It must be Fall! I say that because, once again, I have just finished reading aloud to my second graders E.B. White’s exquisitely written book for children of all ages — Charlotte’s Web. I wrote a post a few years ago about the joy of sharing this book with a group of children. I’ll repeat parts of that post here, because it’s a teaching experience like no other. This book turns children into readers because it touches their hearts and they want to be able to read this book to themselves, over and over.
Filled with humor and pathos and lots of common sense, the second graders think it was written specifically for them, but I know that Mr. White wrote it specifically for me. It’s that personal and intimate connection that I so love to share with the 7 and 8 year olds in my class each year. In the early chapters of the book is a wonderful description of a barn. I use that description to teach the reading strategy of “visualization,” to teach the children how the best writers use words that paint pictures in their brain. They close their eyes as I read this passage to them, and then they draw their own version of the barn. Their barns are wonderful, creative and full of life, and I never get tired of looking at them.
“The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay … It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows … It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope … It was full of all sorts of things that you find in barns: ladders, grindstones, pitchforks, monkey wrenches, scythes, lawn mowers, snow shovels, ax handles, milk pails, water buckets, empty grain sacks, and rusty rat traps. It was the kind of barn that swallows like to build their nests in. It was the kind of barn that children like to play in.”