – my parents, my brother and I (and our silly little dog) towed our Airstream trailer from West Palm Beach to Colorado and back.  Coming home, we drove through Missouri.  Missouri.  The state Laura and Almanzo moved to early in their marriage.  Missouri.  Where I could visit Rocky Ridge Farm , and the house that Almanzo had built with his own hands.  I just HAD TO GO TO THE HOUSE!  The only problem was, Mansfield was not on our way.  More like three and a half hours out-of-the-way.  But, I was not going to be THAT CLOSE without going!!!  NO WAY!

So, we went.  After spending the night in Independence, we set off on the three-hour drive.  I could hardly wait!   We pull up and I just about bounded out of the moving car. I could hardly breathe.  Before me stood the white clapboard house where my beloved Laura had written her books!

We walk up to the little gift shop – and find that the house is closed for renovations (including reroofing).  I thought I was going to die right on the spot.  The sweet little docents must have felt badly for this obviously CRUSHED little girl, and allowed us to walk around the house and look in the windows.  My dad lifted me up so I could see inside.  I saw Mary’s organ.  The desk where Laura wrote.  So close and so very far away.

We shopped in the little shop.  I bought a sunbonnet just like Laura’s (which of course I wore down my back just like she did),  a few recipe cards and post cards of the things in side the house we could not see.  And we left.  As we were walking back to the car, I happened to spy an old looking wooden shingle lying in the grass.  A shingle that had to have come off the house.  A shingle that in my overly romantic almost 9-year-old mind HAD TO HAVE BEEN MADE BY ALMANZO!  I bent over, carefully picked it up, and put it in my pocket.  I was terrified someone would see me and make me put it back.  But, DAMN IT!  They wouldn’t let me in the house, it was the least I could have!  I didn’t even tell my parents I had it.

When we returned home, I took my ill-gotten shingle and placed it on the shelf in front of the boxed set of books – where they all stayed until my mother sold the house when I was 25 and they were packed up.  I still have the set of books.  And I still have that shingle.

One day, I will take the Monkeys on a pilgrimage to see all the homestead sites.   Maybe not all at once.  But I will see each and every one.

I still love Laura Ingalls Wilder.

And I still wish I could slap Nelly Olsen.