I had never heard of “the Talk” until a recent radio interview shared the agonizing conversation that many African-American parents have with their sons. The mother had a son who ran track, but, as a precaution, wasn’t allowed to run in his own neighborhood. I was instantly reminded of Jacqueline Woodson’s book “If You Come Softly” and my own skepticism at a plot development I naively mistook as contrived.
“If You Come Softly” is a love story, effectively told in alternating viewpoints that provide insight into what it’s like to be a teen, interracial couple. The boy, Jeremiah, “was black. HE could feel it. The way the sun pressed down hard and hot on his skin...He felt warm inside his skin, protected.” Inside his neighborhood, he felt good, “but one step outside. Just one step and somehow the weight of his skin seemed to change. It got heavier.” He had just started attending a fancy Manhattan prep school and collided with Ellie the first day. Corny as it sounds, it was love at first sight. Despite the challenges their race differences brought, they persevered, but there’s one thing neither Ellie nor I could completely comprehend: what it’s like to be a young African-American man. Jeremiah’s parents weren’t against the relationship, but they were concerned. In their discussions they said one thing that surprised me--never run in a white neighborhood. In a moment of sheer joy, that advice is tragically forgotten. As simply an ill-starred love story, the reader will weep, but knowing about “the Talk,” readers will be heartbroken at circumstances necessitating such a conversation in the first place.
These days it’s not uncommon for history to be brought vividly to life in a novelized comic book format called graphic novels. Recently Sid Jacobson, the author of one such title with teen appeal, spoke as part of the Chappell Great Lives Lecture Series at the University of Mary Washington.
His book, “Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography,” co-written with Ernie Colon, provides insight into Anne’s life before and after her famous diary. When Hitler came to power, her father moved his family from Germany to the Netherlands hoping for safety. After the Nazi’s invade and begin restricting Jewish activity, Anne and Margot wonder how they will stay cool with the local swimming pool now forbidden. At the same time, their father desperately attempts to get his family out of the country and when that fails, finds a hiding place in the now famous secret annex. The most difficult and compelling parts of this tale occur after their betrayal. We follow the family to the concentration camp, where they are first separated by gender and then the mother from her daughters. Thanks to information from camp survivors, we learn that Margot perished first, shortly followed by Anne. Fans of Anne Frank’s diary will enjoy these new details in this heroic young woman’s life.
My husband recently returned from a successful summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro! He’d trained hard and I knew he was ready, but I’ve read too many mountain climbing books to sit back and relax. While it’s not that I don’t love a good adventure from the comfort of my couch, when it comes to my husband climbing a mountain thousands of miles away, somehow it’s only the dangerous parts I remember. Of course, now that he’s safely home I’m just plain proud and happy to recommend books for the future mountain climbers of the world.
Much to my husband’s amusement, I’ve recently had homework! I took my first ever online class on early literacy and the components necessary for every child to learn to read. This wasn’t the first time I learned these concepts, but as I did my homework I was reminded that many believe reading is a one-sided activity. It shouldn’t be. Whether a baby wants to stop and chew on a certain page or a preschooler wants to talk about the pictures, pausing a story to meet that immediate need is an important and often fun experience! Here are some great read alouds with ideas for how to bring stories to life outside the text.
Although I grew up with the traditional Grimm fairy tales, when my son was young, it was folktales that we read most often. Passed down from the oral tradition, they’re perfect for children either as a read aloud or a story you retell together. In honor of Black History Month here are a few of my favorite from the African-American tradition.
Although a picture book, “The People Could Fly” by Virginia Hamilton, is recommended for older children and teens. The narrator tells us that in Africa, some of the people “would walk up on the air like climbin on a gate,” but when they were captured, they forgot that magic. Sarah, a young woman in the fields, was “standin tall, yet afraid” and had “a babe tied to her back.” That didn’t stop the cruelty of the Overseer or the one who called himself their Master and she turned to fellow slave, Toby, for help. He told her, “go, as you know how to go” and Sarah “lifted one foot on the air; then the other. She flew clumsily at first...then she felt the magic, the African mystery” and was gone. The next day, a young man fell from the heat. Toby came and spoke words to him and he flew away. One after the other, slaves fell and there was Toby helping them soar like birds, towards freedom. Of course, the Overseer came after him, but Toby just laughed and said “we are the ones who fly” and a group of slaves rose and “flew in a flock that was black against the heavenly blue” with old Toby flying behind them towards freedom.
Exciting things are happening at your local library. The summer reading club has begun!
There's a program for children and another for teens. Both are free, fun and designed to keep students reading all summer long. After all, whether it's a book, comic or magazine, summer reading equals summer learning.
The theme for this year's children's club and this column is "Amazing Tales." Be they of the animal, tall, folk or fairy variety, all can be found at your library!
Rules. Sometimes they’re awful and constricting, keeping us from doing what we want.
I like to sing. I don’t do it terribly well, but I don’t let that stop me! Especially, when it comes to books that are songs. They are fun to share with preschoolers who love to hear them. Even if you read them instead, they will enjoy the rhythm of the words. Here are some favorites.
Remember comic books? They’re still popular, but so are graphic novels; stories told using the comic form, but published as books. They can be an original tale or a retelling of traditional fiction. “The Swiss Family Robinson,” for example, was recently published as a graphic novel. Well loved by all ages, these books are great for reluctant readers. The combination of minimal text and many pictures grabs their attention and makes reading more accessible. Try some of these with your elementary school students.