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Heart on the Page

Posted November 6th, 2015

IMG_1460Reading and writing work in tandem.

Some non-readers become excellent writers. Most don’t.

After school, four days a week, I try to teach writing to junior and senior high school students who would prefer to talk about perceived insults or how to color hair using Jell-O.

I want them to understand grammar.

I want them to understand voice.

And I wanted to read a book so filled with heart that no one would suddenly remember a make-up test. No one would need to call a parent for a ride. No one would hold a notebook in front of his or her face and whisper to a friend.

Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli, involves Palmer LaRue, whose birthday takes place in the first chapter. At age ten, Palmer — a sensitive boy — will be old enough to participate in Pigeon Day, the climax of the town’s Family Fest. On Pigeon Day, 5,000 captured pigeons are released in the air to the delight of shooters, who kill most of the birds.

The hapless wounded die as well, at the hands of “wringers,” who wring the birds’ necks. Palmer is haunted by this looming “honor.”

I read Wringer to the Monday class.

When I finished the first chapter, everyone was still awake. No one had to go to the bathroom. No one said anything.

“The chapters are short. Should I read one more?”

Murmurs of assent.

“That’s all.” I said, although I wanted to read every page out loud. “I will not read more than two chapters today.”
So I read the second chapter to them. When I had finished, they were dumbstruck. Or, at least, very quiet.
That’s because good writing is more than words on paper. There’s heart. Wringer has it, and the students heard it.
We’re a storytelling culture. We need stories and someone to write them, with heart.


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