"Miss Kelley, Miss Kelley!"
It's lunch time, three years ago. It's also a 1:45pm dismissal day, our version of a shortened full day for PD.
"Miss Kelley, the boys won't let us play football with them today."
They're 6th graders at this point. The girls are as tall as the boys. Many are taller.
"They might get hurt," the boys insist.
It's at that point that I know that our first read-aloud when they're in 8th grade will be Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen.
We started the year with Dairy Queen. This class loved football, and played every. single. recess. for three years. I have about 2,000 photos like the one above.
One of the great joys of reading aloud to students is the element of surprise. This is the second time I've used Dairy Queen as a read-aloud, and both times I deliberately kept the plot a secret. Sure, they could look it up online, and a few had already read it, but most had no idea that DJ would decide to try out for the football team. There is a purity to this reading experience that we don't often get today, with reviews and spoilers and jacket summaries that tell entirely too much information.
So I read them Dairy Queen. We were, at this point, starting our journey through A Tale of Two Cities, which is difficult and frustrating for the students, so I was glad to have a read-aloud that was easier to understand. And when we finished it, they begged for me to read them The Off Season.
So I did.
I warned them there would be lots of kissing in the first part of the book. I told them the novel ends on an emotional cliffhanger. They still wanted me to read it, and since I think it's the strongest of the trilogy, a book I had wanted to read aloud but how do you start with the second book, I willingly relented.
I treated the second book as more of a novel study, primarily through written responses. I asked them questions that forced them to get to subtext, we tried to get at the characters, we close read some passages. They were shocked at the twist in the plot, and they felt personally betrayed when the beloved love interest from Dairy Queen let DJ down when it mattered.
I knew, of course, that they would beg me to read Front and Center. I told them they could read it on their own, but they insisted. "Miss Kelley," they argued, "we have to finish it together."
And so we did.
Front and Center was our Friday afternoon reward. As one student said as she entered the room last period on a Friday, "This is my favorite period of the week."
It was mine too.