A successful strategy for young readers is to encourage them to make connections to what they read. The basic concept of connecting to text is that you process everything you read by relating it to something else you have previously experienced, read, or observed. For example, a child reading Old Yeller who has lost a pet will be able to comprehend the text at a deeper level than one who has not.
My students are accustomed to making two types of connections when they read: text to self connections and text to text connections. The aforementioned example would be a text to self connection and text to text connections are where students relate one book to another. As my students are journeying further into Lord of the Rings, they are beginning to make text to text connections. It would be expected that they would easily connect The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings, but what is especially pleasing to me is to find them making connections to other books we have read together.
One of my more reticent students, Bilbo, connected the love relationship between Arwen and Aragorn to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Due to Aragorn being from the race of men and Arwen being an elf, he felt that their differing natures naturally prohibit them from being together much like Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers. Dwalin also made a text to text connection between the literary worlds of Middle-Earth and Narnia.
After reading The Hobbit, I had attempted to read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe with my students, assuming that if they enjoyed Tolkien, they would also enjoy C.S. Lewis. I soon found out I was sorely mistaken as my students argued vehemently with me that Lewis’ writing couldn’t hold a candle to Tolkien’s. I finally gave in to their pressures to drop the book when they began to yell at the ceiling one day, in a failed attempt to speak directly with the spirits of both authors, who they assumed were in heaven, although some felt writing inferior literature is grounds for eternal damnation. Dwalin wrote “Saruman, the white wizard, has the same evil power as the white witch from Narnia.” Even though my students didn’t venture very far into Narnia, at least they learned something from their brief encounter, and their constant demands for more Tolkien instead of Lewis led us to embark on our current literary journey, which is the basis for this blog.
Bilbo had some other insightful thoughts today, sharing that the Balrog reminded him of the Minotaur from Greek mythology and comparing the Nazgul to GPS systems because of their ability to track Frodo when he wears the ring. Much discussion time was devoted today to previewing characters that we will encounter later in the book, using some pre-reading activities from our Scholastic literature guide (see Provisionals and Resources page), which led Kili to share, “I’m reading about the story’s characters and I’m already getting excited to meet these characters in the book.” We also read a brief author’s biographical passage about Tolkien from this same guide, which included a picture of Tolkien in his later years. Kili wrote, “I love how J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when he was old because a lot of old people lose sight of their vision later in life and instead, he gained strength from his writing.” Kili, I couldn’t have said it better myself.