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I’m excited to share with you a program I’m participating in here at Boston College. It’s called the “Read Aloud Program,” and while it’s been on offer to employees of the university for many years, this is the first time that the stars have aligned and I’ve actually been able to take part. (I often work past seven in the evening, but the favorable optics of ensuring we can participate in “extracurricular activities” is too good for my boss to pass up. But I digress.)

C C has shared her experience with the DAWGS Program in which elementary school students in her town of Blacksburg, Virginia have the opportunity to read to dogs. Fergus is a great listener as well as a welcome visitor to his assigned class. The “Read Aloud Program” is different, in that I get to read to the students.

I’ve been assigned to a third-grade class at the Thomas Edison School, which is less than a mile from the BC campus and yet a world away. It’s part of the Boston Public School system and comprised of a very complex mix of children who all carry their own “story.” A lot of them are children of immigrants. They’ve already paid the price for the colossal turmoil in the countries of their birth, forced to depart from their homelands and leave their dreams behind, to accompany their parents to find safety, shelter and a better quality of life.

Given all of that, I had no idea what today’s third grader would want to hear, or what they’d read on their own. I had a lot of material given to me by the program, including book recommendations, but I was still lost.

I contacted the teacher of the class to which I’d be reading and let her know of my fears. I told her that, while I was looking forward to meeting her students, I had no idea what Ishould be looking for in a book. Should it be one that I could finish in the 15-20 minute reading period or one that I would continue to read over the course of the school year? How does the whole thing work? (I’m a big ‘overthinker,’ just ask K R or C C.)

The teacher’s response? “Most of them have a short attention span… We’ve read books from Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and even the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky. So anything is fine. You pick, and I’m sure it will go great.”

What?! Not helpful. I’m now imagining these kids as more well-read than I am.  I’m not a parent. I don’t think I’ve dealt with, in any meaningful way, third graders, since I was one myself. (When I first signed up for this program, I envisioned reading to kindergarten or first-grade students, so that I could read my favorite book from that time, a book I still remember very well, “Miss Suzy.”) I needed guidance. I turned to the professionals.

I went to the Education Resource Center in the School of Ed. Basically, it’s a library for teachers. I made an appointment and met with a librarian. We talked about books I remembered from when I was eight or nine that had made a lasting impact on me. While my favorite from that time was “A Wrinkle in Time,” we both decided that I couldn’t walk into a room full of third graders, that I’d never met, with that as the only book under my arm*.

We turned to Roald Dahl, another favorite. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” seemed a bit long and a bit too on the nose. I grabbed “The Enormous Crocodile.”


I also had the idea that it would be fun to read a book with a Halloween theme since it is October and all. The librarian, my new friend, Heather, recommended a recent book, “The Pomegranate Witch,” by Denise Doyen (with incredible illustrations by Eliza Wheeler.)

I have to say, I fell in love with this book at first read and first sight.

The Amazon synopsis:
“When a scary old tree blooms with the most beautiful pomegranates ever seen, the neighborhood kids’ mouths water with anticipation. But the tree isn’t theirs—and it has a protector! So begins the Pomegranate War, a fun, rollicking, rhyming tale of a battle between the sly, plucky young rascals and their wry, witchy neighbor who may have more than one trick up her sleeve. This delectable romp from award-winning children’s poet Denise Doyen and acclaimed illustrator Eliza Wheeler honors classic children’s literature and revels in nostalgia for free-to-roam days full of playful invention.”

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Reading it aloud to myself reminded me of having been read to, and I knew this was the book I wanted to start with.

I arrived at the school at the appointed time. Ms. Connor introduced me to her class, and, because they knew the drill, even if I did not, they all got up from their desks and gathered on the round rug in front of the rocking chair and waited for me.

I took my seat and asked if they were familiar with this book. They all shook their heads. Many of them did not recognize “Halloween” as a holiday, nor participate in the American customs associated with it. I wondered if anyone knew what a pomegranate was. Most raised their hands, and many told me that they ate them at home “all the time.” Okay, that’s different. The closest I get is pom juice in the grocery store.

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With a deep breath, I opened the book and began to read. Much to my amazement, I had them hooked before the first utterance of “…Pomegranate, Pomegranate, Pomegranate Witch!” I shared the illustrations with them and asked questions about vocabulary and whether or not they understood what the children in the story were up to.

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They had so many questions and comments! They were so engaged, with the story I was reading, and how it related to their own lives, I didn’t know if I’d have time to finish the book in our short time together. Granted, there were a few who were enchanted with the sound of their own voices. And there were some with an excessive need for attention. (Ms. Connors did her best to keep them wrangled.) But I tried to ensure that every little hand raised, was recognized and allowed to have their say.

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I managed to get through the book. I felt relieved that I’d managed to do it with few hiccups, but without catastrophe, as well as exhilarated from the experience. I left the building to catch my Lyft back to campus. The day, and even the rest of the week, felt lighter. Now, I have to wait for another month to do it again! I’m so excited and grateful for the opportunity to impart my love of reading to a new generation. I’ll keep you posted on the journey!

Thanks for reading!


*I love this book. I remember this book, singularly, as my favorite of childhood. But the fact that it just came out as a (somewhat disappointing) movie, coupled with the fact that it’s slightly above the calculated reading level of third-graders,  would only cloud the proceedings.