As a reading teacher, I teach my students to visualize the descriptions in the books they read. My principal refers to it as "the movie in their heads" when they can actually see what they're reading. While reading the Hunger Games trilogy, I visualized Katniss, and she became a friend during those books, one I felt I actually knew, one I missed once the books were completed.
But now The Hunger Games movie is being filmed, here in my own state, so I'm inundated with pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, the beautiful and talented actress playing Katniss. My Katniss was not quite so beautiful...well, she was naturally pretty, I guess, but that's not how I thought of her. She was tough. She was dirty. And she didn't have pouty lips as perfectly shaped as the bow she carried.
Jennifer Lawrence is gorgeous. Jennifer Lawrence doesn't look as if she has it in her to wipe out all the other tributes (16-year-olds selected by lottery to fight to the death - on reality tv - while representing their districts.) But my son the actor says she's a brilliant actress so maybe she'll be able to pull it off. I still miss my Katniss.
I worry about our students' imaginations dying out, becoming extinct from lack of use (like we've been warned about our pinky toes.) Let's take the Twilight series, for example. I haven't talked to one middle school child who can describe the character Edward from details in the book. But they can describe Robert Pattinson the actor to a "t." And Taylor Lautner, too. These guys are plastered all over middle school lockers and notebooks. Their faces (and bodies) are ingrained in the brains of adolescent girls. Who needs an imagination?
And is there one person in the world who doesn't see Daniel Radcliffe when they hear the words "Harry Potter"? But here's J.K. Rowling's description: "Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose." He's also described as being extremely thin and small, wearing baggy clothes that are Dudley's hand-me-downs. Well, I for one, don't remember seeing taped glasses in any of the Harry Potter movies, and Daniel Radcliffe looks pretty normal-sized to me.
As teachers we must make an explicit effort to design lessons that foster the use of imagination. We have to model the transformation from author's description to reader's visualization: "How is Katniss described by the author? What does she look like to you?" If we're lucky every student's rendition is a little different, every imagination taking the author's words to varied shades of different directions.
Also, with a bit of luck, we can get ahead of the movies, ahead of the video games, ahead of the music videos that interpret the songs for our students so they don't even have to bother. Hopefully, we can teach them first to think and imagine for themselves.
My son the actor has met Josh Hutcherson, who'll play Peeta, the male tribute from District 12, and one of my favorite characters in The Hunger Games. Josh was a teenager when they talked at the Teen Choice Awards in 2005. Years later, he and my son would share the same acting coach in New York City, and they would have lunch together.
Lunch with Peeta. I can't even wrap my head around that. But thanks to Gary Ross, director of the movie version of one of my favorite books, I may not have to think or imagine anything. I'll just sit back and watch...and fight like a tribute to not allow my Katniss and Peeta to be erased.