Thursday, March 21, 2019

Growing from Books

For the past twenty months I have read a crazy amount of books, but ninety percent of those books have been romance books written for adults. I think this is a direct response to my concern for the world, a world that makes me increasingly anxious. In turning to romance books I have found myself to be happier, less anxious, and more creative - hence the desire to write my own.

This new found reading genre, however, does not mean that I’ve turned my back on books for kids. I would say that, overall, I’ve worked to find more balance. Where five years ago all of the reading and writing I did outside of the classroom was still for my job, now only some of it is. I still read a crazy amount of picture books. They’re quick reads and I’m constantly looking for new ones to add to my classroom for Classroom Book-A-Day. Two I’ve enjoyed recently are Under my Hijab because my students are not familiar with the hijab. This book allowed the seventh graders in my classrooms to learn about it, have discussions, and grow as a result. Also, a book I just purchased over break is Lubna and Pebble. This is one I cannot wait to share when we return. My students know about the refugee crisis we’re facing on a global scale, but this brings it down to the story of two children, a story of friendship in the hardest of times.

I also read a lot of graphic novels. I still have those kids who gravitate towards this format of storytelling and I’m always looking for new books to share with them. Gareth Hinds The Iliad is one I added to our room a few weeks ago. Students love his version of The Odyssey, so this one was sure to be a hit. The Breakaways is one I just got over Spring Break, but it already has a waiting list in the room.

And then there are two books that I don’t know how to talk to you about. I don’t know how to talk to anyone about them without simply breaking down.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is one of those touchstone texts for me. I read it years ago and I still remember finishing it, knowing Melinda’s story, my heart breaking for her, and closing the book with tears streaming down, wishing the world could all come together and talk about it.

Laurie has just released Shout and I feel that even stronger. Here we have Laurie’s memoir, essentially, told through free verse poems, starting in her early childhood and ending in the present. However, the entire memoir is held together with the story of assault, violence against women (and men), the beauty of empowerment, the danger of silence. I closed the book this afternoon sitting on the couch in my kitchen, my dogs by my side. I felt strong, but battered. War-weary, in a way. This book feels necessary for us all.

Another book that I’ve just finished is Internment by Samira Ahmed. My direct response to this book was to order three more because I want Chris, Luke, and Liam to read this as soon as possible so we can discuss it.

This book made me ill, my anxiety increased, I felt a sense of despair, but I think that’s the point.

Don’t get me wrong, there is triumph. There is hope. However, this was hard. I couldn’t read this and not consider the loss of life in Christchurch, New Zealand just days ago. I couldn’t read this and not think about Chris’s wonderful stepmom and how she and her family lived in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.

This book made my heart hurt.

So why would I buy three more? Why would I want my family to read it? Ahmed talks in the back matter about learning from history. Chris’s family knows that history, and yet we are currently repeating that history. We have to talk about these issues. We have to have hard conversations. We have to take political parties, political affiliations, out of our automatic reaction to the news and look at the state of the world on a human level.

We have to.

Because here’s the thing. I can go back to reading romance, and I will. I love those books after all. But I also need to be present. I need to learn from people I agree with. I need to have conversations with folks I might not see eye to eye with. I need to stretch. I need to grow. I need to read about people that look like me. I need to read about people who don’t.

I need to love. I need to be kind. I need to empathize.

That’s what I get from books. Some of them break my heart. Some of them break me for a bit. Some of them make me laugh. Most of them bring me joy. Through books I change. Through books I become a better person. Through books I grow.

I cannot wait to see what I learn from next. How about you? Do you have something you’ve read recently that you have loved? Please share, I’m always adding to my to read list.