I use the Junior Great Book Series with my advanced learning students. We use the series because the stories are complex and invite discussion and higher order, open-ended questioning. For educators, it’s up high on Blooms Taxonomy, that chart that no one quite remembers the names of the levels, because they keep changing the names,but administrators love to bring it up all the time. One story that the second graders read is called “Miss Maggie” by Cynthia Rylant. Within the first page, the narrator, Nate, who is looking back on his life, says, “And what happened next is a story worth telling.” The main character is sent by his grandparents (no mention of the parents so this is a great opportunity for students to make inferences) to drop off food to Miss Maggie at her shack. Suffice it to say, that there were many rumors about Miss Maggie, and her wrinkled face, dirty clothes, and tobacco spitting make Nate uncomfortable and embarrassed when his grandpa would give Miss Maggie a ride to town. He hoped no one thought he was related to her. But in the end, being kind and compassionate trumps his preconceived fears.
Each time I read this story, I think about my Mom’s family: country people, hard-working, kind, compassionate, bright, and full of joy. I would relish hearing the stories that they often told. It was the Great Depression, and there were lots of mouths to feed around their own table, but my grandparents saw to it that the neighbors who had less were ok. There was always spare to share. When a petition was passed around to keep a little girl who was racially mixed out of the school, my grandmother refused to sign it and told people what she thought of their petition. Little moments like that stuck with my mother and her siblings. Benevolence, speaking up for the downtrodden and Christian compassion were values passed down to the children. Yesterday, we tearfully buried yet another of her siblings, my Uncle Jack Raines. When the preacher said Uncle Jack had some stories worth telling, I smiled, thinking about this family and their stories. The congregation then heard stories, not the familiar ones of my Mom’s family on the farm but ones that Uncle Jack created with his own children and grandchildren. Ones of back-breaking work in a huge garden and bravely speaking up for Medgar Evans, a murdered Civil Rights leader, hundreds of miles away from VA. Uncle Jack’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have stories worth telling for generations to come.
My own family has its share of stories, many involving my Dad who died twelve years ago. Many involve farm life, vacations, and my favorite is one about a sister trying desperately not to slip on an icy driveway. Sorry, but that is as fresh in my mind as the day it happened thirty some years ago. I pray my own children have stories of significance, not about stuff, but about our real life. No one sits around saying, “Remember when we bought that great couch on sale at Pottery Barn? That was a good deal.” But ones like, “Remember when we had rules that Delilah couldn’t get on the couch and then we threw it out the window because who gives a rip about the couch when you’ve got a dog who has brought us joy and thinks she’s a human?” I have always believed that families must live intentionally, and I vowed five and half years ago that my children would have joy and new memories to make. Never stop creating stories worth telling.