Last night I wasn’t feeling so well. It had been a long week and it was only Wednesday. I had been working late every night, getting up early, and couldn’t see an end in sight. I still don’t, but Iwoke up to a loving colleague tweeting about a remarkable student post about classroom work in my course. It’s not often that you get tangible, detailed, positive feedback at 6 in the morning. Let’s just say it was well-timed and the day continued to surprise as I had a rousing conversation about Minds Online with SEU faculty, several students came and engaged in the English Eddies Teacher Circle (along with venerable AISD 2013 Teacher of the Year Sarah Dille and her colleagues Ginger Gannaway and Janie Lewicki) and I arrived home to a swarm of smiling children who wanted to read Winnie the Pooh and go to sleep. Kind of a dream. Feeling grateful. Going to bed.
My kids have been painfully naive about the refugee crisis and ongoing turmoil in Syria and surrounding nations. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of a TV or the privilege of living their White middle class lives here in Austin, but with Sadie’s love for graphic memoirs growing and my commitment to having these tough talks with kids, I think I found a conversation starter during my last trip to Austin Books and Comics. In my last post, I bemoaned the lack of graphic memoir offerings for 2-5th graders and I believe Abirached’s I Remember Beirut can go on my rolling list. In stark black and white frames, she contrasts moments of confusion, wonder, loss, and discovery, structuring the story through I remember…stems and juxtaposing memories of pop culture, invention, commerce, and play with anxious movements, bullet holes, and shrapnel collecting.
The lyrical collage, while seemingly childlike, offers more of an adult’s protective filter on daily happenings in conflict-riddled Beirut of the 80s during the Lebanese Civil War. Nevertheless, the filter makes this a perfect jumping off point for inquiry into past and present religious conflicts, children in war (times), middle east geography, and other storytellers (authors and filmmakers) depicting war and childhood.
I did wonder about all the ways people might misread the text as dismissing the gravity of living in conflict. I had moments myself as I read that she remembered Kit Kats foil paper double linings. But the book starts with bullet holes in a windshield and ends with a burgeoning shrapnel collection. This is to say that there are opportunities for readers to ignore the gravity of the situation in their conversations and focus on all the trivia in the memoir salad. Seems the shrapnel is just as “regular” and “everyday” as Kit Kat and I think that’s her point. This trauma gets normalized for some kids and living with that is what kids living in more secure circumstances get a chance to wonder about and try on in this read. I think it forces some perspective taking that can and should go further. It’s a strong, “safe” start.
Paging through the time capsule at the Lockhart, Texas branch, I was inspired to consider what happens when libraries cull their collections. Often I encounter the sales in the spring or summer when old books are placed on carts for 10 cents or donated to the goodwill. Obviously these books aren’t getting burned, but these sifting practices take a bit of the history out of childrens collections. Made me really wonder about all the interesting questions kids might ask when confronted with more books from older generations. Also made me think about all the opportunities for critical history and literacy we lose when we avoid or eliminate everyday old books from shelves. Just a few skims and cover reviews, provoked so many questions for me about changes in technology, propriety, regionalism, conceptions of diversity. These older editions are maintaining some of the history in Lockhart and making updates and shifts in history visible. What happens to older texts when librarians update collections in big city libraries I tend to frequent? I wonder how it varies. I’m guessing economics has something to do with it, but I think this is one of those situations where the upside down economics might have been worked with intelligently. There was a huge collection of childrens books in Spanish and a whole room dedicated to young adults with YALit and computers. How are the collections revised in your local library?
One day Sadie just started asking, “Where’s the mom?” We’d be reading along in one of her books – all the gifts and garage sale acquisitions within her reach – and after about 3-5 pages, she’d want to know where all the adults were. This got me thinking about these books where children run things, without adult supervision, quietly busy, compliant, and leaving caregivers alone to attend to their domestic affairs, their heroine habits, or their writing careers? But to my 2-3 year old, these scenarios did not seem natural.
This “idealized” adult author version of the “Busy Timmy” galavanting about, waking up, getting dressed, fixing his breakfast, brushing his hair, cleaning his room, rocking on his horse, seemingly without caregivers, but with sweater buttoned up tight and hat tied closely beneath his chin was suspect.
This was the beginning of our early critical conversations. While I couldn’t guarantee that there was a mom, I could ask what Sadie thought might be going on outside of the page or beyond the frame. Who do you think wrote this book? Why would a grown up write a book about such a busy little boy? Why do grown ups want kids to be busy? Notice Timmy does not make any messes while he is busy. While we didn’t re-write social injustices with that conversation, we did start our early journey conversations about the constructedness of texts.