The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Encountering Tragedy Through Literature

Here are some of the books I have used as a read aloud this year:

  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • Duke by Kirby Larson
  • Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Here are some of the things I have learned by reading this books to my fourth graders:

  • Life is full of tragedy.
  • Somehow we learn how to overcome.
  • Sometimes we think we will never get over a loss.
  • We usually learn that while we will never forget, we manage to move on.
  • Too many dogs die in children’s literature.

I remember discussing this last point with some of my colleagues last year. Someone told a story about a year that a fourth grade teacher had read only books with dead dogs in it. I jokingly said I was going to do that, just to see what would happen.

I didn’t mean it.

Then I made my list of books I wanted to read aloud this year and I didn’t notice that constant theme. I don’t want to give spoilers, but I think I can suffice to say that there has been a lot of tragedy encountered through my read alouds this year.

But something else interesting has happened, too. My students have been able to discuss how they enjoyed the story, even with the sad parts, sometimes because of the sad parts. The stories have helped them realise that their own sadness when similar events have happened in their lives is not unique to them. That other people have been sad, have experienced grief, have wondered why, and that those feelings are not only okay, but also very common.

Because April is National Poetry Month, I had thought about using an excellent novel-in-verse by Sharon Creech as my next read aloud. But I don’t think I will, because it, too, brings the death of a beloved family pet to our literary experiences. I have an alternate selection I will read, though, that still exposes my class to this unique style of telling a story. Because, as much as I love the story Love That Dog, I think my class needs a break from the tragedies.

I’m not actually going to do this as a read aloud. I saw it in my school library, though, and checked it out so if my students want to read it on their own, they can.


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