I read Horton Hatches The Egg yesterday. Fifteen English Language Learners sat silently at my feet, legs in criss-cross-applesauce, hands in their laps..... for the most part, any way. Grandma stops reading when there is tumult on the carpet; it's amazing how quickly silence from a grown up leads to silence from the kids.
I've been feeling disconnected from the Prince Kindergartens this year; Miss Levine has moved on up to 4th grade, and I had to work to establish a new routine for myself. Miss Levine was easy; I could open her door anytime, any day, and plunge right into whatever was going on. Different teachers have different expectations, though, and I never want to be a bother. But last month found me chatting in the Teachers' Lounge with most of the kindergarten teachers and we developed a plan.
I want to make a lasting memory, one that all of the kids and I can share. The teachers were looking for a Cool Down period after lunch recess and before the afternoon learning blocks began. Dr. Seuss was the perfect answer. From 11:30-12 every day, the youngest students return to their classroom and try to transition from playing to studying. Transitions are hard, even more so when English is your second or third language and you're not very good at it yet. There are work sheets to be decoded and rules to be followed and if your brain is busy translating your body is often left behind.
Enter Grandma. Horton and I have been making the rounds of the classes, joining them on the playground, accepting hugs and smiles, then following them into their room and onto the carpet. I get a chair, because Grandma's don't get down on the floor that easily. It's not that they haven't asked me to join them; they'll make a special square space just for me, I'm sure. But up on the chair I have gravitas.... and everyone can see the pictures in the book more easily, too.
Reading upside down is an acquired skill. I wonder if there is a class in that in Masters in Education programs. I lose track of the lines. I fumble the words. The kids don't care. As long as the pictures are held firmly before their eyes, they are focused. Grandma messed up the rhyme? Only the teacher smiled. Grandma skipped a page? Everyone hollered.
We learned two new words - faithful and immense. Faithful was hard to define; a good friend who trusts you was as close as we could come. Immense was much more fun - HUGE is a concept every one of the kids can grasp. When you are the smallest on the campus, when everything is adult sized and you are just 5 years old, when the strangeness and newness compound to minimize your existence, HUGE is all around you.
Horton on the tree was immense. The egg was not. The fact that Mayzie the Lazy Bird's egg turned out to contain an elephant with wings was delightfully surprising; that baby was definitely Horton's kid. How that could be was a concept far removed from their enjoyment of the story; little ones are more comfortable with absurdity than their third grade siblings. The older kids were aware enough to squawk when the egg revealed a non-bird creature; That Cannot BE!! But the little ones just giggled and shared in Horton's joy.
Being captured and caged and shipped across the sea must have resonated with the refugee kids at my feet. There was an almost-creepy silence when Horton was getting seasick as he left his home behind. I left it alone; this was story time, not therapy. Perhaps I was imagining the extra joy on their faces as Horton and the baby return to the jungle, together, home, once more.
Perhaps. Perhaps they were just thrilled at the generic happy ending. Perhaps they didn't understand any of it and were merely reacting to my enthusiastic reading aloud voice. Perhaps.
One thing I know for sure. My heart was very happy.