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When a Book Makes You Cry

Do you remember the first book that made you cry?

I do.

It was Message in a Bottle, by Nicholas Sparks.  I read it when my family lived in Coral Springs.  My children were in elementary school, and I remember sitting up late one night in our front living room.  I was the only one awake.  The rest of the house was dark except for the small corner of the room where I’d set up shop for the evening.

Y’all, I had, to that point, read hundreds of books.  I was a voracious reader in my youth; the stories took me away from the angst of teenage-dom.

Up to that point, I’d been quite stoic.

Well, maybe the reason why I hadn’t cried was because I’d never met a writer who could break my heart the way that Sparks did with that book.

Oh, how I sobbed when I read the ending, quietly of course because keeping the kids asleep was kind of important.

I’m just going to be honest with you.

I don’t like watching movies or reading books that make me cry.  I don’t like the headache I get afterward, but I especially don’t like having my feelings trod upon.

That’s why I don’t watch movies or read books about animals . . . especially dogs (except that I did see Benji when I was a kid and whew, what an emotional roller coaster ride that was!).

A few years ago, I happened upon The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart.  I read it during summer break and cried as I sat at my kitchen table with that book in my hand.  I loved it so much that I read it aloud to my classes that year . . . and the year after . . . and the year after.

Every single time I read it to a class, I cried in exactly the same places even though I knew what was going to happen.

That’s a lot of crying.

Dan has such a way with words; his characters’ voices are childlike but so easy to connect with no matter the age of the reader.

I’m a member of Pernille Ripp’s Facebook group, where someone recently mentioned something about another book Dan had written, Good Dog.

He’s actually written four books (how have I not known this?).  Good Dog is his most recent novel.

I read a summary of the book on Amazon, and I had a little chat with myself.

“Don’t you dare buy this book.  You know you’re gonna cry.”

“Be quiet.  I need to read this so I can tell my students about it.”

“You don’t need this book in your classroom.  You already have books that your students love.”  (I think this may have been the Mr.’s voice arguing with me.  Ha!)

“But I don’t have this book, written by this author.  I know it’s gonna be good.”

“That may be true, but you don’t have to be in the know about every book.  Stop trying to be tough.”

“La la la la la.  I no hear you.”

Add to cart.

Purchase.

Done.

I couldn’t take my own advice.

The Mr. receives emails of all of the purchases on our Prime account, and he walked in from work saying, “What in the world are you doing?”

He knows me so well.

The book arrived a few days later.

Aubie and Molly’s collars in the background

Good Dog is the story of Brodie, a dog who has just died and is stuck between death and Forever.

Yeah.  That should have been enough to make me tuck my own tail and run.

Even that picture on the cover.

Sigh.

I prepared myself mentally, armed myself with Kleenex, and sat down to begin reading . .

The first two sentences made me cry.

I knew it was going to be a hard, hard read.

I read about Brodie getting used to where he wakes up, acquiring words in the process – words that, as a living dog, he did not possess.

Although it was told in short, simple sentences, this part of the book – the opening chapter – held me captive.

Brodie meets other dogs who explain what’s happened to him.  He can’t remember anything at first; memories come back to him very slowly.  However, what becomes clear fairly quickly is that he has to return to Before, where he was alive and with his boy.

Oh my gosh.  His boy.  Y’all, this part made me think of Rooster and his connection with Gambit.

Gambit never left Rooster’s side when Rooster lived at home.  Rooster was his person.  Fortunately, we still have Gambit with us, so that’s where the similarity to the story ends.

Mostly, what I thought of Molly, who you know I’m still grieving for.

This book, and the story of Brodie going back to find his boy, who he senses is in danger, made me smile in some parts, because Dan was wise enough to know that his readers would need some comedic relief to balance out the heavy stuff, and it made me hold my breath in other places.

It’s a book that made me root so hard for Brodie and the fur babies helping him, feel sorry for the bad dogs trying to stop him, and hope for some sort of happy ending that I knew wouldn’t be there because y’all, Brodie is dead.

Sigh.

I stayed up really late Wednesday night to finish the book because I knew that I would need a few hours of sleep afterward – the emotional price too steep for this tender heart.

The last chapter of the book completely broke my heart, and I tried really hard to cry quietly so I wouldn’t wake the Mr., who was sleeping in the other room.

I thought of Molly, and how I wish I could hug her one more time.  I wondered if she, like Brodie, had a hard time letting go of her person.

Now, don’t be thinking that I’m all emo and need medication.  I’m fine.  Really.  I just have my moments when remembering is so very hard and the missing is so very painful.

You can’t go almost eleven years with a breathing soul and not feel something when that bundle of happy is wrenched away.

Herein is the power of books – even books that make you cry.

Yes, there’s hurting and a whole lot of tears and big, puffy eyes.

There’s anger at the unfair twists and turns and the ugly parts where the bad is happening.

There’s even disappointment when things don’t turn out like you want them to.

A good book, one that makes you cry, should imitate life.  It should get you in your feelings and hurt you where you’re vulnerable.

That’s when the healing can happen.  Sometimes, when we can’t find the right words to match our sadness, a book comes along that does exactly that.

That is why I made myself read this book, even though I knew I’d be doing the ugly cry the entire way through . . .

Until the wee hours of the morning . . .

With a certain fur baby on my mind.

I love you Molly.  You were a good dog (most of the time), and I will never forget you.

“You.  Me.  Together.  Always.”

That Moment

You know that one of my favorite things about teaching is watching my students change from being non-readers to kids who cannot put their books down.

It’s a metamorphosis, y’all…a process I am honored to witness every single year.

This year, I am teaching two intensive reading blocks.  These kiddos have the pleasure (ahem) of getting read to nearly every day.

This year, we’ve read The Honest Truth (gripping), Stuck in Neutral (nail biter at the end), and most recently Life Happens Next.

The last book is a sequel to the aforementioned one…both written by Terry Trueman.

Stuck in Neutral is about a boy named Shawn.  He has Cerebral Palsy.  Everyone thinks he’s a vegetable.  He’s not.  He has perfect auditory memory and can read, when his eyes will light on text long enough for him to focus on it.  He also thinks that his father is planning to kill him.

Is your interest piqued?  I know that my kids’ were.

So, we read the first book.  I didn’t tell them there was a second book, relishing their anguish at the cliffhanger of the first.

I am evil that way.  It’s one of the fun parts of being a teacher.

Anyhoo, the second book picks up where the first left off, introducing a couple of new characters.

My kids have been mesmerized.  Shawn’s personality comes through loud and clear…sarcastic but oh so relevant as a teenager.

I finished reading the book today, and I decided to share the author’s notes at the end.  I remembered being blown away by the fact that Mr. Trueman based his characters off of people in his own life.

My kids were in awe, and they had great questions about what happened to the “real” people.

So, being the fangirl that I am, I tweeted out to the author.

And he responded.

Don’t you just love being acknowledged by royalty?  In my world, authors rank right on up there with Prince William and Princess Kate.

For real, though.

Here’s what I received late this afternoon…

As I’m typing this, I am literally giddy.  I cannot WAIT to share this tweet with my kids.

It is a moment like this that solidifies their journey as readers…connecting with characters…reaching beyond their own lives in their quest to understand others.

I mean, y’all…you should have seen my kids’ responses when a character in the book passed away, unexpectedly.  The class had begged for “one more chapter.”  I had acquiesced to their request.

And then the character died.

And the room was dead silent.

For longer than a minute.

Until they blamed the gal who had finally convinced me to read that chapter.

Nobody saw it coming.  This would have ranked as a first class blindside on the show Survivor.

The fact that they were flabbergasted was “that moment.”

It was the moment that preceded today’s “moment.”

In the course of the year that I have my kiddos, we string many “moments” together that keep the kids coming back year after year until they graduate.  We often talk about books.  Sometimes, they’ll borrow some from me.  Mostly, our exchanges are about the bonds that we formed while they were students in my class…teacher to student…human to human.

So, I thank authors like Terry Trueman who stick their necks out and write about difficult topics to get us to think outside of the box…to ponder on things that go beyond the surface…to pick at feelings we didn’t know we had.

The Power of a Read Aloud

Twenty-two days.

That’s how long it’s been since I’ve last posted.

Clearly, this is getting ridiculous.

Forget the excuses.  I will just say that when I get home, I like to unplug from the world…except for Mondays, when I lesson plan, and during the evenings, when I’m watching various television shows.

So, let’s just get to today’s post, shall we?

Today was a good day at school…for a number of reasons.

The main reason had to do with the read aloud I did during my 4th/5th period block.

After I finished reading The Honest Truth to my classes earlier this year, I allowed my students to select the book they wanted next.  Each class chose something different.

My 4th/5th period class chose Bitter End, by Jennifer Brown.

You guys know that I am one of this author’s biggest fans.  She writes teen fiction that is extremely relevant.  It’s as if she hasn’t gotten so old that she doesn’t remember what a teenager actually thinks.

I read Bitter End a couple of summers ago, and I had to put it down at one point because the material was so realistic…so heartbreaking.

The book tells the story about Alex, a high school senior, who falls for Cole, the new boy in school.  He dotes on her until things change, and he begins to abuse her.

My class and I are about halfway through the book (remember that I’ve read it all the way through already…on my own…so I know what’s coming).

Today, I think we were on about Chapter 16 or so, and man, was the scene HEAVY.  I’d read ahead just to make sure I prepared myself for any possible discussion questions that might come up.  I tend to teach more organically when it comes to my read alouds and allow conversations and comments to flow naturally.

In this chapter, Cole really begins to abuse her for the first real time in the story.

My kids were sitting on the edge of their seats, let me tell you.  One girl had started to read the book earlier in the year but had put it down.  A few days ago, she told me how much more she enjoys it now that I’m reading it aloud because of the expression I put into it.

Quite a few times, as I read, they exploded with comments, and I had to stop to quiet them down.

When we finished the chapter, everyone had something to say, and we had a lively discussion.

I was in awe of my students.  Most of this class is comprised of young ladies…strong young ladies who are completely aghast at the doormat that Alex, the protagonist, is allowing herself to be.

Even my male students were indignant!

Yet, among the loud voices in my classroom came softer ones…the gals who suggested that we don’t know what we would really do if we were placed in similar situations.

One girl shared how a former boyfriend had pushed her down and spit on her (she wound up punching him…she’s a fighter, you see).

Then, I heard a gentle question:  “Mrs. Auburnchick, what would you have done?”

Oh boy.

While I try to get my kids to answer their own questions and think for themselves, I knew I had to answer this.

I told her that my broken, insecure, high school self probably would have taken the abuse.  My older, wiser, mama/teacher self would fight back.  It’s amazing what a few years of life experience will do for you.

My job as an intensive reading teacher is to help my students hone their reading skills.  Part of my job involves getting students to read…to explore their feelings about their reading…to connect their reading to their lives, other text, and the world.

Books such as Jennifer Brown’s make my job so much easier.  While we may not be completing graphic organizers, the rich discussions we are having as we read do just as much good and fill in the gap that overworked, uninterested parents create because they don’t know how to have these conversations with their children.

Bruiser – A Book Review

I recently finished reading Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman.

This is the tenth book that I’ve read by Shusterman.  His books are chock-full of deep meaning and heart-wrenching themes.

Bruiser is no exception.

This book tells the story of a young man named Brewster who has a unique ability.  When a girl named Bronte befriends Brewster, strange things begin to happen.

Brewster’s relationship with Bronte and her twin brother, Tennyson, changes all of their lives in unexpected ways.

This book is told from the perspectives of each main character, as well as Brewster’s younger brother.

Oh word, but I rode a roller coaster of emotions with this book.

My heart broke for Brewster, as I saw the pain he allowed himself to go through because of his love for his brother and friends.

I grew angry at Bronte for trying to mold him into the person she wanted him to be.

Tennyson’s selfishness made me want to knock some sense into him!

What was most frustrating was Bronte and Tennyson’s inability to see what was clearly before them.  Grrrr!

As I think about how this book’s themes apply to real life, I’m surprised to find that most people are just like the twins.  We settle ourselves into our cozy lives, happy when we find things that satisfy us.

We foolishly allow ourselves to use things in our lives to mask the pain and heartache we face each day when, in reality, we need that pain to find our way through the difficult circumstances.

Ultimately, I saw a correlation between Brewster’s selfless sacrifice to that of Christ’s.  If you read the book, you’ll understand what I mean.  Shustermann never mentions Christianity, but one can’t help but think of it as this book reaches its climax.

I will probably do this book as a Read Aloud next fall.  The messages about not judging people by their reputation and not jumping on the bandwagon ‘just because” will ring true to my high school kids.

It rang true to this almost-44 year old gal, that’s for sure.

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