Connecting Life To Create Readers

 
“Yes class, please turn to chapter one of Million Dol…” Knock. Knock. I glance over to my right, and see a new student standing by the door. Her large brown eyes staring up at me, her dark skin covered with mix matched clothes, hair pulled back in a sharp ponytail.  Noticing that she felt uncomfortable I quickly approach her.

I lean down to meet her eyes straight on with mine and I ask in a soft tone, “What is your name, sweetheart?”

“Ashanti, my name is Ashanti.”

I smile and quickly seat her at the back of the room. Ashanti sits quietly, but I notice she keeps staring at a particular picture on my bulletin board. I glance over in the direction of her eyes, and see that the picture is of Langston Hughes, my favorite poet. “Hmmm…there may be a connection there,” I ponder and decide to take the class to the media center.

Very timid, I notice Ashanti quietly moving through the aisles, not really looking for a book.

 “Ashanti, what types of books do you like?”

“Huh? I don’t know?” she replies. Her eyes quickly move to the floor, and she seems surprised by my question. “Come here, I have something to show you.”

We move swiftly through the aisles straight to the poetry section. I thumb through the authors until I reach Langston Hughes. “Ashanti, I really think you will connect with Langston Hughes. He is a wonderful poet.” She smiles, and takes the book to the circulation desk.

The next day in class, I ask for students to share what they are reading. Ashanti quickly raises her hand. “Yes, Ashanti, tell us what you are reading?” “Well, I read this entire book last night. I love it.” I probe her for more. “Tell us about it. What is the theme of what you read? Who wrote the book?”

She glances at her book, and quickly thumbs through the pages. “Hmmm..it’s about hopes and dreams and stuff. I like that. His name is Langston Hughes.”

“Ashanti, Langston Hughes is my favorite poet. Dreams and hope. That is Hughes. Thank you for sharing.”

The class and I move on to discuss the theme of invisibility. We compare and contrast one of the supporting characters from the book, Million Dollar Throw, with the poem, “I’m Nobody, Who Are You”. Both characters Abby and Emily Dickinson grapple with the idea of not being noticed, being invisible. I ask the students to write a response to the readings, and then I open the floor up for discussion.

Ashanti , timid at first decides to come up and share.

“Invisibility. My invisible moment happened the day that my mother was taken away for doing drugs. The cops came. They took me away too. I don’t live with my mother anymore. This is my invisible moment.”

The students sit unsure how to respond at first, but then begin to clap wildly. “Way to go, Ashanti! That was awesome!” they shout.

Ashanti, proud and happy, takes her seat.

I know in that moment, she has found a home. A safe haven.

Over the following days, I ponder over what books to recommend to Ashanti. “What will connect with her best? How can I keep her engaged in reading?”

Then, as I drive home one night, it comes to me.  The Skin I’m In, by Sharon Flake. That is a book that will capture her.”

A problem still lies ahead of me, though. This book is not carried at our school library. So, with my own kids in toe, I forge ahead to the local public library a town away. Once there, I run to middle grades fiction.

“Yes, victory!” I think to myself. I grab a copy of the book, check it out, and the next day I eagerly greet Ashanti at the door.

“Ashanti, I’ve got a book for you to read.” Although excited, I’m a little nervous too.  “What will she think of the book?” I wonder.

Ashanti glares at the book, a bit awkwardly at first, then takes it and sits down, without much fanfare.

I tell the class to sit down, and read. As I pace the classroom, I notice that Ashanti seems to have connected. She reads, quickly thumbing the pages, not even realizing when we’ve moved on from our free reading time.

Then, out of nowhere, Ashanti, raises her hand. “Yes, Ashanti, do have a question?”

“Yes, Mrs. Farmer, I want to say that this book inspires me. This girl gets picked on for the color of her skin, and just this morning I was bullied on the bus for my dark color. Thank you for finding this book for me. I know that I will love it.”

“Thank you, Ashanti.”

Ashanti brought the book back to me a few weeks later with this note attached.

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