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“That one’s Petey Corbin. He’s an idiot retard, but a friendly one—you know, laughs and smiles a lot. Sometimes you swear he’s thinking, but it’s just conditioning. They used to get him up every day and put him in a wheelchair. Lucky for us, they stopped that.” (Mikaelsen, 1998, p. 113)

I steal a glance up from the page of the book I am reading aloud to take stock of my fourth-graders’ reactions. They sit just below where I am curled on the couch. The lights are off, except for a single reading lamp. This is our daily read-aloud ritual; a time of togetherness that quietly opens the door to great possibilities. Many are hugging their knees and staring into the middle distance, thoughtful. Some are slightly agape; all are solemn. “Why am I reading those words, ‘idiot’ and ‘retard’?” I ask. “What does it suggest to you about what people thought of Petey?”


Originally published in Worlds of Words, University of Arizona. Accessible online at:

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