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Category Archives: Extended Read Aloud
This evening we finished our fourth extended read-aloud book of our storybook year: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë. I briefly blogged several weeks back about how much we expected to like Jane based upon the brutally honest way in which she verbally filleted her aunt, Mrs. Reed. We did, indeed, end up liking Jane, who, though set upon by trying circumstances and overbearing suitors, remained true to herself throughout the novel.
We also enjoyed the many clever and profound turns of phrase Ms. Brontë worked into her story. She succeeded in speaking simple but insightful truths about human character and emotion in strikingly beautiful words. We also found the denouement quite gratifying – Jane, an independent woman of means, returns to her true love on her own terms to complete her happiness and to create his.
And the verdict on Brontë vs. Brontë? We all enjoyed “Jane Eyre” more than “Wuthering Heights”. Both books deserve their status as classics. However, while we felt there was little to root for in the deeply flawed characters of Emily’s “Wuthering Heights”, we found ourselves quickly invested in Charlotte’s Jane and her happiness, which kept us a little more on the edge of our seats throughout this book.
And now? There are soooo many great books out there we could read next. We had considered Jane Austen, but may actually go for a Brontë triple-play by reading one of Anne’s.
Tune in here later this week, “same bat-time, same bat-channel“!
We made it through Chapter 4 of Jane Eyre tonight, and it was gratifying. We had read enough to know that Jane has not been well treated by her adoptive mother – Mrs. Reed. It seems the only reason Jane is even still in the Reed house is the result of a death-bed promise from Mrs. Reed to Jane’s uncle that she would care for Jane…although, apparently, Mrs. Reed did not interpret her promise such that she must actually care for Jane.
We had a couple pretty juicy passages from tonight’s reading which, I think, bear repeating here. The first happens while Jane is interrogated by Mr. Brocklehurst, the headmaster of what is to be her new boarding school: Lowood.
Mr. Brocklehurst is a severe and godly man whom I am confident we shall loathe. He questions Jane first about her understanding of Hell:
- ‘What is Hell? Can you tell me that?’
- ‘A pit full of fire’
- ‘And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?’
- ‘No, sir.’
- ‘What must you do to avoid it?’
- I deliberated a moment; my answer, when it did come, was objectionable: ‘I must keep in good health, and not die.’
Well played, Miss Eyre.
Jane proves herself rather naughty through the remainder of the interview – not so much because she is outright defiant or flippant, but because she simply tells him the truth – ironically, while being accused by her Aunt of being deceitful.
After Mr. Brocklehurst departs, Jane has her Aunt all to herself and makes good use of the opportunity to speak her mind. Her parting shots are epic…
- ‘I am glad you are no relation of mine: I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty.‘
- ‘How dare you affirm that, Jane Eyre?’
- ‘How dare I, Mrs. Reed? How dare I? Because it is the truth. You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back–roughly and violently thrust me back–into the red-room, and locked me up there, to my dying day; though I was in agony; though I cried out, while suffocating with distress, ‘Have mercy! Have mercy, Aunt Reed!’ And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me–knocked me down for nothing. I will tell anybody who asks me questions, this exact tale. People think you a good woman, but you are bad, hard-hearted. You are deceitful!‘
Boom! Drops mic.
All of this from a ten-year-old girl!
We are going to like Jane Eyre.
Last night we finished Wuthering Heights, with Nelly Dean at last in charge of the Heights and the Grange (even if Catherine & Hareton THINK they are). In honor of a very entertaining read, we thought we would share a few of our favorite quotations from the book…
“…he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” – Catherine Earnshaw to Nelly Dean, speaking of Heathcliff (chapter ix)
“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods; time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Healthcliff! He’s always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable…” – Catherine Earnshaw to Nelly Dean (chapter ix)
“You are worse than twenty foes, you poisonous friend!” – Isabella Linton to Catherine Linton (chapter x)
“‘Ah! Nelly has played traitor’…’Nelly is my hidden enemy. You witch!'” – a dying Catherine Linton in a moment of clarity, to Nelly Dean (chapter xxi)
“…passing harsh judgment on my many derelictions of duty, from which, it struck me then, all the misfortunes of my employers sprang” – Nelly Dean, in a moment of false remorse…one can imagine the innocent Lockwood shaking his head and denying her guilt in the story (chapter xxvii)
“I thought Heathcliff himself less guilty than I.” – Nelly Dean (see comment above), (chapter xxvii)
“When Hareton was there, she generally paused in an interesting part, and left the book lying about: that she did repeatedly…” – Nelly Dean describing how Catherine Linton would lure Hareton into learning to read (chapter xxxii)
We left the ghosts of Catherine & Heathcliff to play together for eternity among the heather on the moors.
Meanwhile, for our next book we decided to put off Jane Austen for now and keep it all in the family – moving on to Charlotte Brontë and “Jane Eyre”.
We were fortunate to be able to progress further this evening – both in Wuthering Heights and in James Hafley’s 1958 essay on Nelly Dean. We are only more confirmed in our antipathy for Nelly after tonight’s reading. Understanding Nelly as a villain has elevated Emily Bronte’s novel to a higher plane of achievement in my estimation. Tearing Nelly down and citing examples of her villainy have proven quite entertaining diversions over the past several days – during reading time or not. Alas, I fear we are learning some bad behavior from this book.
As of this evening, we are nearly 90% of the way through, and Nelly’s narration has now come to an end. What is to happen over the final chapters? Will Lockwood insert himself into the Earnshaw/Linton morass, will Miss Catherine marry Hareton, will Nelly Dean maintain her hold on the puppet strings?
We must also begin thinking of our next book…some lighter fare perhaps…like Jane Austen? We shall see…
Before reading time tonight, we went on a family “outing” to the movies to watch a Fathom Event showing of “Florence and the Ufizzi Gallery”. It was suggested by our oldest’s history teacher, and we were not disappointed. After stocking up on popcorn, we were able to sit back in the movie theater and go on a tour of some of the greatest works of art in Florence, Italy – works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, etc. Seeing these creations on the big screen was awe-inspiring. While the music was a bit too loud at times, it was well chosen and served to make the event feel even more monumental. There were a couple paintings toward the end that were especially gory and fascinating on that scale: the Medusa shield by Caravaggio, and Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. Overall, a fully worthwhile experience, and our youngest actually made it all the way through (albeit with a little help from an iPad).
Inspired by our virtual tour of Florence, we made a last-minute substitution for tonight’s book to insert a favorite by Lawrence Anholt. Mr. Anholt has a series of picture books drawing on historical accounts to bring together great artists and children. “Leonardo and the Flying Boy” introduces us to Leonardo da Vinci and two of his young apprentices: Zoro (short for Zoroaste) and Salai. The book is mostly about Zoro, who is the “Flying Boy” of the book’s title. Alongside Zoro, the reader sees inside Leonardo’s workshop and notebooks, hears about his restless intellect and his countless inventions, and eventually experiences flying…if only briefly…when Zoro takes a nighttime joy ride with one of Leonardo’s many mechanical creations. Anholt’s books are very engaging, telling stories out of history and making famous artists accessible to children. I also highly recommend going on past the end of Anholt’s story to read about the history behind the book.
We were able to make some more headway this evening in Wuthering Heights as well, with some help from our trusty paints. By this time in our reading, we have lost the elder Catherine Linton (nee: Earnshaw), her sister-in-law (Isabella), and her older brother (Hindley). Heathcliff has already wrought significant emotional (and financial) damage on Linton and Earnshaw alike, has turned his nephew Hareton into an uneducated brute, and is well on his way to causing further devastation. It’s a bleak story, but the richness of the writing makes it too entertaining to look away.
Another favorite tonight! “Annie and the Wild Animals” is a Jan Brett book – which means every page is full of beautiful illustrations. My favorite part of this particular story is how the author uses the illustrations in the margins of each page as foreshadowing. While reading tonight I paused on every page to ask our youngest to look at the margins to see if she could predict what was coming next – it did seem to keep her more engaged; she enjoys games where she and her mom or I are looking for things together…like the date and envelope for the book of the day.
We were able to get back to Wuthering Heights tonight as well – at least for a little while. We read long enough to get a good dose of the dysfunction in the Earnshaw household following the senior Mr. Earnshaw’s death. It’s a mess. Upon losing his wife shortly after childbirth, Hindley Earnshaw finds solace in the bottom of a bottle; his drinking and violent mood swings drive the rest of the family (including his son) away. Meanwhile, Catherine has grown to be a vain and headstrong young woman, abusive to the staff, and careful to wear different faces depending upon whether she is with Heathcliff or with Edgar Linton. Heathcliff has become even more brooding and resentful, and he doesn’t seem to have many redeeming characteristics himself, although I still find him the most sympathetic character in the house (with the possible exception of young Hareton).
I am looking forward to getting further into the book – I am already hooked, which surprises me because high school English class ruined the book for me the first time around…oh so many years ago.
Today’s storybook, “Sarah Morton’s Day” by Kate Waters, described a day in the life of the Pilgrim girl of the title, living in Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts in 1627. The story, told in the first person by Sarah herself, is illustrated with photographs in a style reminiscent of the “Little Animal” books from our Favorites list. The photo illustrations really seemed to capture the attention of our youngest – holding her rapt throughout the book. Given her rambunctiousness the rest of this evening, that undivided attention to the book was particularly notable. We may have to look for some more books illustrated with photos like these.
Mixed in among all the information about life as a Pilgrim in Plimoth was a recipe for “17th Century Indian Corn Bread”. It was simple enough, and we tried it out, but what we got was glorified polenta. Our eldest claimed it was tasty with some salt, but it can’t hold a candle to Bee Bim Bop.
This evening in extended read aloud, Mr. Lockwood has finally made it back to Thrushcross Grange, where he cajoles the housekeeper, Mrs. Dean, into telling him more about the childhood of his mysterious landlord. Mrs. Dean, who grew up with Heathcliff and with the Earnshaw family who adopted him, is full of stories. Heathcliff was a “gypsy boy” plucked off the streets of Liverpool by his adoptive father (the elder Mr. Earnshaw). He is inseparable from his adopted sister Catherine – who is his partner in crime. Meanwhile, he is is hated by his adopted brother Hindley; Mr. Earnshaw showers love on Heathcliff often at the expense of his own son. It’s a recipe for disaster if I ever saw one. By the time we finished the evening we could see the storm clouds gathering: upon his father’s death, Hindley takes over the estate, Heathcliff is relegated to the status of servant, and Catherine begins to form a bond with their neighbors, the Lintons. The Lintons’ status makes them more “appropriate” companions for Catherine than Heathcliff…at least as far as Hindley and the Lintons are concerned and Heathcliff is increasingly alienated and resentful.
Our book tonight, “To Market, To Market” by Nikki McClure, follows a family as they make their weekly trip to the local farmer’s market. They have their list, and as they work their way through the market checking things off, we learned about how each of the items was grown, prepared, or created. They shop for apples, kale, smoked salmon, honey, blueberry pastries, goat cheese, and batik indigo-dyed napkins. The artwork really drew us in – dark ink drawings accented with a splash of accent color (a different color for each item on the list). The book conveys a sense of community and gave us an appreciation for the craftsmanship that went into each of the items on the list.
For extended read-aloud tonight, we began “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë, a classic tale of lost love (as I remembered it) and revenge. Thus far this evening we were introduced to our narrator, Mr. Lockwood, and the ill tempered denizens of Wuthering Heights. Mr. Lockwood is staying at Thrushcross Grange on the estate of Mr. Heathcliff, and has walked to his landlord’s home to introduce himself. Aside from the housekeeper, there does not seem to be an agreeable, well-adjusted character in the house. A snow storm makes Mr. Lockwood a prisoner at Wuthering Heights overnight, where he dreams (or meets?) the ghost of Catherine Linton at an open window in his bedroom. His curiosity about his brooding host is piqued during his stay, not the least due to the strained relationships between Heathcliff and the other family members in his house.
I think this is going to be a fun read, and I expect our oldest in particular will be captivated. For myself, the accents were also a nice change from our tour of the antebellum South over the last several weeks. We did have to stop at one point this evening and draw out on our chalkboard the relationship between the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights (complete with a very angry-looking stick-figure-Heathcliff).
This evening we read the first of what we hope to be many holiday themed books this year. Today, our first holiday “theme” was Martin Luther King Day – and we picked out a couple books (one of which we read aloud ourselves and one of which was read to us).
Our first book was read to us by LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow – via YouTube : “A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by David Adler. To watch the video, we pulled the computer monitor up to the dinner table and heard about how Martin Luther King, Jr. became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. We followed up the YouTube video with our own book: “What Was Your Dream, Dr King?” by Mary Kay Carson, which asked and answered questions about Martin Luther King’s life, his philosophy, and his accomplishments. Both books provided not only a great opportunity to learn more about MLK, but the background discussion of the legacy of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s provided a nice bookend to our first two extended read-aloud books: “Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
For extended read-aloud, we began “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller – a “great American novel” that I really enjoyed reading when I was in high-school with a title that has become part of the English language in its own right – that’s some catch, that Catch-22. Unfortunately, I think it was not to be…at least for now. We had some trouble getting everyone’s attention this evening – whether it was the book or not, I think we will look for something different tomorrow and save this one for later. It’s still a great book, but maybe not the right book for the time being.
Our first Bill Peet book of the year arrived today! As you will know from our Favorites page, we are big fans of Bill Peet – a long-time writer and illustrator for Walt Disney (at least, until a reputed break over “The Jungle Book” in 1967). “The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock” tells a “tale about a tail” with a familiar theme: an outsider with a physical trait that makes him a second-class citizen becomes a hero when he realizes that what he thought was a shortcoming is actually a great strength. Prewitt’s apparent flaw is the spooky face/design that has appeared over time on his tail feathers (hence the play on words in the title). The face scares and alienates the other peacocks, until it also scares off the tiger who is constantly stalking them. “Prewitt” is a fun book, with wonderful illustrations that look – not coincidentally – like a Disney movie from the 50s or 60s. However, if you want to introduce your kids (or yourself) to Peet, I recommend starting with one of his rhyming books, all of which will eventually show up on this blog (Kermit the Hermit, Zella Zach and Zodiac, Smokey, etc).
Tonight we also finished Huck Finn! The final stanza of the book presented us with a several major twists, the first of which was that the farmer who bought Jim from the King is Tom Sawyer’s uncle (!) Huck plays himself off as Tom, which seems just “bully” until Tom himself shows up (!!). Together, Tom (aka, “Sid”) and Huck (aka, “Tom”) launch the most convoluted, confusing, and difficult plan to free Jim that could possibly be conceived. To be fair to Huck, his original plan is straightforward and even Tom allows that it is likely to succeed. Unfortunately, as Huck predicts, the simple but effective plan just doesn’t have enough “style” for Tom’s taste – a concept which, while frustrating in this context, has really stuck with us after reading two stories with Tom as a central character. I expect that in future we shall as a family seek to have the requisite amount of “style” in everything we do.
Tom then proceeds to work in all kinds of complicated wrinkles, each of which is borrowed from some story or history that Tom has read, and each of which seems destined to derail their plans (Jim can’t escape out the open window of the rickety one-room shack where he is held – he must be dug out, preferably with pocket knives; Jim must have a rope ladder snuck to him in a pie; the family must we warned with anonymous that something is afoot, etc., etc.). All of the various permutations that Tom invents, and scolds Huck for questioning, eventually become rather tiresome. The funniest parts are when Jim expresses his incredulity regarding each new requirement (such as when he learns that he “must” have pet snakes and rats and spiders in the shack with him). We couldn’t help but be frustrated for Jim, who seems so close to freedom but continues to be put through the ringer by Tom’s antics.
At long last…well, I’m not going to give everything away…but it all ends well after one more major twist – perhaps the biggest twist of all! We thoroughly enjoyed both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn but are ready to move on to another literary universe…and to try some read-aloud voices that aren’t all slight variations on the same Southern accent.