Thursday April 28, 2011
“Just before Pap died, he told me that I’d be fine as long as I never depended on anybody but myself.” So proclaims ten-year-old Moon Blake, the fiercely self-reliant hero of Watt Key’s book “Alabama Moon.” Thanks to the efforts of FHT Middle School language arts teacher Edith Ainsley and Nathan Kakalec, one of her students, the film based on the book will have its Vermont premiere at the Palace 9 Cinema on Friday, April 29. Tuttle Middle School’s entire 6th grade enjoyed a sneak preview on April 26.
The book and the film focus on Moon Blake. Moon has spent most of his life hiding out in Alabama’s forests with his father, an anti-government radical who trusts no one. Moon’s life suddenly changes when his father dies. Although Moon knows all about living in the wilderness, he finds that he has a lot to learn about trust, friendship, and love.
Edith Ainsley has been teaching “Alabama Moon” for three years. “The book was first brought to my attention by my daughter,” Ainsley says. “Not being an adventure story kind of person, I started to read it grudgingly, and found myself hooked almost from the first paragraph despite the heavy dose of survival skills [such as] roasted snake stuffed with cattail dressing.”
Treating the universal themes of loneliness, loss, and the need to connect with others, the book is perfect for middle school students. Ainsley starts the Moon unit off with a question; this year it was whether Pap’s advice to Moon is good advice to give to a young person. Once the students have wrestled with the initial inquiry, Ainsley uses the book for numerous activities that develop the students’ language skills and understanding about relationships.
One of the most successful activities involves the students’ keeping a journal which contains 15 letters to Moon. In their journals, they essentially guide Moon from the sidelines as he makes his way through the book’s challenges. Ainsley lets her students be gurus: “I tell them that they are the friendship experts, the relationship experts, and that Moon, who knows so little at the beginning of the book, will need company and help from them. They are experts in giving advice, comfort, feedback about Moon’s relationships [with two other boys], his growing questions about his father’s beliefs and decisions, and his interaction with adults. The students find they know SOOOO much about living and interacting with others and they share this in their letters to Moon and also in their discussions in class.”
Watt Key, the author of “Alabama Moon,” approves of Ainsley’s teaching method: “I have never heard of that approach being used before—using letters to counsel Moon through his new life in the ‘outside world.’ I am very impressed with the concept.”
Ainsley’s class is decorated with banners of friendship advice such as “Walk in the other person’s shoes—show compassion and empathy,” “Defend or stand by your friend,” and “Be kind, give positive feedback, give inspirational ideas, constructive criticism.”
“Each year the groups applaud when we finish the book,” Ainsley exults, “it’s a natural response when the final paragraph is read.” Each student group rates it as their favorite book every year. Nathan Kakalec, one of Ainsley’s students, sums it up this way: “I like Alabama Moon because it has everything I enjoy in a book: action, adventure, a good story, and an important life lesson. It is because of all of these things that I am excited to see the movie!”
Nathan liked the book so much that when he learned about the film version, he joined Ainsley in writing to the film’s producers to see whether the movie could be shown in South Burlington. The producers responded quickly and were able to arrange a one-week showing at the Palace 9, located at 10 Fayette Road. You can obtain further information about the film at: www.alabamamoonthemovie media.com.
SOURCE: Bill Wargo, Correspondent