The first book I ever taught was Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles." The year was 1976 and I was a student teacher leading a high school class in science fiction. In those days, science fiction was a relatively new and controversial genre in schools. There was nothing to go on. No back-up lesson plans I could call up on a computer because, well, there were no computers. I actually ordered dissertations from college grads to research my subject.
Of course, it was a waste of time. Great works of art always speak for themselves. And Bradbury's writings are just that: not just great works, but huge slices of great American writing. The plots invite discussion. And introspection.
All his life, Bradbury suffered ridicule from "the establishment" as not being a noted man of letters because, after all, he wrote science fiction. He was "second rate." Nothing irritated me more. His prose often bordered on sheer poetry and no one could write a simile or metaphor like Ray Bradbury.
When I became a full-time middle-school teacher, I was horrified at the required "reading texts" for my sixth and seventh graders. Talk about second-rate authors! These stories were beyond boring with an abvious appeal to a group of adults somewhere in an air-condtioned office trying to appeal to other adults to purchase their books.
I turned to Ray Bradbury. Five short stories became staples in my class. The first was "The Screaming Woman," a story about an irate husband who buries his wife alive. Children hear her screaming but, of course, they're just kids, right? Who cares?
The second was the soulful "All Summer In A Day," the story of a pitiful girl on a planet where the sun appears only for an hour or so after years and years of constant rain. Her crime? She wasn't born on the planet like the rest of her school mates. She remembers the sun. She's different. To punish her, they lock her in a room when the rains abate . . . and then forget about her.
The third was "Zero Hour." Oh, how I loved to read this story out loud. It had real drama. The children kept telling their parents what their new friend "Drill" kept telling them. Aliens were coming. Zero Hour! But, of course, they were just kids, what did they know?
"The Veldt" was wonderfully horrific. Technology gone terribly wrong. I can still those lion licking their lips. Mmmmm ..... parents for dinner!
The first time I read "The Garbage Collector," my heart winced. A stalwart city worker refuses to use garbage trucks to pick up dead bodies in case of a nuclear attack. Humans, even dead ones, are not garbabe and deserve better. He is fired for his morals.
Bradbury had a natural interest and inclination towards children, both their innocence and their cruelty. I never met a student who didn't love a Ray Bradbury story.
Some of my "contemporaries" were not amused I veered from the standard, chosen text. But years later I can still remember picking up a new "reader" under consideration for adoption and being amazed to find the story "All Summer In A Day" included. That's the text for which I voted. And won. I still have it.
Through the years, I continued to teach "The Martian Chronicles." My copy is now safely stored and packed away because it's literally falling apart.
Bradbury's world was wonderfully off-world. His prose was immaculate and miraculous. He took us to the stars. And made children of all of us.
Thank-you, Ray Bradbury!