Read Like It’s An Ice Cream Cone

Read Like It’s an Ice Cream Cone

This week we started our tenth book in the One School, One Book program at Fox Elementary School. We’re doing Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech, the first time we’ve done a second book by an author we’ve done before.

We’ve waited some time to do this book – essentially waiting for National Poetry Month. Like Creech’s Love That Dog, Heartbeat tells a story through easy to read, virtual prose poems. But this time the story is beefed up, encompassing and weaving together as many as six themes (much as Creech does in her longer novels for older children, like Walk Two Moons.)

On Friday we introduced the book to the children via an assembly. Each time we do a new book, we have to come up with a new idea for the assembly, too. I believe a hallmark of the assembly is that it should not tell too much, that it should introduce some element of the book that will spark children’s curiosity, but that the book itself should remain somewhat mysterious. The idea is to induce children to lean forward and look harder to find out what the book is about. To bring that curiosity and enthusiasm home to their families.

So we decided to “introduce” the children to each of the story’s six “themes” – but elliptically, symbolically, suggestively. We put up on the stage, on little individual pedestals: a pumpkin, a stuffed animal alien, a pair of running shoes, a set of drawing pencils in a fancy case, a Max (from Where the Wild Things Are) figurine, a thesaurus, and a set of false teeth in a jar. (Heartbeat is narrated by a 12-year-old girl who likes to run, and draw, and write, who is friends with a boy named Max, whose mother is about to have a baby, and whose grandfather is losing his memory.) We displayed each of these items to the children, telling them they represented “things to look for in the story,” but did not explain anything further.

Then I read a sample chapter.

Now reading an excerpt is the tried and true, fail-safe method of introducing your One Book at the Assembly. In this case we opted for the excerpt because I wanted to share with the children the importance and value (and technique) of reading a poem slowly, not just racing thru because there are so few words on the page. [Caveat: I never tell anyone how they should read a book. If children, or families, want to read the book quickly, of course that is their pre-rogative. The suggested technique is just that – a suggestion. Mere advice.] The particular challenge was to find a method that children, upon hearing it, might actually be able to take home and share with their families.

So I asked them (knowing the answer) if they knew what it was like when you have an ice cream cone, and you don’t want it to go away too fast, you want to make it last as long as possible. My recommendation was to try to read the poems in Heartbeat like that – savoring the juicy words and choice phrases, letting yourself absorb the emotional moments before moving onto the next one – reading the poems in Heartbeat as if they were an ice cream cone. Each poem a lick that you want to finish tasting and enjoying – savoring – until the next.

And so I read an eight-page poem, “An Apple A Day,” a poem you can read in less than a minute if you’re flipping pages. But it took us a good 3-4 minutes, because there is humor, and story, and imagery, and detail, and inner mental life all in this poem, and we wanted to taste and recognize each of those elements.

It is no easy feat to hold the attention of kindergarteners in the front row when you’re reading a poem like that, with no pictures and no real action. But it seemed to work. Sometimes the words are enough – when you’re licking them like an ice cream cone.

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