The fourth grade class which hosts two of my most autism-tastic students has just, praise be to God, wrapped up its literature study on Sarah, Plain and Tall . This book is an absolute nightmare to explain to children with social/pragmatic issues, for a wide range of reasons.
Allow Finn to recap the book, which is what I made him do yesterday before letting him pick up his preferred reading item, the dictionary. “Well, there’s a family who lives on the prairie, a really long time ago, before computers and technology, which is why I think it’s really boring. And the mother dies, so they need a replacement mother, so the father places a newspaper ad, and they get a replacement mother, and her name is Sarah. The end.”
This central plotline, narrated in such a matter-of-fact way by Finn, was a source of absolute abject terror for his inclusion partner, Yosef. Yosef is a sweet-faced, roly-poly ten year old who is extremely attached to his family and cannot handle any form of sadness or conflict. Knowing that 4th grade chapter books were typically Yosef’s first exposures to traumatic events in literature, I made sure to be the one who read Chapter 1 with him. We read the words together, and I summarized. Sometimes, in a book, a mommy–NOT YOUR MOMMY! A FICTIONAL MOMMY!–might, well, die. Doing this felt, to me, like stepping on a bunny.
And then, there are chapters two through nine. Keeping in mind that TeacherBeth’s job when it comes to Great Literature is often to summarize–to boil down complicated plotlines and emotional nuances to their simplest and most salient elements. So, basically, I explained to Yosef that sometimes, in a book, a mommy–NOT YOUR MOMMY. A FICTIONAL MOMMY!–can be replaced.
Again, not my favorite adventure in reading comprehension. Today, thankfully, was the last day of Sarah, Plain and Tall. The final assignment: write Chapter 10, because the book ends before a lot of the promised things happen.
Yosef was beside himself with joy at the chance to make the Happiest Ending Possible. “And so, Sarah and Jacob got married, and they made a bigger house, and Sarah will stay forever and ever with Caleb and Anna and they’ll never forget that they still love their real mom.”
Finn’s ending, told to me in conversation as I did yard duty, was a bit more complicated.
“So, there was a wedding in a little wooden church, with oil lamps and candles, and Jacob and Sarah rode away in a horse-drawn buggy…”
“Awesome job using what you remember about the historical context, Finn!” (Said by me, because the first draft I saw before yard duty involved a radio announcement, leading to a bit of a reminder about what was and wasn’t available during the pioneer era.)
“Yeah, and they used sticks and twine to spell out “Just Married” on the back of the horse-drawn buggy that they rode away in.”
“Well, you know, they did have paint back then, so that’s another option for decorating, but great, go on…” A moment of great smugness for me then, as I congratulated myself on a clear success with helping Finn immerse himself thoroughly in the bucolic, distant past.
“And as they left the church, suddenly, a man FROM THE FUTURE arrived, very distressed, because robots FROM THE FUTURE were trying to break into the safe and take the OTP key–that’s an acronym for One Time Password–to get all the spy agent code names and intranet passwords and specializations from CSS–that’s an acronym for Cyber Secure Storage–and the man FROM THE FUTURE needs to alter the technology in the following ways….”