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For the right book, skipping school is not a failing grade

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, April 1, 2014, at 3:54 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, April 3, 2014, at 5:55 a.m.

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I heard recently about a parent who let her fourth-grader stay home from school one day because the girl was reading an amazing book – “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio – and didn’t want to put it down.

That, I told my Facebook friends, should be an excused absence.

For one thing, the girl is right: “Wonder” is an extraordinary, addictive, heart-wrenching middle-grade novel that punches you right in the tear ducts and makes you want to hug people. Once you start it, you may as well just find a comfy spot with decent lighting and forget about everything and everyone else in your life because you won’t want to stop reading until you’re done.

Secondly – and I say this as a longtime advocate for education and an outspoken opponent of truancy – some things are more important than one day of fourth grade.

Think about a book you really loved. Maybe it was “Charlotte’s Web” or “The Shining” or “The Hunger Games” or “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Think about how it felt when you were about three-quarters of the way through that book, immersed in the story, invested in the characters, flipping pages, simultaneously racing to finish and wishing it could last forever.

My friend Joy knows the feeling. Nearly three years ago, she was reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” aloud to her oldest son, Patrick, who was 8. They were about 150 pages from the end of the book, the end of the series, the end of what had been a magical experience.

Both were ready for an epic ending.

“You can’t start the battle at Hogwarts and not finish it,” Joy remembers. “So we skipped school and work, read at a Starbucks for four straight hours, then went to watch the final movie in the theater.”

It was a day neither will forget. They even toasted the experience about a year later (over butterbeers, perhaps?) during a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida.

“Some things are 100 percent more important than school,” Joy said. “I’ll read to both boys for as long as they’ll let me, but there will never be another Harry Potter.”

To be clear, I’m not suggesting kids skip class all the time to read novels. That’s why God invented weekends and summer vacations, after all. And really great English teachers.

What’s more, by the time children get to middle and high school, missing class for any reason can feel like digging an academic grave – way more stress than relief.

But rewarding a passionate young reader with – surprise! – a once-in-a-lifetime break from school to finish a great book? That’s the stuff of best-selling memoirs.

My friend Moe remembers a day in fifth grade when her mother reported her and a friend too sick to go to school, then made grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup and read them the last few chapters of “Papa Martel.”

“She knew how the book ended and that we would be devastated and way too weepy to do anything other than weep,” Moe said. “She was a bona fide rock star.”

Read on. Your secret is safe with me.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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