I miss many things about being a classroom teacher. I miss the camaraderie with the students, the collegiality with the staff, and the sense that what I’m doing really matters. I miss the heartwarming and hilarious things that kids say, and the poignant and eye-opening things that they write. The times of day I miss the most are writing workshop (of course!), and the read aloud. There isn’t much that builds a classroom community as quickly and as powerfully as a beautiful book read aloud.
When I was teaching fifth grade, I would read aloud Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt nearly every year as part of a unit of study on character. And what rich characters this book has! The analysis in which my fifth graders engaged was rich and deep.
Now, Tuck Everlasting is celebrating its 40th anniversary. This is one of those books that feels timeless in its treatment of universal themes – first love, family loyalty, fear of the unknown, and, of course, the desire to live forever. As part of Tuck’s anniversary celebration, the folks at Macmillian have arranged a blog tour. Each day for forty days, a blogger will answer the question: What if you could live forever? or Would you drink from the spring? By the way, the spring, for those unfamiliar with the story, is a mysterious trickle of water buried deep in a forest, and is the source of the Tuck family’s eternal life. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the celebration of this special book.
The question, What if you could live forever, strikes a particular chord with me, as I have become particularly aware of the passage of time as of late. But rather than answer the question about what I would do with endless amounts of time, I pondered the question, Would you drink from the spring? I chose this question because I’m not sure I really would want eternal life if given the opportunity.
Rather than share my own long response (though my short response is no, I would not drink from the spring), I thought I’d share excerpts from some of the responses my students gave to this very question, when I posed it nearly ten years ago as a way to respond in writing to the book.
I would not choose to drink and to live forever. I would not want my friends to get older and I stay young.
I would only drink from it if all of my friends and my family did too. Then I would do really dangerous things, like skydiving.
I would not want to drink from the spring like the Tuck family. I would be like Winnie and I would want to get older. They [The Tucks] have to hide and move all around and they can’t go to school because everyone will know they don’t get older.
I think it’s good to get older. I want to get to go to college and have a job and be grown up.
It would be terrible if everyone lived forever. The world would be too filled with people.
When I went back and read these fifth graders’ responses, I was struck by their foresight and perceptiveness. Even though images and pervasive cultural beliefs forward the idea that unending youth is the ultimate ideal, they understood that to live forever, to never age, would render them out of sync with the natural cycle of life and would mean missing out on many of the milestones that make life as poignant and as powerful as it is.
But children still have youth, so it’s not as precious to them, I thought. But the five adults I surveyed informally, at ages ranging from 31-69, all agreed. Some of their responses included:
I think that would be awful to live forever. Especially if your mind continued to age but your body did not.
I would hate to see loved ones come and go around me.
Life is beautiful, but only because it feels precious. And it only feels precious because it is fleeting.
So why then, are we as a culture so obsessed with stopping the clocks? I often say I wish I was ten years younger. But after reflecting on what the past ten years have brought me, and on the way in which aging has been a necessary part of the experiences I’ve cherished most, I’ve come to embrace getting older a bit more. I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be. This age I have, and all that comes with it, is a gift.
Thank you for reading my reflections on Tuck Everlasting and on living forever. So what does this all have to do with writing instruction? When I was given questions to which to respond, I felt as if I was back in school, getting a writing assignment. At first, I wondered what the “correct” answer might be. I wondered what others would say.
But once I began to write, I found that words flowed freely and I enjoyed myself. I thought back to some of the writing prompts I’d been given as warm-ups when in various writing classes and how these warm-ups, though prescriptive, felt freeing in that I didn’t spend a bit of time worrying about what to write about. Instead, I got right to it, writing about topics such as my childhood home, the last book I read, my favorite part of the day, the best trip I ever took. These warm-ups, like stretching before going for a run, got me mentally and physically ready to focus on my own writing.
So though we typically shy away from prompted writing in a writing workshop classroom, my recent experience has me thinking, there is a time and a place for prompted writing. I would love to hear from you about all of this. Please share your thoughts on Tuck Everlasting, on living forever, or on writing prompts in the comment section. And if you haven’t read Tuck Everlasting, you are in for a treat.
Happy Anniversary Tuck!
Anna is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer, based in New York City. She taught internationally in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Auckland, New Zealand in addition to New York before becoming a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP). She has been an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and teaches at TCRWP where she helps participants bring strong literacy instruction into their classrooms. Anna recently co-wrote Bringing History to Life with Lucy Calkins, part of the 2013 series Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Heinemann). She has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012) and Navigating Nonfiction (Heinemann, 2010).