Thursday, August 28, 2008

In Memory of Mrs. Howell

When I think back on my early education, there are two teachers who stand out as favorites -- Mrs. Kendall in fourth grade, and Mrs. Howell in sixth grade. Mrs. Kendall was just a wonder of "active learning" before anyone was calling it that. We wrote our own books, and made a bulletin board display of a town (I got to make the supermarket), and another display of the Sahara (camels that time). Mrs. Howell, though, may have been the more influential of the two because she introduced me to so many books that I still consider favorites.

Every day after lunch, we had a rest time and Mrs. Howell would read aloud. (Obviously, that was in the days before every moment had to be filled with instruction geared toward a test.) She turned off the classroom lights so the only light came from the windows -- which made it easier to step into the world of imagination. She took us back to the Boston Tea Party with Johnny Tremain, to the mysterious Pink Motel, to the brink of danger with Five Boys in a Cave, and to post-WWII Germany and The Ark. It was the best part of the day.

This summer, I decided to revisit some of those classics from sixth grade. I had to do some hunting, since most of these books are out of print. But I managed to find copies of The Ark by Margot Benary-Isbert and Five Boys in a Cave by Richard Church. I read Church's book first, remembering the thrill of adventure as Mrs. Howell read about the boys finding their way along a river down in the cave.

I have to admit it -- it just wasn't quite as thrilling as I remembered. And The Ark, too, seemed stiffer than I remembered it being when Mrs. Howell read it. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad I went back to re-read the books, and I'm encouraging my kids to read them as well. But it really made me think -- was it Mrs. Howell's reading that made me remember the book, more than the book itself? Was it that she added excitement and character to the book with her voice, as much as the writer did with words?

When the kids were little, I read aloud to them every night. (Some of my daughter's memories will include having to poke Mama in the ribs to make me wake up and read the right words, ha ha!) As they've gotten older, though, I've quit doing that. My husband still reads to them occasionally, but not nearly as much as he used to. Both kids are old enough now that they are strong readers on their own, so I guess we think they don't "need" us to read to them anymore. Remembering Mrs. Howell has made me rethink that attitude. Sure, they don't need me to read the "big words" for them now. But maybe they are missing out since I don't share my love and enthusiasm for the books that meant -- still mean -- something to me.

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