Why I Teach Literature Classes

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Why do stories endure?

I begin each section of my Children’s Literature and Literacy classes with this question. Yet I never truly knew the answer until now.

Literature endures because it heals, it hurts, it happens.

This past week my  nephew succumbed to a horrible disease called leukodystrophy. As family and friends gathered the question “Why?” hung in the air, a thick fog masking an unseen shore. As we gathered to celebrate life, Baby Bobby’s parents, Bobby and Constanza, served as a constant beacon in the darkest of times. They taught us to rely on  literature to light the way. In fact we  found meaning and hope. Lifted the veil over nature’s indiscriminate ways. We honored Baby Bobby’s warrior spirit in the only way a family of teachers knows how–through literature.

Baby Bobby and His Mother Constanza

Baby Bobby and His Mother Constanza

His father, my brother, and his wife used literature to explain the unexplainable. As teachers they used stories as a metaphor for the wonderful love that Baby Bobby brought to us all.

The Next Place

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If you know of anyone dealing with trauma or staring down the inevitability of a terminal disease I recommend this book. Bobby’s mother Corn read it at the viewing and it was also the last book they shared with Bobby before we laid him down in his final resting place.

The book tells the journey of an unknown narrator as she heads to the next place. It is truly one of the most beautiful pieces of children’s literature I have ever read. There was not a person in attendance to whom the book did not speak. In soft predictable rhyme, full of imagery and metaphors the author shares the great unknown with us all. It will fit with any tradition and I recommend it for any child (or adult) dealing with a significant loss.

Man’s Search for Meaning

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My brother also shared passages from Frankl’s work (which I have yet to read). It documents a holocaust survivors tale as a psychologist who worked with fellow survivors. My brother discussed how he meant to buy the book, but had other pressing matters. Then the day of Bobby’s service he went to the library. He searched through the shelves and dug through the stacks to no avail. Despondent Bobby Sr, plumped down into a chair. Then sitting in front of him on the same table was the book Man’s Search for Meaning.

Bobby Sr, read a snippet from the book. Frankl was discussing heaven with a man who had lost his entire family in the Holocaust. The patient carried a weight of survivor’s guilt and questioned if he deserved to spend eternity with those he lost. Frankl then explained to the man that it was his suffering and his passage that celebrated the love of those who lost and allowed the man the opportunity, through flaws and all, to prove his worthiness.

To Kill a Mockinbird

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You search for meanings and symbols in the face of losing loved ones. In my family we often find symbolism in birds. My mother always said she knew Nana (our grandmother) joined us when Cardinals fluttered by.

When Bobby and Corn visited potential resting places one spoke to them. The cemetery had a section of plots donated by a wealthy family who could not have children. They created a shrine for children. Bobby and Corn loved the idea of visiting this beautiful place to read to their son and his new friends.

Then over the next few days, a flock of mockingbirds began to call this place home. According to the funeral director he had never seen the Texas State Bird around.

For his son’s eulogy, my brother turned to Harper Lee and he shared the most famous quote of the book.

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Baby Bobby did nothing but sing his heart out for us. Even when he lost his voice he had a love for music that I have never seen in a young child. My brother and his wife would spend hours listening to Willie Nelson and James Taylor with their son. The glee on his face as Baby Bobby sang silently with the world could melt the toughest heart.

I cannot explain the solace my family found in literature. It has allowed us to let go. It has allowed us to watch as Baby Bobby spread his wings as he travels in the next place.

Sing our little mocking bird. Sing.

UPDATE: Bobby and Corn are using the leftover funds we raised through #BurbeesForBobby to establish a bookmobile in Austin, TX. Their goal is to deliver high quality children’s literature for twenty-five cents. If you would like to donate visit youcaring.com/babybobby.

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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2 Responses

  1. October 28, 2014

    […] networks evolved as my family faced the tragedy of losing an infant to a terminal illness. I also realized that the social networks for the dying may represent one of the earliest and most […]

  2. February 27, 2015

    […] this walk I share a birthday present for my nephew. I often find myself dreaming of Baby Bobby. In both waking and sleeping hours we all keep him […]

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