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I don’t know if teachers still read aloud to kids in elementary school. Or if the higher-ups have deemed there’s no time for that anymore. But I can still remember Mrs. Berry reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to us in the second grade. After lunch. A chapter at a time.

It was the afternoon Mrs. Berry’s voice cracked, though, that I remember most. The day she pulled a generic tissue from the box on the podium, pressed it to her eyes and strained to read the last exchange between Wilbur and Charlotte.

It stunned us. And yet it was one of those moments that said to every second grader in that room–“it’s okay to cry about a book.” And we did. We sniffled at our desks. We made eye contact with just our ditto sheets. And we loved Mrs. Berry for being real.

But how ’bout this one? Where the Red Fern Grows.

Another rite of passage. And for me it was in the sixth grade listening to Mr. Harum read. I could barely tell you the story now. Detail is flimsy. But the emotion, the heart-pounding hope I felt for Dan and Ann in my sixth grade seat I can still summon today.

Which may be the coolest thing about books. We’re never the same. Books lift us up. Wring us out. Get us to laugh or wheeze. Suck in our breath or sob. They explain. Teach. Guide. Point the way.

And when we let them…they change us.

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Two nights ago I read the first chapter of Where the Red Fern Grows aloud to my own kids. When I stopped, my daughter’s eyes bugged. Then her shoulders sank. “That’s it?” she gasped. “Just one chapter?”

Last  night we read two. And still, it wasn’t enough.

And so this morning, book in hand, grinning, she found me. Could she read ahead, she wanted to know. And I winked my approval like it was our secret. And she was gone.

Gone to the grass.

Gone to discover. To absorb. To live. To inhale. To experience. To weep.

And I watched from the window.

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