On Wednesdays, my posts will focus on my correspondence with a group of eighth graders and their teacher, Lisa Herschberger, who teaches English at Goshen Middle School in Goshen, Indiana. We will be writing about the books we are reading, and Lisa and I hope to model how to talk about a story in more ways then just summarizing what happened. We hope to post our letters to and from each other, as well as letters from the students.
For my first letter, I want to write about a book called Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes. I wanted to read this story for a few reasons. First, I read Ms Holmes' blog, and I like her writing a lot. The other day she wrote a post explaining why she hadn't been blogging lately. Instead of saying something like, "I haven't been blogging because I've been living my life.", she talks about making root beer float cupcakes and painting her toes "every color from Russian Navy to Diva of Geneva." What a lovely picture. I wonder if she ate the cupcakes while she was painting her toes?
I also love Ms Holmes poetry. Here is a poem of hers that creeped up on me, softly spoke to me for awhile, and left too soon, taking a part of me with it.
The Bones of January
I love the plainness of January
when I have taken down my Christmas
finery, and in the shock
of my home stripped bare, I see
the corners of my rooms
again. And outside, all is
stark, gray, glorious
with no false beauty to help me
pretend that I am satisfied.
In January, I kneel beside my children’s
sleeping faces, and let them break
the leafless branches
that cage my chest.
And outside, all is
undone. Roots rend
the earth like bones.
How did this happen?
That all should be taken
and that love,
love should be plain
---Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)
Letters from Rapunzel arrived at my door last week, and I was excited to get started because I love books that are made up of letters. I think the first book I read on my own was Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, and I stuck with it because I felt like I was reading someone's personal letters. I guess that makes me sound like a snoop, but really, I think letter writing is fantastic. What a lovely thing to sit down with a favorite pen, some nice stationary, and the confidence to know that the person you are writing wants to hear from you.
Cadence is the main character in the story, and she writes letters to Post Office Box #5667, signing them all "Rapunzel." She calls herself Rapunzel because she is trapped. Not so much like Rapunzel in the fairy tale, but she finds herself in an after-school homework club that feels a lot like the tower Rapunzel was trapped in. She has to spend time here now because her father is no longer at home in the afternoons to pop popcorn, drink root beer, and write poetry while she works on homework. Cadence believes he is under an evil spell and when she finds a portion of a letter he wrote to P.O. Box #5667, she decides to write letters to the person at this PO Box too, in hopes of finding out more about her father.
I liked this book a lot. First, I liked the observations Cadence makes. In one of her letters, she says that she prefers hand writing her letters to typing them. "Somehow they'd feel different if I were typing them. Why is that?" I like to hand write better then typing, too. I seem to think more carefully when I write my words out.
I also like Cadence's thoughts on Rapunzel and the other fairy tales like "Princess and the Pea" and "Cinderella." In one letter she wonders why Rapunzel never gets any older, but her hair keeps growing. Cadence notes that hair grows about six inches each year. "In the pictures, Rapunzel's hair is always about ten feet long, which would mean she'd have been in the tower about eighteen years (assuming her hair's already a foot long when the witch locks her in at thirteen years). She never gets any older in that tower, but her hair does! How weird is that?" Cadence also renames the title of a few fairy tales and I think they're so funny. She calls Cinderella, "The Complete Chronicles of Cinderella, from Fireplace to Fame, and All the Juicy Details in Between." My favorite is the tale of Goldilocks - "The True Tale of Goldilocks; and Her Adventures with Three Nameless Bears and Assorted Bowls of Porridge."
I think what I like the most about this book is Cadence's journey "into the woods." Cadence writes that "whenever one of us (she or her dad) is scared to try something new, we dare each other to go 'into the woods'", to a place where things might be scary or sad. I might be wrong, but I think I remember that in some fairy tales, the woods served as a place where the main characters shouldn't go. It's where bad things happen; things we shouldn't know about. But Cadence writes about going into the woods despite being scared or sad, because she wants to know the truth about what is going on with her father. In one scene when she learns what's happened with him, and she is truly in the thick of "the woods," surrounded by fear and sadness, she remembers something her dad wrote once: "You must be willing to have your heart broken in order to live." Cadence says that despite having her heart broken, she would do everything she did again. "Because otherwise I'd just be a silly princess, waiting for rescue."
I think Letters from Rapunzel is a great book for any of your eighth grade girls to read. Cadence is a strong, witty character and someone who I would want to be friends with if I were an eighth grade girl. If I were in the after school homework program with her, I would try to sit next to her, and after slyly passing a piece of bubble gum to her, I'd ask if she'd want to write a story together. Or maybe just talk about poetry for a little while.
I am looking forward to hearing about what you and your students are reading!