“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” —Katherine Patterson
During the past two weeks I’ve had the incredible pleasure of sharing a new dual language picture book, “Stepping Stones ~ A refugee family’s journey” with 8 different groups of students and in the coming weeks, I plan to share it with at least 6 more groups. Stepping Stones is a beautifully crafted story, retold by Rama, a young girl whose life is changed forever as a result of war and turmoil in her home country. The accompanying artwork is a collection mosaics created by various shapes and colours of stones, pebbles and rocks. The artist still lives in Syria.
I asked our team of any interested ESL/ELD teachers to gather various groups of students and invite me for a visit. As I arrived at the different schools, I had no idea to whom I’d be reading and I certainly had never anticipated the depth of the conversations, the individual reactions and most notably the intuitive and thought-provoking responses that were shared during each visit.
One Intermediate student shared that he recalled all too vividly watching his father walk to the local grocery store, only to return with no food and how his uncle was ordered to sail an overloaded raft to Germany and experience the despair as not everyone arrived safely. His ESL teacher shared that he had been reluctant to talk about life in Syria until that day. One never knows the power of a well-crafted text.
Many of the children shared their initial fear when they arrived in Canada, as the language was challenging and in their words, so quickly spoken. Funny, that’s how I would describe Arabic. But to hear them now makes me very proud of the work that our Thames Valley educators have done in supporting these students as they learn not only English, but the confidence to share their ideas ~ even if the exact words have yet to be mastered.
In each of the schools, there were students who could read the Arabic version of the book as well. During some of my visits, we co-read the book. There was a beautiful rhythm between our combined Arabic and English voices. The students enjoyed corrected my pronunciation of Jedo (Grandfather) and eloquently expanded on the narrator’s feelings of leaving friends and pets in her home country as their journey started.
But of all of the reactions (and there have been many emotional ones) today’s was probably the most profound. A grade 6 girl was so adamant about expressing her desire to return to Syria, in order to rebuild it. Through hand gestures and limited English, she shared that as soon as it is safe, she wants to return to her homeland.
As proud as we should be about welcoming our newcomer families, showering them with clothes and household items and ensuring that their orientation to life in Canada is supported, we can never forget that these families are here as a result of war and turmoil. It was never their dream to be forced to leave their home country, to leave their life and in some cases cherished family members behind as they traveled to Canada. Just as we are proud of “our home and native land”, so are our Syrian families as they reminisce about their homeland.
These past few days I have been reminded of the power of quality texts and that when shared purposefully, allowing lots of time for students to share their reactions and engage in the story, doors can be opened and in some cases healing can begin.
Do you have a favourite book that you enjoy sharing with your students?
Come write with me…