Just One Book

Everything, well almost everything, I know about the French Revolution I learned from A Tale of Two Cities, our most recent selection for our library’s Classics Book Club. Should I ever be marooned on a desert island with only one book to read for pleasure, this is the one I want.

I credit youngest son Mark with a technique that helped my junior high students enjoy the challenge of Dickens’s characters who wander in and out of his books and who may or may not be vital to his plot. In what would be our last read-aloud together in the summer between his seventh and eighth grade years, I read and he kept a character chart in a notebook.

Adapting his idea only slightly for my students, we kept a chart on the overhead with a short description of new characters and brief updates on old ones added at the end of each day’s readings. That brings me to one of my favorite experiences, repeated every year with my eighth graders. Just follow along.

In Part I, Chapter 2, we put Jerry Cruncher on the overhead sheet as the odd-job-man who sat outside Tellson’s bank and carried messages. He appears in Part II, Chapter 1 as comic relief – cleaning his rusty fingernails and berating his wife for flopping (praying) against him in his nightly endeavors. He blames her flopping in Chapter 14 when the grave he tries to rob turns up empty. He hardly seems significant when he accompanies Mr. Lorry of Tellson’s Bank to Paris as Part II closes.

The fun I have been anticipating with my reading comes in Part III, Chapter 8 when Jerry Cruncher recognizes the spy who was missing from the grave he tried to rob. I watch the kids as I read until one makes the connection and slaps her hand over her mouth. The others look a “What?” in her direction. Then one by one, like popcorn, they make the connection until I have a roomful of hands over mouths. How surprising that the odd-job-man with rusty fingernails would provide the means for Sydney Carton to rescue Charles Darnay!

I must say we all enjoyed Jerry’s repentance statement that follows in the last pages as they make preparations to escape from Paris. “Wot my opinions respectin’ flopping has undergone a change, and that wot I hope with all my heart as Mrs. Cruncher may be a flopping at the present time.”

So, if you were on a desert island with only one book to read for pleasure, what would you choose?