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So many books, and hungry minds ...

Never has a class treated me the way this group of fifth graders reacted on our last Read Aloud day together.

I have a bulletin board full of students' drawings and thank you notes. Students routinely give me hugs and bookmarks and lots of applause. In almost 20 years of reading to fourth- and fifth-graders at Piedmont Elementary School, I've received flowers and books, origami, Christmas ornaments, candy and even a Frosty coupon once. I don't mean to say that previous classes haven't shown appreciation.

But this year, on our last day, I couldn't get out of the room.

We had just finished "The Hound of the Baskervilles" by Arthur Conan Doyle, followed by a few funny short stories to round out the hour and leave them laughing.

They had testing the rest of this week, then a class trip next week and then it's the end of school. So this was it. Next year they are off to middle school. The sense of impending separation grew as the minutes ticked by, just for me, I thought.

Then, it started with one student; let's call him John. I caught just a hint of reproach in his voice when John asked if I remembered saying I might read them "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, as he had asked me to do months ago. Yes, I remembered, but Sherlock Holmes took longer than I expected and we ran out of time.

"It's only five chapters," he said, eying the clock.

This prompted Eva to remind me that I had agreed to bring more Shakespeare, as she had requested weeks ago.

"I know. I intended to," I apologized. "But Sherlock took longer than I expected." Even abridged, it was a challenge, and those students rose to it. They followed clues, asked good questions and formed hypotheses. We could have done another Shakespeare play in the time we had, but I really wanted something comical and easy for them at the very end. She nodded, understandingly.

"But," I promised, "I can give you the name of another excellent Shakespeare play that has been done in the same format as the ones we read. It is fantastic."

So we got on with some lighter things, starting with the title story from "The Curse of the Campfire Weenies" by David Lubar, a special request of Gilbert's for some time.

Then someone asked, "Could you read that one about -- about --"

"You mean this one?" I pulled Jon Scieszka's "Guys Write for Guys Read" from my bag. Something told me they would ask for this reprise.

The class cheered, and I read "Brothers" by Scieszka followed by "The Follower" by Jack Gantos, another request. Their laughter filled the room. One of the teachers made a note of the book for her son.

And we were out of time.

I gathered my things to go, but before I could cross the room I was surrounded. A couple students asked me to sign the books they were reading. Eva was on the spot with paper and pencil to get the name of that play. (It's "Macbeth," by the way, as expertly adapted by Bruce Coville.) She wanted my phone number.

More students gathered. I shot an apologetic glance over their heads to the teacher, who did not seem to mind. I scribbled more yearbookish messages. More phone numbers. A couple kids gave me their books. Poor Kylie missed her bus.

This is a gift adults give to children. Someone has to take each of us by the hand and introduce us to this world, to smooth the road into the difficult texts at first, until we learn to make our own way. My parents did that for me first, followed by a long line of teachers, both in and out of school. It is a joy to stand in that line for someone else.

I could list all the reasons why reading to children is good for them, as I have done before. But you'll never see a better illustration than this kid chasing after me, pencil in hand, because she has to catch the title of a play that is strange and new to her. Because she has glimpsed this other world, and she wants to go further.Miller is the Gazette's editorial page editor and this month finishes her term as chairwoman of the Read Aloud West Virginia Board of Directors. She can be reached at dawn@wvgazette.com.


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