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Themes In Literature and Life

In 5th Grade Mr. Chertudi and his class are currently reading Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. In their study of that classic text, the 5th grade students are learning in particular how to identify themes, a story’s main or underlying ideas.

Why is it, though, that a 5th grader – or any student of literature, for that matter – should learn to identify a story’s themes?

“A story is much more than its plot,” states Mr. Chertudi. “There are overt and subtle messages throughout the works that we read in class.”

In Where the Red Fern Grows students have identified five themes: Maturity, Perseverance, Faith, Cooperation, and Love. And in their identification of those themes, the students have likewise been posed with big and challenging questions. Here are those questions with which our 5th graders are presently wrestling.

Maturity: “What does it mean to become an adult?”

Perseverance: “What is the value or worth of seeing something through to its end?”

Faith: “What is the power of faith and faith’s chief expression, prayer?”

Cooperation: “What is achieved when one cooperates with others?”

Love: “What is the importance of our families, even of our pets?”

By examining those themes, students learn to thoughtfully explore questions about God, the world, and themselves. What’s more, they learn something of the author’s intentions, even something, perhaps, of the author himself. What does the author value? What does he love, and what does he hate?

As one might imagine, the exploration of themes carries importance outside of literature as well. “While we most naturally explore themes when we read literary works,” Mr. Chertudi says, “we do the same in history, too. Most importantly, we do the same in Scripture. We learn to identify the defining marks of Biblical texts, and just as we learn of Wilson Rawls – his personality, tastes, priorities – in our grappling with themes in Where the Red Fern Grows, we learn something of God when we explore the themes of the Old and New Testaments.”

Part of the reason Academy teachers are so discerning in their literature selections is because when we do learn to identify those themes, those themes move and shape us. Or as Mr. Chertudi puts it: “We want to imitate the best of what we read.” In Where the Red Fern Grows – which contains Biblical truths throughout – 5th grade students heartfully consider just what it means to be mature, perseverant, faithful, cooperative and loving. In a meaningful and very applicable way, they learn what it might look like if our lives were marked by those same, enduring themes.


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