One of the things that I love about teaching English is that I get to slip in some of my favorite stories and authors. The Hobbit made its appearance last semester, as well as Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” (How could I resist that twist of an ending and amazing episode of The Twilight Zone?) To start of the spring semester, though, I love to spend some time with O. Henry.
It’s a week-long story fest highlighting three absolute musts (in my opinion): “After Twenty Years,” “Gifts of the Magi,” and my absolute favorite, “The Last Leaf.” There’s nothing like his way of taking ordinary (well, sometimes) situations and adding an unexpected twist.
While students read two of the three at home, I always read “The Last Leaf” aloud to them in class. It’s partly because I believe that reading aloud is important: Children need to hear good literature just as much as they need to read it, and hearing literature that’s slightly above their reading level does wonderful things for their vocabulary and ultimately their reading comprehension. (I’ll refrain from the rest of my usual reading aloud rant. :) )
Partly, though, it’s because I want to watch them as we reach the last paragraph and the story falls together. It’s a beautiful tale of sacrifice and hope, and the last line is one of my favorite lines in literature. (I would write it, but it’s a huge spoiler.)
Every year, as I read that last paragraph, it’s hard not to become emotional. And I will confess that yesterday I broke my four year streak of not tearing up when I reach it. It was hard to keep it together when my high school TA (who spends half an hour of his study hall with me once a week) was standing in the back of the room, deeply moved as he remembered the ending.
As I pondered this post, I tried to pin down why I love this story so much. Normally, I like happy endings. Ones that don’t make me cry. (I usually cry too much anyways. I’m such an emotional person.) But there’s something so perfect about this one. Something I can’t put into words. Especially without giving the whole thing away.
So, suffice to say, O. Henry and especially “The Last Leaf” have always had a special place on my shelf, and there’s nothing like sharing it with others.
Want to read “The Last Leaf”? (It’s only 4 pages in my book with all of O. Henry’s stories.) Check it out here.