My students fell in love with Lemony Snicket’s name last week when I shared his comments from an essay in POETRY. This author was new to most of them. They are a little young for his Series of Unfortunate Events but, I have no doubt, they will grow into this popular series in the coming years. In the meantime, our school librarian, Allison Brown, loaned me her new copy of The Dark, written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen, so I could share one of his stories written for the younger crowd.
A few of the kindergarten students looked alarmed on Tuesday when I showed them the cover and read the title. Lewis’ eyes grew round. He stared across the table and his voice edged up a notch higher. “I’m afraid of the dark.” Juan pulled his chair close to mine, wrapped his arms around my own and said “me too.” I admitted, I’m also afraid of the dark, sometimes, but I assured them, I had read the book and they didn’t need to be afraid of this story. Juan relaxed his grip on my arm and Lewis’ eyes lost their fear-tinged expression but he still seemed wary.
By the time we’d viewed several dark pages and read the dark’s own words in a voice, “creaky as the roof of the house, and as smooth and cold as the windows,” the kids’ faces had brightened. They took on a look children sometimes get in anticipation of a good scare. Like when a trusted uncle swings them alarmingly high and they scream in what sounds like pure terror but is actually a tingling joy and they come down yelling, “Do-it-again! Do-it-again!” That look.
While we were reading the book, the wind caught the edge of the classroom door and blew it wide open. I jumped at the noise but Hailey said, “The wind just wants to come in and listen to the story.” She was probably right.
When the story ended, the kids had a lot to share. Skylar informed me she heard a shadow coming in the dark. That led to a discussion about what a shadow might sound like, if it really could make a noise. Hailey said she had asked the dark to come into her room but it was shy. Sometimes, it peeks in to see if she is sleeping. Then it looks into her closet to make sure she keeps it clean. Landen told me he’s not afraid of the dark, but he is afraid of the really, really, really, really dark.
The kids wanted to invite the dark into our speech room and so we turned off the lights. The sun poured in through the window and the dark crouched under my desk, slid into the garbage cans and slipped under the speech room table. One of the kids said it grabbed her foot and they all laughed. It seemed to me, the kids were making friends with the dark.
If you’ve read many of my previous posts, you know I love to read with my students. Good books are not just for entertainment; they provide opportunities for speech practice as children retell events from a story. They enhance language skills as students structure their sentences to discuss a plot. And they can be used to address many of the Common Core Standards. For example, in the second reading standard for literature, kindergartners are asked to “retell familiar stories, including key details.” And in the fourth standard, first graders are asked to, “Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.” We had fun with that one as we discussed the creaky, smooth, cold voice of the dark.
I introduced The Dark on Tuesday, and by Friday, when Jose came into my room and saw the book sitting on my shelf, “the look” spread across his face. Not the fear-tinged wary-look but the excited-anticipation-look. Before he had a chance to sit down he said, “Read it again! Read it again!” And we did, but not before he retold the story on his own, with impressive detail.