Monday, January 14, 2013

January 14


Fifth grade was a year of firsts for me. I had my earliest glimmers of fashion awareness; I begged my mother to buy me a pair of Jordache jeans. I became aware of body odor after my mother told me I needed to wash my coat because it smelled. I started taking an interest in boys, though I vehemently denied it to my friends when they asked. I was still enough of a kid to play in the snow for its own sake, and I’d sometimes enact various romantic scenes, pretending I was Meg from A Wrinkle in Time walking in the woods with Calvin, or Princess Leia, escaping with Han Solo. I had my first boyfriend that year. His name was Sam. He had red hair and a wicked smile; he was the class clown, and he was adorable. I’d liked him for some time, when one day, to my surprise and delight, he slipped me a note: “Will you go with me? Yes or No.” I circled yes, then shyly dropped the note back on his desk, without making eye contact. The next day, however, before we even had a chance to hold hands, he found me on the playground and muttered, hurriedly, “Dump it all in dirt,” to my confusion and sorrow. Whenever I’ve asked Abbott if his classmates are starting to like each other in a romantic sense or become boyfriend and girlfriend, he wrinkles his nose and says, “I don’t think so.”


I spent all day Friday at school. I chaperoned Abbott’s fifth grade class on a field trip to the Museum of Flight. Abbott, at almost 10 ½, is the youngest by far; had he been born a few weeks later he’d be a fourth grader right now. Some of his peers will be turning twelve soon. It was my first opportunity in some time to see them all together. Some of the children are still fairly entrenched in childhood; some, moving on to the self-consciousness of adolescence. The girls all seemed to be wearing a variation of the same outfit. In the restroom, I observed a couple of them planted in front of the mirror, smoothing their hair, scrutinizing their own reflections as they moved this way and that. As we sat eating in the museum’s lunch room, the boys and the girls clustered together, for the most part, though with some intermingling – one of Abbott’s best friends is a girl – and some banter back and forth between groups as they ate their sandwiches and apples and their thermoses of soup.

The whole school has been studying civil rights this month, broadly, and learning about Martin Luther King, Jr.; watching video footage from his speeches and learning about the Children’s March (incredible video). Abbott and his classmates individually made a list of 20 rights they have, then went back through their lists and thought more critically about which were rights, which were privileges. They also made a list of things that could be fixed in the world. They made posters expressing those rights and things to fix – “Soles for all Souls”, “Everyone Needs Medical Care – even people who can’t afford it” – “Everyone Has the Right to Learn.” After we returned from the Museum of Flight, we marched with their signs in a school-organized event. The second graders joined in, wearing T-shirts they’d decorated with salient points from Martin Luther King’s speeches.

I don’t remember having discussions at school about civil rights when I was a kid. I did learn about Rosa Parks, and I knew who Martin Luther King Jr. was, and what he stood for. At home, I listened to my parents tell stories about their childhood in the Jim Crow south. They were in high school when the schools integrated, peacefully, in their town. We lived in my grandparents’ town in Texas for a short time in my early childhood, in the 1970s. There was still a ‘black’ and a ‘white’ church of the denomination my family attended, and my parents chose for us to attend the ‘black’ church.

As we walked I thought about our individual and collective liberties, and our privilege, and the challenges of youth and adolescence. Some held their signs high, with energy and pride; a few showed signs of discomfort or embarrassment; many just seemed happy to have the extra time outside. I’m thankful to the school for giving the kids practice thinking through what they believe, and an exercise in standing up for those beliefs, even if in a small way. I want my boys to live out their lives with humility; with the knowledge that none of us is fully responsible for our fortunes, or our tragedies.




PS – Every year, our school has an Experience Book Project. The Book Project invites families to choose one or more of the following selections to explore together. This year’s theme is “Portraits of Perseverance and Resilience.” Below is a list of the books, and summaries about them, excerpted from the school newsletter.

PRE-K to 2ND GRADE
The Hallelujah Flight (Phil Bildner) During the Great Depression, the ace black pilot James Banning decided to fly from coast to coast to serve as an inspiration to people everywhere. So with a little ingenuity and a whole lot of heart, he fixed up the dilapidated OXX6 Eagle Rock plane with his co-pilot and mechanic, Thomas Allen, earning them the derisive nickname, “The Flying Hobos.” But with the help of friends and family along the way who signed their names on the wings of the plane in exchange for food, fuel and supplies, Banning and Allen made it through treacherous weather and overcame ruthless prejudice to receive a heroes’ welcome upon landing in New York on October 9, 1932. Further reading – Amelia Earhart: More than a Flier (Patricia Lakin)

The Sound of Colors (Jimmy Liao) In this breathtaking, evocative book, a young blind girl travels from one subway station to another while her imagination takes her to impossibly wonderful places. She swims with the dolphins and sunbathes on a whale’s back; flies through the air with the birds and travels to the station at the end of the world. Poetic text is paired with haunting and beautiful watercolor paintings in this incredible book that explores themes of overcoming a disability and the power of the imagination. The Sound of Colors is a magical book that will take readers on a journey unlike anything they've ever experienced before. Further reading – Stephan Hawking: Understanding the Universe (Gail Sakurai), Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures (George Sullivan)

Crow Boy (Taro Yashima) In a small Japanese village, Chibi, the main character, is an outcast at school because he is different from the other children. Day after day, Chibi is faced with feelings of isolation and rejection. This memorable story presents the reader with a situation that all children experience at some time in their life and illustrates that a child's potential can be fulfilled when we consider all of their interests and needs. Further reading – Thank you, Mr. Falker (Patricia Palacco)

GRADES 3 to 5
Wonder (R.J. Palacio) August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder, now a New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

Esperanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan) Esperanza thought she'd always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico—she'd always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn't ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances—Mama's life, and her own, depend on it.

ADULTS
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Isabel Wilkerson)
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves. Further reading – The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Ayana Mathis)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Katherine Boo) Katherine Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling, cockeyed settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport. From within this “sumpy plug of slum” Boo unearths stories both tragic and poignant—about residents’ efforts to raise families, earn a living, or simply survive. These unforgettable characters all nurture far-fetched dreams of a better life.

GUIDING QUESTIONS
  1. Think about the feelings and experiences of the characters. Do any experiences or feelings remind you of a time in your own life?
  2. What are some of the challenges that the character(s) had to overcome?
  3. How did the characters exhibit perseverance and/or resilience? What other virtues did they show?
  4. Can you think of a time when you have persevered or exhibited resilience? Share the story.
  5. What kind of support or understanding were the characters able to find? How was this important in order for them to accomplish the goals or achievements?
  6. What do you think the characters and/or the community gained because of the experience?
  7. If you could be in the story, what new or existing role would you play? 

3 comments:

Paintings for Sale said...

Lovely ! I just bought some blank ones to try and play with. I've never used any before.

Jenny said...

Have you read "The Hiding Place"? I thought it was excellent.

KPiep said...

So manys things to say!

For now, just a few....

You're lucky if the boy girl thing hasn't already made itself known. It started for us when Gillian was in the third grade, although mercifully it seems to have cooled down just a touch this year.

I love that the kids have a unit every year on Martin Luther King Jr. It's been amazing.

If you haven't read Katherine Boo's book...you must!