When Parris W. and his eleventh-grade classmates first heard that they would be memorizing entire books, they panicked. Although many of them had memorized speeches, dramatic extracts, poems, and sections of famous sermons since their first years at Cornerstone, the prospect of memorizing an entire book—even a children’s book—seemed daunting.
“[Miss LaPlue] wants us to memorize a thousand words!” one student exclaimed, in hyperbolic terror.
After a few weeks of reading children’s books with me in eleventh grade literature, the students began to study them in their Rhetoric I class as well, where Miss LaPlue asked them to focus on the performative aspect of children’s literature. Most children’s books are written with the idea that they can (and will) be read aloud, so Miss LaPlue asked her class to go a step further: they were to memorize adapted versions of their chosen stories, add dramatic gestures and expressions, and then perform the final products for the Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten classes.
Of course, they did splendidly. There were giggles as the Pre-K students heard one student’s train noises in a retelling of The Little Engine that Could and as they heard another student pretend to be a partridge in Blueberries for Sal. Some even guffawed as another student snorted his way through The Three Little Pigs.
In the illustration that accompanies this article, Parris W. is dramatically presenting the dreaded plate of Green Eggs and Ham from the classic Dr. Seuss book of that title, while the Pre-K classes sit, enchanted.
Two important lessons stand out to me from this performance. The first is the glorious triumph of these students who, in ninth grade, bewailed the agony of having to learn twenty lines of Julius Caesar and who were, even this year, convinced that memorizing and performing adapted children’s stories was impossible. Through skeptical perseverance, they nevertheless performed eloquently and elegantly in front of large crowds of little people. Even more important, however, are the gifts they gave to the students who will someday be in their shoes.
All of these eleventh-graders paused, on a rigorous school week in which their schedules were dominated by sports games, English papers, and pre-Calculus tests, and gave the twin gifts of time and story—two of the richest evangelical tools that they could ever take out into the world—to the littlest students in our Cornerstone family. I hope so much that these Pre-K students remember the delight of these stories—and their day with the “big kids”—when they themselves are telling stories to the tiny Pre-K students of Cornerstone in or around the year 2029.