By Phil Nast November 21, 2011 10:52 am
Late Christmas Eve in Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” Buddy’s older cousin tells him that she can’t sleep: “My mind’s jumping like a jack rabbit.” My mind jumped for weeks before Christmas when I was a kid. I knew I’d lost something when anticipation no longer kept me staring at the ceiling long past bedtime and my little brother’s Christmas morning enthusiasm began to irritate me. When my kids were young, I recaptured some of the thrill. I expect I’ll get another round of excitement with grandchildren. In the meantime, it’s just bills, bills, bills.
Today, when we talk about the holidays, we acknowledge traditions that were neglected in the past, but students haven’t changed. They still get excited, and teachers still try to channel their energy. Perpetual motion might be impossible elsewhere in the universe but not in a classroom full of young children in the weeks before holiday break. One way to direct their energy is to create classroom holiday memory books.
I introduced the project to my 6th graders by having them read Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales (CCW) and Truman Capote’s ”A Christmas Memory.” (CM) Free text versions for CCW and CM are on the web. At least three book versions of CCW are available, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, Trina Schart Hyman, and my favorite Fritz Eichenberg. CM has been illustrated by Beth Peck. Older students might like to hear the reminiscences read by Dylan Thomas and Truman Capote.
CCW (1987) and CM (1966) were both filmed. At the time, I had both on VHS. Both can be found on DVD. Try to watch the older version of CCW with Geraldine page, and skip the Patty Duke 1997 remake. Sadly, the older version is not available on the internet. You might find it a library. CM is available on the internet in six parts. Comparing the print and film versions can become part of the unit.
After reading and discussing the models, students wrote about their own holiday traditions and memories as well as those of a parent and grandparent. It was fun to compare the generations. Because holidays are a shared experience, peer workshopping seemed to work well. Family and cultural differences created interest, and writing that wasn’t clear produced questions and suggestions. In the interest of uniform type face, I collected and typed up the final drafts. Today, prescribing font would allow students to type up their own. The students collated and bound the finished anthologies.
The final product can include student art and favorite recipes. I still have some of the anthologies, but then I still have my youngest daughter’s tissue roll angel. I like to think some of my students have kept their memory books too.