I know I complain about my job. A lot. But one of the good things about teaching middle school is that you come across some very high quality literature you’d otherwise miss.
Case in point is Tuck Everlasting. It’s not a new book, but I just got around to reading it this last week. It’s brilliantly written. Natalie Babbit is the author to turn to when it’s time to teach your students about imagery through description, simile, and metaphor.
The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.
That’s the first sentence of the book. I knew I was hooked at this point.
The road that led to Treegap had been trod out long before by a herd of cows who were, to say the least, relaxed. It wandered along in curves and easy angles, swayed off and up in a pleasant tangent to the top of a small hill, ambled down again between fringes of bee-hung clover, and then cut sidewise across a meadow. Here its edges blurred. It widened and seemed to pause, suggesting tranquil bovine picnics: slow chewing and thoughtful contemplation of the infinite.
Come on now, it doesn’t get much better than “tranquil bovine picnics”. Notice, in a book aimed at the middle school aged reader, not a hint of patronization or dumbing-down. The vocabulary choices are challenging and interesting. This is fine craftmanship of the English language. Then again it was written a good 30 years ago or so.
The plot concerns how mortal human beings might deal with the dilemma of being immortal. The conundrum isn’t dealt with from any highbrow, philosophical point of view, or the view of some otherworldly genius, as you might expect. No, this book is all the more interesting because the dilemma belongs to people who can charitably be described as salt-of-the-earth. Common folk. Plebians. The proletariat, for our unreconstructed socialist friends.
If you had no special talents, no special plans or ambitions, no particular reason for doing so, how would you handle never dying?
I’m interested to see what my students have to say about this.