Thursday, October 27, 2011

Substitute reader: 2nd grade

This past Read Aloud, I visited the school to pass out books and meet this year's crop of reader volunteers (there were a few new ones, but many have been doing this for years). As it happened, our predicted photo opportunity was co-opted by an earthquake drill, so I may have to join them another time for that purpose.

As it also happened, one of the volunteers had forgotten the appointment, and I was engaged as a substitute for his class (it was only the second Read Aloud of the school year, so I don't think the kids much registered the change). With about 30 seconds of prep (and aren't I glad that *I* was the one who'd read all the books beforehand?), I was propelled to a second-grade classroom across the hall and introduced to the class by the principal.

We read In Our Mothers' House, by Patricia Polacco, which is about a Berkeley family with two moms and three children. The story is narrated by the eldest child, and the first question a student had was, "Why is the baby black?" (We established that the baby was born that way, and the baby was a different color than the mothers because she was adopted.)

The main conflict in the book is that, although the family is very popular with most of their neighbors (holding block parties and the like), one neighbor is disapproving and tries to spoil their fun. At one juncture, she hisses at the mothers, "I don't appreciate what you are." However, just "what they are" is not explicitly addressed by the author, and I think the specific point about homosexuality or non-traditional families may have passed by the kids. I stopped the book at that point and asked the kids what they thought she meant, and got a variety of answers like "She doesn't like that they are happy," and "It looks like she isn't having fun, so maybe she is mad about being lonely". Although many families in the school have two moms or two dads (it's in a historically gay neighborhood), I'm not sure that difference would come to mind unless a child had recently been through a similar experience of discrimination.

The book, I realized in the reading, was awfully wordy for the available time. I don't know how long the volunteers usually have, but we had about 20 minutes before the earthquake drill, which was just enough time to conclude with a few generic questions (most of the children wanted to tell me what they were going to be for Halloween -- a holiday mentioned in the story). Polacco's watercolors, though, are always lovely. After we finished, the teacher mentioned that she had been planning already on getting the book for the class -- so I guess it was a good choice!

I very much enjoyed my impromptu Read Aloud! I look forward to doing more of that sort of thing in my graduate classes and internships. My partner's first-graders are going on a library field trip Saturday, and I'll get to join them and help her out. I'll let you know how it goes!

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