A Slice of Life Story: Wishin’ and Hopin’, A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb

I normally only write about teaching related issues on this blog.  But, I’ve decided to make some changes in the New Year.  One change I am making is to start posting book reviews, or posts prompted by books I’m reading, that are in some way connected to teaching, learning, schooling, or education in general.  I aim to broaden the scope of my blog so that I don’t find myself frantically searching for a topic to post about every week; this has stopped me from posting on a regular basis.  The purpose of making this change isn’t to proliferate my blog with trivial posts, but rather to allow myself a broader scope from which to ruminate about learning in the broadest sense of the word.

Wally Lamb’s Wishin’ and Hopin’, A Christmas Story is a great read and not just at Christmas time.  Lamb was able to take a one-time fictitious event – the 1964 Christmas play production by the students at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School – and build a story around it that touches on current events of the time with parochial school culture as the backdrop.  Most of the action takes place in and around Felix Funicello’s 5th grade classroom.  (Yes, he’s a distant cousin of Annette’s and she does play a part in the development of the story!)  As the events unfold, we get a taste of how the social mores of the time coupled with petty jealousies, and a strong sense of good vs. bad, inform (not always accurately) Felix’s particular point of view.  Lamb manages to write a story that is both funny and endearing, but like all good stories, Wishin’ and Hopin’ pushed me to reflect about myself in the context of the story:  what was it like to grow up in the mid-60’s in the US?

My family emigrated to New York from Cuba in 1966 so a lot of the cultural and political events in the book resonated with my own memories of the time.  Even the character of the new Russian student, Zhenya, who joins Felix’s class right before the school gears up for its annual Christmas pageant and whose feisty personality gives the class goodie two shoes (Rosalie) a run for her money, brought back memories of my Russian playmate, Lucy, the daughter of the Russian supers in our building.  From Lucy I learned a few Russian words, how to summon spirits on the Ouija board, and how to play some of the NY signature street games of the time.  Lucy was instrumental in my acculturation into life in the US during the five years I lived in that building, though I didn’t know it at the time.  It wasn’t until I started writing this post that these memories, scant as they are, came flooding back.

So, what is this post about really?  Wally Lamb’s book or my memory of starting life in the US?  Does it really matter?

I go back to the introduction to this post and revise it somewhat:  I am expanding my blog topics as a way of understanding myself better through books or events that have impacted me and have pushed me to reflect, revise, and retell my own life story.  Sometimes I will ruminate on how these experiences have impacted me as a teacher.

That is the learning in this piece.

10 thoughts on “A Slice of Life Story: Wishin’ and Hopin’, A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb

  1. I'm looking forward to more posts like this. Your line “reflect, revise, & retell my own life story” is one that rings true with me. I like the way these three verbs weave together to create an important action of telling our stories. Thanks for writing today. Ruth

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  2. Thanks, Ruth. I hope I can stay committed to broadening the scope of my blog so that what I blog about eventually filters into and impacts my teaching, even if seemingly unrelated to the classroom. On an intuitive level, I know it will and I need to make this an intentional focus of my reflections here.

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  3. I think I can see that your memories appearing can apply to what you observe in students who are “new” in some way in class. I too liked the way you started and followed a path that ended up not exactly at the place you were intending because of your connections to the book. Wally Lamb is a good read, so perhaps your enjoyment made for the good connection too.

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  4. i don't know who said it… “If you don't learn something when you write, you haven't written.”
    And I think of Carl Anderson and his question: “What is this really about?” That question pulses here. I am so glad you will be doing more of this.

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  5. This was fascinating. Your introduction about your intentions, book review, connection to your life, and then reflection leading to revised intentions. You have a strong sense of what you are hoping to achieve when you write, even when sometimes these explorations may lead to unexpected discoveries. But that is part of the fun of learning, isn't it?
    Terje

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  6. Hi Linda,
    Great observation about “new” students! And, I would amend that to include students that may not fit in or are somehow different from the mainstream; I was one of those :). In the case of Zhenya's character, she thought highly of herself and so was able to fight back when she was being wronged. However, there are a lot of children in our classes that don't have the skills to defend themselves or to think highly of themselves so that they don't need to defend themselves. We need to be aware of these children so that we can offer guidance and support whenever necessary. I think that is probably what resonated with me and why I found Zhenya to be such a strong character and great role model from which to draw on. Thanks for your comments. They helped me to further reflect on this book to a place I hadn't thought of going.

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  7. Terje,
    Thank you for your comments. Yes, that is what I love about writing: it often leads me to places I wasn't planning on going when I started out. The discoveries are so enlightening and important when they happen. That is what I want for my students when they write – to discover things about themselves that they had no idea were there in the first place. This is the same for reading – books take me places and help me to create thoughts and feelings that I couldn't have planned out when I picked up the book from the shelf. Here's to lots of insightful writing and reading this year!

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  8. I really enjoyed hearing your personal connection to the book you read! One of the best things about reading is finding a piece of yourself in the story! 🙂 I also enjoyed reading your goals for your blog. Thanks for sharing your slice of life!

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