Thursday, April 12, 2007

Books That Changed Your Life 6

Photograph © 2007 by Julius Lester

Today's Book comes from Monica Edinger, New York City.

"A book did in deed change my life in concert with a person. The book is CHARLOTTE'S WEB and the person is Princeton University's U. C. Knopfmacher. In 1990, I saw a poster in my school's faculty room announcing that year's NEH Seminars for School Teachers. Ever since a high school teacher had commented negatively about my writing, I'd been convinced I couldn't do it, and I'd stayed away from English departments in college and graduate school. As a result, I had no idea that children's literature was studied.

"When I saw Uli's seminar featuring classical American and British children's literature I salivated. With great effort I wrote the required personal essay for the application, probably the first piece of writing I felt good about in twenty years because I ended up being accepted into the seminar, one of 15 out of more than 100 applicants. The seminar was incredible. We studied White, Twain, Alcott, Sendak, Hoban, Burnet, Nesbit, Carroll, and others.

"But I wasn't looking forward to CHARLOTTE"S WEB, a tearjerker I thought and not my kind of book. Until the day we did a close reading of the first chapter and I was completely blown away; in two hours my opinion of the book was turned upside down.

"When I returned to my fourth grade classroom that fall, I thought about what I could possibly use from the summer in my teaching. I decided to see what happened if I had the kids do a close reading of that first chapter of CHARLOTTE'S WEB, part of a new program I called "Children as Scholars." The kids loved it; like me they thought that it was amazingly cool.

"(After modeling how to read the first chapter closely, each does another on his/her own and then presents it to the class seminar-style.) And so every year since, I've been starting my fourth graders' school year with this way of looking at CHARLOTTE'S WEB, discovering that it is really the most amazing piece of writing, one that is worthy of year after year of close reading. Every year children discover new things. Other teachers have come to my school and do it too (and are blown away by the experience too).

"And so, I guess, a book did change my life! I teach differently, I've written books and articles about this, I've spoken about it, written about it on my blog, and just look at books differently. That soppy book, the one that started me on this path, is to my mind the great American children's novel. An amazing piece of work!"


“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.”

Vladimir Nabakov, Lectures on Literature, “Good Readers and Good Writers”


Persuade – to induce the acceptance of a belief or position. However, in its Latin root, there is a dimension of the word that is lost in English. The word really means “to convince by making things very sweet.” Interestingly, the Greek word which gave us the English, hedonist, “one who lives for pleasure,” literally means, “one who likes everything sweet.”

Adapted from The Private Lives of English Words by Louis G. Heller, Alexander Humex and Malcah Dror (ISBN 0-930454-18-9)


Room, Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies, Amherst, Mass.