Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Muslim Girl

It was a few days before the 15th anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks. An awesome teacher at my school was reading aloud "Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story" by Nora Raleigh Baskin to her class. 

The week after Labor Day, this fourth grade class and I were able to Skype with Nora Raleigh Baskin herself. 

And wow.

We learned that Ms. Baskin had done SO MUCH research before writing her book. We learned that she was inspired to write this book after seeing a movie about Robert F. Kennedy. She wanted to help kids of today understand what 9/11/2001 was like for kids living during that time in history. (Remember, for kids today, 9/11 is historical fiction.)

It was an inspirational Skype session and the fourth graders were enthralled.

One girl in particular was especially impacted. 
I will call her Sruti.

You see, Sruti is Muslim. As are many students at my school.

In the book "Nine, Ten," readers meet characters with many perspectives. We meet Naheed, a Muslim girl who experiences the events of 9/11 very differently than other characters.

During our Skype session, Sruti felt strongly that she share that her mother was on her way to Mecca for a pilgrimage. Sruti thanked Nora for including a Muslim girl character. She also wanted Nora to know that she is indeed, Muslim. The other students in her class listened attentively.

A week or so later, we wrote Thank You notes to Nora for her Skype time with us.

Sruti wrote:

"Dear Nora,
Thank you for Skyping with us! Thank you for dedicating your time for us! We really appreciate it. I hope you had as much fun as we did. Also, I Facetimed my mom to tell her how nice and amazing you are and she said that she really wants to meet you!
Love, The Muslim Girl"

There is a quiet part of me that is so freaking thrilled that this girl owns and is proud of her identity as a Muslim girl, in the midst of all of the turmoil and issues surrounding the anniversary of 9/11. 

This is why books about difficult topics are important for kids. Sruti sees the events of 9/11 in such a different way than I do. She saw herself in a mirror while reading about Naheed's experiences in the book. I don't have that same perspective. I just watch through my window.

I wish we had more books from authors who are from the Middle East. I wish we had more book characters who reflect the Middle Eastern population at my school. I want my students to see themselves in the books they read.

If you haven't read "Nine, Ten" yet, I would highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Weird and Perfect Tribe

I recently returned from my annual pilgrimage to NerdCampMi in Michigan. 

Yes, it's a real thing. And it's an awesome thing. This is the one time of year that I can hang out and learn with people who are a lot like me. It's great to meet authors and illustrators. It's also great to meet new people and learn from experts. 
But the best part? It's seeing these folks.

We missed you, SD, KP, MK, and MS.

What makes them so great?

Well, one of them is my sister, and my sister is my heart. Having her with me this year was the best part of NerdCamp. She is truly the nerdiest of nerds in the best way.

Dorky sisters.

I only get to see the rest of these weirdos once per year. We look forward to it and we talk about it and we plan what we will wear and what we will eat and which books we will bring for each other. They have become my family, even though they live all over the US - from Maine to Chicago and many places in between. 

(And we talk every day through a snazzy little app we love. More about that in another post.)

It was especially sweet this year, though.
Not because I learned so much. (I did.)

Not just because I met Kate DiCamillo. 
(I did and I think I had a stroke.)

Having a stroke with one of my favorite authors.
Not just because I got to hang with these kickbutt writer friends Jess Keating and Josh Funk. (Wicked awesome.)

So Wicked Nerdy.
And not just because I took a creepy picture with Victoria Coe. 
(I had way too much fun with her.)

Left: Weirdo, Right: Victoria Coe, author

It was sweet because I'm still learning an important life lesson about friends. 

I'm still learning, at age 39 1/2, that these friends are people who may be out of sight, but they're not out of mind. They are people who put up with the ebbs and flows of distance and job changes and moves. They look out for me and include me in their daily lives.

They know that when I put books and ideas on social media, that I'm truly not bragging or showing off. They know that I'm simply sharing my love for what I do. Because I really do love it THAT MUCH. They know that I want others to share books and ideas with me, too.

So goofy, with author Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

The crazy part is these friends don't even live within 100 miles of me.

I've had a ton of changes in my life the past few years. Job change, location change, family changes. But these lovelies have been the most wonderfully supportive nerds. Even from afar.

I'm amazed at how my understanding of friendship keeps changing, even as I approach the 40th birthday. I always assumed that adults had it all together, which I of course know now is laughably wrong.

So thank you, LB, KB, MS, MK, KP, SD, RH, KS, CD, JL, NB, and MG and so many others.
Thanks for putting up with me and learning with me and geeking out about the same stuff with me. 
(Even those of you who don't love Winn-Dixie.)

(But I mean, really about the Winn-Dixie thing? Who doesn't love that book?)

Love you guys. 

Until next time.