For our fiction unit we did a few months ago, I had my
students preview eight fiction books and then choose one to read and discuss in
small literature circles. One of the
books was The Book Thief by Markus
Book Thief is a really beautiful story centered around a girl growing up in Nazi
Germany. It’s written in this really
unique, lyrical style with Death personified as the narrator, and is equally
gripping, heartwarming, funny, and dark.
with The Outsiders group and heard
quiet gasping behind me. I turned
around, thinking that someone in another group was laughing. I saw a student I’ll call Fernando, one of my students in The Book Thief group, with his hand to
his mouth making little sniffling noises.
Fernando’s group mates looked at me with concerned expressions.
you never were one), crying in front of your peers is kind of a big deal. I
mean, it’s a big deal for girls too, I know, but I think the stigma is particularly
bad for guys. It’s made worse at a school like ours, where the vast majority of
our students have been raised in a machismo-type culture that sets some pretty
rigid expectations for men. On top of
this, it’s not like Fernando was crying about losing a sports game or getting
in a fight or something. He was crying
about a book.
cry along with Fernando (and also adopt him), my top priority was to address
what was going on without drawing more attention to him than necessary. I wrote him a pass to go to the bathroom as
long as he needed and set it on his desk quietly. He got up and left. A few kids noticed him leaving and looked at me. I motioned for them to go back to their reading and they did, because I have
created a classroom environment I call Love One Another Or I’ll Destroy You in
which my students know I will take a blowtorch to them if they so much as
snicker at something like that.
After fifteen minutes or so, Fernando returned while the rest
of the class was at lunch. His eyes were
still red and puffy.
that, too, when I’ve been crying and anyone asks if I’m okay. I walked over and
put a hand on his shoulder. I didn’t
really know what to say, so I just stood there.
to join his classmates at lunch.
I began typing a letter to him that I wrote out by hand later during a break. That afternoon,
I had the front office send a note to him during class asking him to drop by my
room after school, and when he came by, I had the letter in an envelope for
you’re home, okay?”
ended up moving a few weeks later, and he never mentioned the letter (though I
didn’t expect him to). I imagine that, if he did read it, it was the type of
thing where he read it once, threw it in the back of his closet, and won’t see
again until he digs through his stuff when packing for his freshman year of
college, and even then he might only say, “Oh, Ms. Teach! She was so weird. I
remember the day she had a cracker in her hair.”
amaze me. I’m talking real, meaningful
acknowledgment, something that shows I have sat with my feelings for longer
than it takes to type out a text or upload a grateful Instagram. I didn’t even think about it when I typed out
my letter to Fernando, but it makes sense that that was my instinctual response. I express myself best through writing, so
writing to Fernando was the best way I knew to let him know that I noticed him
and was proud of him.
people around us more. Maybe you
acknowledge differently than I do—by creating little gifts or having face-to-face
conversations. Some people acknowledge
by baking or doing really kind favors for people. Maybe you acknowledge people by buying them
gin and tonics, in which case I hope you acknowledge me very soon.
files on my computer, which is also what prompted me to write this post. I didn’t delete the letter because it’s also
going to be my letter to the next guy (or girl) who is moved to tears by
literature during my class.
end of The Book Thief. It really shows me that the lessons the book teaches us—and really,
the lessons that The Holocaust teaches us—have affected you deeply.
are so many people whose lives were like Liesel’s. And Max’s. And a lot of the other characters,
in this class or even your score on [our state’s standardized test]. It’s about reading a text so closely that it
grabs you by the collar and shakes you. It’s about being so entrenched in the
lives of characters that you find your heart pounding, or you laugh out loud,
or you cry. It’s about grieving
characters when they die because they have become a part of us.
of the scholar and the young man you are becoming, because I am. Very much so.
P.S. What was the first book that made you cry?