I almost always cry when I finish a really good book. When I finished Teacher Man by Frank McCourt on a plane, I closed the book with a quiet sob (and no, it was not a sad ending). I looked up to find the passenger beside me staring in alarm. I just shrugged, smiled reassuringly, and explained that there was nothing to worry about; I cry at the end of a good book.
I shared this experience with my students and naturally they wanted to see it happen.
“Oh…” I explained, “I don’t think I would cry with you. It’s too complicated… I have to stay in charge and I couldn’t lose myself in a book like that with you all right here.”
And then someone said it: “Science experiment.” Well, for science… that’s different. We agreed that the next time I got to the end of a book I was loving, I wouldn’t read the end at home. I would wait for our silent reading time in Room 204 to finish it. We knew I would cry at the end of a good book on a plane, but would I cry at school? All good science experiments begin with a question. They hypothesized that I would cry. I wasn’t sure.
I had twenty pages left of The Song Catcher by Sharyn McCrumb, I settled myself in a beanbag, and we all slipped into the companionable silence of reading. I finished the book dry-eyed. I concluded I would not cry at the end of a book in my classroom with students.
Not so fast.
“It might not have been the right book,” someone said. They were isolating the variable.
“You need to try it again,” said someone else. They were thinking in terms of repeated trials.
“Okay,” I said. “After the holiday break.”
When we came back from break, I was engrossed in the The Help by Kathryn Stockett. By the end of silent reading on Thursday I was close to the end. The afternoon announcements came on and the principal said they were calling for snow and to be sure to listen to the radio for school closings in the morning.
“If it snows, all bets are off, “ I said. “I am not going to wait for Monday to finish this book.”
It didn’t snow.
My book was compelling and I could hardly wait to finish it… I was invested in the three protagonists. I had to know how it turned out and hoped hope would not be betrayed. It was finally time for silent reading on Friday. Twenty pages to go.
We decided that I would read on the rug alone. Less distraction. They read at their desks and I read in a blue beanbag on the green rug. Every now and then I was aware of someone looking at me, and whenever I looked up a different third grader was keeping watch. Observation is part of the scientific process. I went deeper into the book.
The first whisper. “She’s crying.” I heard it but I kept going. One more page…
I closed the book. The children were silently creeping towards me. They surrounded me on the floor.
“Do you need a hug, Mrs. Campbell?”
“What was the book about?”
I knew that question was coming. And I knew it would be hard to answer.
“This book took place in Mississippi in the time that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was beginning his important work. It was a time when many white people were unfair to African Americans and black and white people did not trust each other.”
Hands reached out to help me up. “But we trust each other, Mrs. Campbell.” It was Duron. It was his ninth birthday.
I wiped the tears from my face and smiled.
“Yes, we do trust each other.”
Every good science experiment involves discovery. And now I know why I cry at the end of a good book… it is the thrill of resolution, a promise delivered, the surprisingly clear and sparkling waters at the confluence of hope and trust. Those are the books I choose. Those are the books I love to read. Those are the books that make me cry.