The Breakfast Club has been consistently meeting for almost three months now, all of us reading aloud together for about twenty minutes. We have read “Priscilla and the Wimps,” “The Most Dangerous Game,” Ender’s Game, and we just finished Of Mice and Men. (After we had finished Ender’s Game I perused our shelves in the classroom to look for our next book and Steinbeck’s novel caught my eye. Though I knew it would be a stretch for them, I thought the guys might enjoy it.)
All through its reading, the boys complained how difficult it was to read slang. They stopped often to ask what certain words meant. They thought the story seemed more like a play. Some of the references were hard for them to grasp. “What does a roving eye mean?” CG asked.
When the character Lennie killed the pup by accident, the boys were surprised and a bit upset with Lennie’s clumsiness, but when he killed Curley’s wife their voices got soft. I could tell they were concerned and shocked. We all continued to read aloud, but it was much subdued. ST actually got real quiet and followed the words with his eyes until I reminded him we were reading aloud. They were emotionally pushed by this book.
Before the last few pages of the book, JB predicted that George would kill Lennie. (JB is not a fluent reader but he can really infer ideas once he gets a handle on them. He’s fabulous at understanding human emotions and development.) None of the others agreed. They thought that George had led the other men in the wrong direction and that Lennie would escape.
As we neared the conclusion, the boys were riveted. CG was indignant. “How could Lennie be so concerned with the rabbits? He just killed somebody!”
“He’s nuts, you know that.”
When we got to the end of the story, the debate started. “I knew George was going to kill Lennie, I just knew it.”
“But why would he do that? Why?”
“His life was going to be miserable if he didn’t.”
“But that’s killing another person. You can’t just do that.”
“Why not? He killed him because he really loved him.”
“What? You’re the one who’s nuts.”
As they spilled into the hallway eating their muffins, the reward I bring for their coming so early before school (one blueberry, two chocolate chip, one double chocolate chip), I could hear their impassioned and heartfelt voices, arguing and grappling with this tough ending. They were actually excited about something they read in a book. Not usual for this particular group of guys. (In fact, when I saw them later in the day in class, they were still at it. )
I don’t know if this choral reading is actually helping these students read any better. I know spending 20 minutes reading each day certainly can’t hurt. And the fact that they have been showing up consistently at 7:30 in the morning is saying something. I know it’s not the muffins.
My goal all along has been to get them interested in reading, to discover that place where you get so totally into the story that you forget you are in a classroom and actually in the space and place the words describe for you on the page. I don’t know if that really happened for them today, but, to paraphrase the end of Of Mice and Men, I was mighty glad something was really eatin’ those guys.