We’re reading The Midwife’s Apprentice right now, live in class like we do Outsiders. That’s the royal we, since I’m the one doing all the reading. But that’s ok; I like it. The kids are loving it, and are asking to read almost as much as they did during Outsiders. (Well ok, they aren’t begging, but…) They like our heroine’s spunkiness (“pluck” as Will Russet calls it in the book), and they get to hear me read words like fart and piss. It’s funny and gross, and they love feeling so superior to the ignorant peasants of 1275.
And I love to tease them.
Today we were reading the part where Alyce is learning to read from Magister Reese, and he’s reading to her from his great encyclopedia. It says that she learned about the Roman Empire that “stretched all the way to Britain…”
“Didn’t you guys learn about that in social studies already?”
“Yeah. It was boring.”
And Alyce also learned about “…the island of giant ants who walked upright and mined for gold…”
“Have you guys gotten to that unit yet? Hasn’t Mr. White taught you about the ancient Ant Island?”
They don’t know what kind of face to make.
“No. What? No.”
“Mr. White hasn’t gotten there yet? What? He must be lagging.”
“I have Mrs. Collins.”
“Maybe she’s not there yet either.”
“I can’t believe you guys haven’t heard of them…Boy howdy, your social studies teachers are sort of lagging…”
About half are pretty sure I’m joking. A few play along with me; some of those know I’m joking. Others are trying to pretend they already knew about the giant ants. The rest still don’t know what to think when I finally give it up.
It’s almost too easy.
Just as fun are all the birthing scenes. I really had fun with that in one class last year. Here’s from last February:
We’re still working on The Midwife’s Apprentice. They’re even starting to ask, “Can we read Alyce today?” They’re hoping for another fart or piss sighting. They get that, and then some…but not like they expect.
After all, our heroine is working for a midwife, so there are going to be some, shall we say, awkward bits. Especially for the boys.
I’ve been doing a lot of (pun intended) pregnant pauses while I read aloud, to let some things sink in. We had a classic example today. In the chapter called “The Leaving,” Alyce gets called to deliver a baby herself (making the midwife angry–this is what she was worried about from the beginning– and prompting Jane to whack Alyce across the cheek). The baby won’t come, and Alyce doesn’t want to make a mistake (one of the big themes of the novel is believing in yourself), so she throws in the towel and sends for the midwife.
The midwife bustles in and sets to work. Then we get to the line (I’m going from memory, so…) “anointing her hands with cornmeal and oil, she pulled and tugged that baby from both the inside and the outside…”
And I stop, midsentence. There is a silence that lasts perhaps 2 seconds. They’re expecting me to elaborate like I usually do, or ask a question — rhetorical or otherwise.
The few quicker (mostly, but not exclusively, female) ones start to laugh quietly. There are a couple of soft ewws, but…
I still don’t say anything.
Now we get the seventh grade “what?” going around the room. A couple more start to giggle. There’s a bit of squirming. Now a few “duh’s.” But still a lot of “what?” with a lot of head-swiveling.
So I read the line again. “…from both the inside and the outside…”
“What? I don’t… (Whisper whisper across the aisle) What?! EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.”
Believe it or not, there are a few still saying “what?”
Now there is general hilarity, and pantomime. Explanations and revelations across the aisles. More ewws, and “don’t you get it?” from the kids who just got it. And still one kid who hasn’t clued in.
“Well, you’re supposed to come out head first. And if you don’t there could be problems, so she just reaches i…”
“Wait. What? You mean?” Fascination and disgust each fight for control of his face. And then…
He starts giggling. Uncontrollably giggling. Tears rolling down his face giggling. Which sets off a wave of sympathetic and imitative giggling.
It takes a solid couple of minutes for it to subside. And when, just a couple of lines later, the midwife picks the woman up and tries to shake the baby out of her, the poor boy loses it again.
I can’t wait until Alyce delivers the “stomach worm” at the end of the book.
(Aside: That just reminded me of a mental floss question we recently had: What eight letter word has four g’s?)