Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Every Living Thing - Revisited

As I write, I'm sitting in my backyard in the shade.  My Newfoundland Dog, Timber, is sitting at my feet trying to stay cool (which isn't easy for a huge black dog to do).  The mist from a sprayer is floating along the light breeze, giving us a cool burst periodically).  It's 95+ degrees in Denver today.  It's hot!  Escaping the heat means a good book is close by...

Today I'm rereading Every Living Thing by Cynthia Rylant.  My paperback copy in my classroom is dog-earred and well-loved.  It's one of my "go to" books.  I have a hard cover copy at home and I've been spending my reading time with it today.  I'm sure you know it, but it's a treasure trove of wisdom... worth a reread.

Who doesn't love the story of Leo in "Slower than the Rest."  Simply because it's one of Rylant's masterpieces.  As you read, your reading heart melts when Leo fills "fast" for the first time in his life... thanks to Charlie.  How many Leo's have you known in your classrooms... "slow in reading, slow in numbers, slower than nearly everything that passed before him in the classroom"?  Brilliant writing.

Who doesn't love Velma?  And Miss Cutcheon in "Retired"?  Simply because we love what we do, this calling of teaching and can't imagine not doing it.  As you read, you can't help but think of your own teaching life... perhaps impending retirement... change.  How many times have we heard the saying "Old habits are hard to break"...  "Each day Miss Cutcheon would creak out of her bed like a mummy rising from its tomb, then shuffle into the kitchen, straight for the coffee pot."  Brilliant writing.

Who doesn't love Emmuanuella in "A Pet"?  Simply because we've all longed for a childhood pet and perhaps had to watch it die.  As you read, you can't help but sigh when she finds Joshua waiting for her after school.  How many times have we had to say goodbye... "In the morning, Joshua was dead.  Emma found him floating on top of the water when she woke up.  When she lifted him out of the water in the net, it surprised her how heavy he was.  He was as large as her hand, and it surprised her because she had never held him."  Brilliant writing. 

Who doesn't feel kindred to Denny in "Safe"?  Simply because our fears often play a huge role in our lives; whether you're a child or an adult, fear is real.  As you read, you can't help but understand Denny's need for comfort.  How many times have we turned our hearts and minds to something or Someone to take away our fears... "The cows' eyes were all large and shining and very, very peaceful.  Denny stared at the eyes and he felt reassured.  He felt stronger.  He felt safe."  Brilliant writing. 

And so Every Living Thing goes.  There's something reassuring about sitting with an old friend in the heat of the day.  Reading words that you've read time and time again.  Knowing how the stories end, but forgetting how superbly they were written.  Of course, in the classroom it's all "What did you notice?" and "Why do you suppose?" but on a 95+ degree day, with a Newfoundland dog at your feet, it's really about revisiting, remembering, and rereading... brilliance.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I adore Cynthia Rylant but sometimes I get so caught up in staying current with new titles, I forget my "old friends". Thanks for this wonderful reminder to revisit them.

  2. My favorite story is the "Stray". Students really connect to how the father changes his mind and what is motivating the main character. I concur...Brilliant writing. I love sharing with students that it is the same writer as Henry and Mudge and Mr. Poppleton...they are always surprised!

  3. I'm ashamed to admit I own this book and have only read "Slower Than the Rest." This post has shown me I need to go back in and read the rest of the stories. Thank you, Patrick.

  4. Sigh.....Cynthia Rylant.....how I adore her writing.

  5. I love, love, love this book. Can't even count the number of times I've used it, ok, mostly Slower than the Rest, in workshops. You make me want to go back and revisit some of the other stories.

  6. I love this book also and share it in many workshops for grades 4-6.... and you should see my copy. I definitely am in the market for a new one!
    Pat Johnson

  7. Spaghetti is my favorite! We love using these stories --they are so powerful.
    Clare and Tammy