My reading group is reading Holes by Louis Sachar, which, if you haven’t read it, you should go read right now. But in case you’re not going to do that, brief summary: poor, chubby, but generally nice boy Stanley is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention facility where boys dig holes to “build character.” But then it turns out that there’s a whole secret mission behind all the digging, a story that goes all the way back to Stanley’s no-good, dirty-rotten, pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.
This is an awesome book, and also a really nice book to start to think about things like writing style (the story jumps back and forth between a few different stories and times, which is interesting and frustrating by turns) and point of view (even though Stanley isn’t our narrator, the story is mostly told from his point of view, so we have to pay attention to how the narrator says things). I’m loving it, they’re loving it, and like six of my kids have checked it out from the library just so they can have their “own” copy to read during reading group (even though I have 26 copies of the book for them to use…go figure).
But sometimes things hit a little close to home. When we read something funny and they don’t laugh, we have to stop and find the disconnect, because that means there is something blocking their comprehension. Kids who understand what they are reading laugh at the jokes, kids who are pretending don’t.
There’s a character named Zero who everyone (including narrator/Stanley) thinks is worthless and stupid. At one point, Stanley tells him a joke and he doesn’t laugh because he is so deprived of real-world experience that he has never even heard of the nursery rhyme that is the premise of the joke. It’s supposed to drive home that Zero comes from a very different life than Stanley does, or than 80% of kids who read the book do. His was a childhood where no one told him nursery rhymes, and he never watched Sesame Street, and no one ever taught him to read or write. He’s not worthless, he’s not stupid, but he hasn’t had the chance to learn the things Stanley has.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. None of my kids laughed at the joke, which was a legitimately funny one about how the little old lady who lived in a shoe must have had to put up with a lot of foot odor. But none of them laughed, because, just like Zero, none of them had ever heard the nursery rhyme before.