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Read Us a Story!

Books still cast their spell

    Carl Casary came to our school as an older man, somewhere in his 40s, to teach sixth grade. I think he was a World War II veteran. After lunch, he would read Edgar Allan Poe to us: “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado.”
    It didn’t matter that some words were beyond us; Mr. Casary’s voice cast a spell. The rowdy boys settled down; we girls stopped our drawing and giggling; a hush came over the classroom. I can still see that pendulum slicing back and forth through the darkness, coming closer and closer. I can hear the beating of the heart beneath the floorboards, the screeching of the cat behind the wall.
    There are teachers who leave an indelible mark on your life; Mr. Casary was that teacher for me. Maybe he’s one reason I became a teacher myself.
    Now a substitute in elementary schools, I get to enjoy reading to children, as Mr. Casary did. I sit in a rocking chair and call the little ones to the carpet. They crowd in close. Tiana hands me Mrs. Nelson Is Missing. “Read this,” Alexander offers, handing me If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. David chooses books about trains.
    I read a book sideways, holding it up so the kids can see the illustrations. Sometimes I’ll ask a question and we’ll pause for discussion. Hands go up, some waving frantically; everyone wants to share.
    Books that come with activities are fun. After I read Frog and Toad Are Friends, the children return to their seats to make little books that sequence the events in the story. Worksheets help them note the differences between the friends. They show their creativity in coloring very bright frogs and toads for paper-bag puppets.
    A few years later, I see the same students in fourth and fifth grade carrying books much thicker than anything I read in elementary school.