"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, September 15, 2017

ReedALOUD: After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again

"Clever. Ingenious. Amazing. Unexpected. Sad. Beautiful. Shocking. Funny. Surprising. Inspiring." 

Not my words, the words of fifth graders who read After the Fall, How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat with me this week. I second those words. It was one of those shared reading experiences where the students' hands were shooting up to point out connections and ideas both with and within this stunner of a story. 

Humpty Dumpty is an avid bird watcher. He loves being up on the wall where he can be close to them. Oh no, but this part we knew.

The initial humor works effectively here. It makes Humpty Dumpty relatable establishing a quick connection with the reader. We go from chuckling at a shared joke to serious in a flash, but the art has prepared us for this shift in mood. Those binoculars speak volumes.

A bandaged Humpty Dumpty emerges from the hospital and all appears on the mend...from the outside. 
Those eyes peering up at the bunk. That form snuggled on the ground. We readers easily empathize with Humpty.
Dan Santat once again swings our emotional pendulum back towards center as we see how the fear that Humpty Dumpty now lives with is impacting his life, in ways both big and small. We feel for him as he looks longingly at those bright and colorful cereals with their high sugar content and bonus toys while left with cereal options like "grown-up food" and "no fün." 

Humpty Dumpty is making do and then he gets an idea. He sets to work making a paper airplane. Once again readers relate to the perseverance demonstrated by Humpty Dumpty  -- the pile of paper dwindles as the caffeine consumption rises. Nothing will stop him.

And boy does all that work pay off.

But accidents happen. 

The looming shadow, the expression, no words are needed here, this is dread unfolding.

That perfect paper airplane is heading for the top of the wall. 

This white space between Humpty Dumpty and the wall is incredibly powerful. The wall is both physically and psychologically imposing. The next spread represents this chasm almost as an abyss. Dan Santat is helping the reader understand how insurmountable this fear of heights feels.

But climb the wall he does. Those fingers reaching for the next rung? I have been there. (See the end of this post)

With this act, he is finally healed and that last band aid comes away.

No more spoiler alerts here. I love that Dan does not let that band aid slip away. It's there to remind us. Healing takes time. Courage takes time. Getting back up takes time. 

Suffice to say that the eight different times I shared this book with students this week I heard gasps of surprise at the ending.

After discussions about a literal interpretation of what they had just witnessed (some Athena-like birth connections), students quickly moved to a conversation about what they thought the story really meant. We talked about finding the courage to come out of your shell and finding the courage to be the person you want to be. 

This is the kind of book that I have to actually shut down conversation because we have run out of time. It's crushing when that happens.

To offer another way for the students to reflect on the story, I connected it to our school rules. I asked the students to share what it would look like or sound like when they were being courageous and taking care of themselves, when they were making sure that they were getting what they needed to succeed in our space.

Here is some of their thinking:

And now for my funny story...

After the Fall is one of those books that I connect with both literally and figuratively. I have had to find the courage to get back up both physically and emotionally. There have been times when I required that courage in my work life or personal life, but the most frequent experience I have is physical. I am extremely afraid of heights. 

Recently, I was trying to climb up a fire tower, with the encouragement of my children - offering suggestions and help, and it turns out, a bit of humor. If I hadn't been so afraid, I might have seen the cell phone and known something was up. That thing thunking down the steps behind me? My cell phone. There would be no stopping to fix its location. (In case you are wondering, I made it up two whole flights to the first deck.)

This video was taken about a month earlier, in Lucerne, Switzerland, while walking along the Tower Wall. (You think I would learn to be aware of video footage, but apparently fear makes my mind go numb.) I try not to let my fear of heights stop me from experiencing things, but some days are really hard. I needed to get off the wall, and fast. There was too much open space. This one really makes me laugh. I look like I am being furtive! I think the humor helps. It reminds me that I can do these things, if not necessarily gracefully. 
This review and lesson is based upon an advanced reader copy. After the Fall How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again publishes in early October. I already have two copies on order. #picturebooksmatter #courage #getbackup

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