Have you ever heard of a middle school student opting for a book over a live production? Our 6th and 7th graders just recently finished reading the book, The Giver. It is set in a community that appears to be utopian but with time is revealed to be dystopian. The community has created what they call “Sameness” in which they have taken away anything that separates one person from another. Everything requiring choice, like choosing a spouse, job, clothing, food, etc, is all selected for them. In an attempt to make life simpler, they have also unknowingly eradicated any emotional depth from their lives.
The plot follows a young boy named Jonas who has been selected to be the new Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all memories of the past in order to use for future decision-making. During his training, Jonas struggles with his exposure to how things used to be and the risks involved with both sides – allowing uniqueness or maintaining sameness. Tough questions for both the characters and readers.
I have mentioned before that reading with my students is one of my all-time favorite things to do. There are not many things better than diving into a story together. I love experiencing every moment together – laughing at silliness, questioning confusion, grieving losses, predicting what is yet to come. Reading together allows so many opportunities to pause and take in the last few paragraphs together. You become engrossed in the story. It’s all yours.
Last Friday, the 6th and 7th graders went to the brand new Pablo Center at the Confluence in downtown Eau Claire. We were joined in the beautiful RCU Theater with three other school districts, and we watched the Eau Claire Children’s Theater present their rendition of The Giver. The acting was wonderful. I found the young boy who played Jonas to be absolutely phenomenal, as he was on stage nearly the entirety of the production and had at least twice the lines as his co-actors. I loved the special effects done with lighting and projections for displaying the receiving of memories. I didn’t feel like the script left out or changed any major details from the book.
And yet, in today’s discussion with my students, I’ve heard the same comments over and over. Comments like …
“It just wasn’t as good.”
“They didn’t leave out any of the important parts, but there was still so much missing.”
“The effects were really cool, and the acting was really good, but it just felt like something was missing.”
“I wasn’t as excited during the play as the book.”
And my favorite…
“The play didn’t make you feel as much as the book did.”
All students agreed the production was very well done, but most also agreed that they enjoyed the book more. I would be willing to bet that if I had asked them to predict which one they would enjoy more before we had started reading, the numbers wouldn’t be slanted so steeply toward the book. Maybe I’m wrong. What I do know is that sharing in a story together is a very beautiful thing, and I was happy to hear that echoed by my students today.