Spreading Happy Endings

A Few Slices of Life and It’s Monday Tuesday What Are You Reading?

The book rested on the lunch table, a note sticking out of its pages: “If you could use a happy ending today–try this! You can put it back in my box when you’ve finished.” I looked back over my shoulder to check that it was visible to anyone coming into the teachers’ room for lunch. I smiled a warm residual smile. I’d finished Wishtree the night before and it was too good to hold onto.

Wishtree

Several days later the book appeared on the floor outside my locked office door, a sticky note emblazoned across its cover: “This was exactly what I needed! Thanks for sharing.”

I smiled and made a U-turn to the lunchroom. Again, I nestled it in the center of the table.

Two weeks flashed by in a blur of conferences and late fall responsibilities. I didn’t think much of my little book afloat in the school…Until one day it reappeared. In a hurry this time, I tossed it atop the leaning pile on my desk and ran off to the next appointment (or crisis). When I returned to my desk, deflated and in need of my own happy ending, there it was. It took a little while to notice the small note tucked between its pages: “Sorry I had it so long. We read it together as a family!”

This time the book had actually traveled between two different teachers before it made its way home. Thinking about which teams in my building could use a little pick-me-up, I hand delivered it to second grade. They were usually eager book testers.

Last Tuesday the book found its way back in the hands of a second grade teacher. She’d loved it. She was thinking about using it as a read aloud. “Wonderful! I’m so glad you liked it. With everything going on, it feels like we could really use this story right now.”

“There’s just one thing,” she worried. “The family is Muslim. Do you think the religion will be a problem?” We talked this through. While it’s implied (or possibly stated) that the girl’s family is Muslim, the book doesn’t talk about religious beliefs, it focuses on how, really, we’re all much the same with our own hopes and worries. I reassured her that I thought it was not only appropriate, but heartwarming.

Alas, later the same day she returned the book with a note: “I’ve decided against it. Too risky. I’ll find another read aloud.” My heart crumpled. If we aren’t brave enough to read and share stories that aren’t even about religion, how can we hope to have conversations when issues of race, or exclusion for any number of reasons confront us more directly? To be fair to this teacher, at our December schoolwide assembly last year or the year before second graders shared their research into the various holidays celebrated by many people (including some students in second grade) at this time of year. Students chose which holiday to research and teach about. Students decided what they’d learned and what they’d share. (Can you see it coming?) It was innocent. It invited inclusion and understanding. The children were in no way biased or judgmental about Chanukah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, or the others they’d chosen to present. Unfortunately, some staff members and some parents were. No more winter sing-along. No more sharing traditions from cultures or religions other than the dominant one–so none at all. Even Frosty has been outlawed.

Feeling more than ever like Wishtree needed to find another heart to reach, I left it perched on the door handle of a colleague who’s going through a challenge with regard to acceptance and exclusion. Her heart is warm. She’ll probably share it with her own family, I thought.

So walking out the doors for Thanksgiving I was glad.

I’m grateful for this story that has touched so many colleagues already.

I’m grateful that ours is a school community where we share and celebrate and mourn together.

I’m grateful for every adult hearts it touches in hopes that it will ripple outward and touch children’s lives as well.

If you could use a happier ending today, check out Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree.

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