You’d think an unexpected school closure would result in more time to write…except when you use it to READ.
I enjoyed these 12 books tremendously. I’m passing them along to my partner in reading crime, @PESLibrary1 today so she can preview them, too. We’re in the process of selecting 30 picture books for our March Celebration of Reading, which will be a month long #classroombookaday challenge with extension challenges for families. The previous 2 batches of books I previewed were all fiction (which I adore and gravitate to). I thought it only fair to try to include some outstanding nonfiction titles as well. So based on some recommendations from Twitter, and also succumbing to some on the spot fascination while I was browsing, I gathered up these treasures…and 8 or 9 others.
While I was reading yesterday, I discovered…
- It takes me longer to read a nonfiction picture book than a fiction picture book. Sometimes it’s because there’s more print on the page, but mostly it seems to be because my brain is wired for story and I tend to mull more over informational text. A story I might quickly reread, then reread and savor. But in nonfiction I pause again and again as I go.
- It seems much easier for a fiction picture book to transcend grade levels (K-5 is a broad range). Anyone from 5 to 105 can appreciate a sweet, yet simple story. It’s a little harder to choose information accessible to kiddos from 5-11, especially because information accessibility depends so heavily on prior knowledge. Several times I found myself rejecting a book for the bookaday project, but tucking it aside for a particular grade or classroom with whom I thought it would resonate.
- I wondered (frequently) about whether the books I’d selected were too overtly political in the current climate. More to the point, was I inadvertently (or not so much) pushing my own social justice agenda through these texts? I believe girls and women still have barriers to overcome. I believe we should welcome refugees and immigrants into our communities. I believe in scientific reasoning and facts. I believe in peaceful resolutions to conflict. And I believe that there are still miles to go before our society can sleep when it comes to issues of race, ability, and inclusivity. Yes, speaking or choosing to stay silent are both political statements. And I feel strongly that empathy is a human value, not a political value. But creating a ‘must read’ book list is different than curating a ‘great reads’ list and I want to be thoughtful.
Which brings me to an amazing book that I decided not to pass along for our bookaday challenge:
Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees
by Mary Beth Leatherdale and Eleanor Shakespeare
I lingered over this book for the better part of an hour, finding myself mesmerized by the humanizing details of these stories. Each one introduced a young person and the circumstances that made it better to flee than to remain. Then, through narrative, artwork and timelines showed the perils that made it almost unthinkable that they’d braved the attempt. Finally each chapter revealed how their story turned out. Did they make it to safety? What did they do there? How was their life better or different as a result?
In the very first vignette I found myself shocked by vivid details illustrating how fearful one refugee was to return to pre-World War II Germany. That moment in the larger story convinced me that I could never share the book with my kinders or first graders, and maybe not even with hardy 5th grade readers. But at the same time, the messages coming from each young refugee about why they absolutely must escape and how hard it was to find safe harbor felt more important than ever. This turned over and over in my head through yesterday and even this morning as I walked across the parking lot to the doors of school. With my young readers in mind, I wondered if glossing over (essentially redacting) that passage would make the rest of the book a fit for our school. (Thoughts of Banned Books echoed in my mind.) Ultimately I decided that rather than feeling we were censoring the book, I’d recommend it to our middle schools for a social action book club unit they do. In fact, I recommended it to my own middle and high school readers at home and to my mom.
Stormy Seas provides a window into the experience of others, even children, who find themselves in such dangerous conditions, for any number of reasons, that they must leave in spite of the risks or costs–even if it will take them years to ultimately reach safety–even if safety is just a hope and not a guarantee. As a mother and teacher I have to believe that all humans want essentially the same thing–to ensure that our children are safe and have the opportunity to thrive. That may look different depending on our culture or circumstance, but the instinct must be the same. And so this book is also a door–opening for me a determination to make the world safer and more welcoming. I’m not entirely sure what that will look like for me. Maybe it will involve direct advocacy for refugees. Certainly it will involve helping our students to develop empathy, to offer them mirrors, windows, and doors in the books that we share with them.