Visualization is a helpful tool for young readers to understand figurative language and to fully embrace the beauty of an author’s word choice, style, and rich descriptions. Tolkien’s works are prime examples for applying this strategy as they provide readers with ample opportunities to visualize the fantasy world he has created through his words.
Today my students chose to focus on being inspired visually by Tolkien’s word choice and focusing on what his words made them picture in their mind. To measure their reading engagement, my students are often required by various written assessments to demonstrate a thorough understanding of similes, metaphors, hyperbole, personification, and idioms. Idioms are often problematic for non-native English speakers as an expression’s meaning cannot be understood from the ordinary meanings of the seperate words in it. To assist in their comprehension of idioms, I often share with them a book by Will Moses, great grand-son of famed American folk artist Grandma Moses, Raining Cats & Dogs: A Collection of Irresistible Idioms and Illustrations to Tickle the Funny Bones of Young People. The book provides literal interpretations of English idioms such as raining cats and dogs or butterflies in the stomach to allow children to grasp the difference between the literal meaning and the intended meaning.
As my students are reading Lord of the Rings, they are finding many examples of Tolkien’s use of figurative language and are making note of them as we read. As a result of their previous study of idioms, they are accustomed to identifying these phrases from the text. One passage in particular that entertained my students was found at the beginning of chapter 2, The Shadow of the Past. Referring to the continued birthday celebrations that Frodo hosted in honor of the departed Bilbo, Tolkien writes “there were several meals at which it snowed food and rained drink, as hobbits say.” After we read this, my students paused to engage in a discussion about how comical it would be if this idiom were interpreted literally. I did not notice until after class had ended that Gloin had chosen to illustrate snowing food in her steno pad. I have included her illustration above.
Gloin’s drawing was not the only one rendered in class today. As Gandalf returned after his prolonged absence from The Shire, my students were completely engaged with the conversations between he and Frodo regarding the ring’s origins. As the passage contained a slightly less forboding tone than the previous chapter’s exchange between Gandalf and Bilbo, my students were still reminded of the menacing manner in which the two characters interacted due to the influence of the ring. Ori, who shared that he frequently bonds with his father by watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films together, asked me if he could draw a scene from the movies that he was connecting with the reoccurring by the hearth conversations regarding the ring that take place in Bag End (pictured above). He chose to quote word-for-word the scene from Fellowship of the Ring in which Gandalf assures Bilbo that he is asking for him to give up the ring for his own good.
Ori is the type of child who is always sketching on any blank surface he comes in contact with, be it his papers, desk, or our classroom whiteboard. Not being fully proficient in English, drawings are a primary way for him to express his feelings and convey his thoughts. Usually he does not ask my permission to draw, but I believe he made a special point of it today because he felt emotionally compelled to render a picture to help him convey how he was feeling at that moment about what he was reading.
The pictures inspired in the mind by words can be very powerful and often surpass the limitations of the written word. This is why adaptations of popular books are highly scrutinized by readers, as the director faces the challenge of living up to what the reader created visually in their own mind. I believe Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien’s works are so popular with fans because they succeed in bringing to life what Tolkien created on the page. For this reason, I think my students will not be disappointed when they compare the books to the films.
Another interesting observation from today’s class was watching my students clamor for the opportunity to give a summary of what was previously read last week for two students who were absent. The children were shouting over one another “let me tell” to be the one to best demonstrate their understanding of the book to the rest of the class. As the habit of using our Hobbit names continues, Gloin teased me when I accidentally slipped and called her by her real name. She said, “$10 fine, Ms. Rodgers, for not calling me Gloin.”
As my students were glancing ahead in the book at today’s readings, they were intrigued by the runes on one of the pages in chapter 2. One child immediately pointed out that this was the same inscription on the inside of the ring from the front cover. They all became excited at this realization and ushered each other to “hush” so we could get on with our reading and get to that part of the book today. They also fought over the coveted position of being the selected reader as we arrived on that page. As the chosen child read “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”, I could hear the faint whispers of all the other children reading along in unison under their breath. Now that should be a true measure of reading engagement!