Who knew Jane Austen would be the one to credit with one of my favorite library activities this school year? You see, her birthday was on Sunday, December 16. Ms. Austen's been around our school a lot this year - our One Act team did "Darcy & Elizabeth" as their show. When I found out that one of our classes was finishing up "Pride & Prejudice" and getting ready to take a final over the book during the last week of school before Christmas break, a light bulb went on above my head.
Fortunately, the teacher is quick to collaborate and tries new things all of the time. He loved the idea of having a tea party, and the date was quickly decided upon. I stalked Amazon, dollar stores, and begged for cups and saucers. I designed name cards on Canva using one of my favorite Jane Austen quotes:
My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.
All of the preparation was well worth it! Everything pulled through - from the linens arriving on time, to beautiful "silver" serving trays at the dollar store, and finally the cups and saucers being provided from a variety of folks.
However, nothing could have been better than when the students were physically here. I taught nineteen high schoolers how to brew a cup of tea. They experimented with three different kinds of tea: English Breakfast, Earl Grey, and Candy Cane. They added lemon and sugar. They snacked on dainty biscuits as conversation flowed about anything and everything - mostly just questions about tea and how their friends were preparing it. A student played harpsichord music on his phone to complete the atmosphere. Everyone was calm and enjoying each other's company. Snapchat was BUSY!
It was so nice to be able to give students the experience to sit and chat, try something new, and - dare I say - relax. Later, they went over the study guide for their test tomorrow. When students left, some asked if they could take their name tags with them. (Of course I said yes!)
What I hope they take with them from today is the value of just sitting and being with others. Present in the moment and being open to something new - even if it's something you think isn't your thing.
We've decided that we must find an author with a passion for coffee for next semester. Perhaps a modern author with different musical tastes. Let us know if you have any ideas!
"Born a Crime" had me laughing out loud, pausing to wonder, and voraciously listening - until I only had 90 minutes left. Then, I slowed down. I didn't want the book to end. I feel this is unique to the audiobook - this desire to savor what little storytelling is left. Some of the subject matter was really hard to listen to, not because it was graphic, but because I've never really experienced inequality. Trevor helped me understand a bit more what it's like to be "on the other side" of the issue by letting me hear about apartheid. These first hand accounts are irreplaceable. Soon enough, fiction will paint its magical dust over them. Readers will experience the events with a veil over their eyes.
The resounding message of perseverance - doing what it takes and not forgetting who you are - intermingled with a setting just similar enough to be relatable yet with intriguing differences make this a sure winner for people who enjoy autobiographies, Trevor Noah's performances, or are just interested in what it is like to grow up in another part of the world.
This week in a training, the group of teachers I was with were asked a simple question:
What is your purpose?
Then, a room of hard-working, still passionate folks went around the room telling their tales. P.E. teachers, weights trainers, Special Education teachers, classroom teachers, English as a Second Language teachers - a whole mix of wonderful and weary teachers whose eyes lit up as they explained their purpose.
When it got to me, the facilitator said,
I know your answer will be different from the classroom teachers. It might be a little harder. What's your purpose?
But...is it? Is it really? That different?
So I prepared to give my elevator speech.
Elevator speech = a 30 seconds or less explanation of why you do what you do. They vary in purpose, direction, etc, but they are passionate and educated responses. They are common in the library world. We have many versions prepared in our heads. When I told some friends about elevator speeches over dinner, they were shocked. None of them had ever had to have one. They weren't librarians.
We're asked to defend ourselves a lot. Prove our worth.
I took a deep breath. I explained that I echoed some of the sentiments of the teachers who had responded before me. Then I added:
I left classroom teaching because I found something special in the role of school librarian. I found the meaning behind talking to students about life. Their lives, fictional lives, world events, history, things they have experienced, things I hope they never have to. It doesn't matter. I get to talk to them about everything. I get to guide them in critical thinking. I get to be the one not shackled by a content area. When they come to the library, they get the world. They get an adult who has the time and desire to have conversations classroom teachers often don't get to have because they are restricted by time and content. I'm not sitting and checking out books. I'm giving students the opportunity to experience all life has to offer in the safest way possible.
I wish I could honestly say that the room cheered.
However, I do think that my colleagues - even those who have worked with me for the past five years - got to see something a little different in my response. I hope they saw pride, passion, and a pretty dang enticing career. I hope they were proud to have me as their librarian - at least as proud as I am to have them as teachers in my school - because we're united. We're building what we hope will become fully functional humans in our global society together. We have the same purpose, just dressed up a little differently.
My purpose is your purpose; yours is mine. We're a village because it takes one.
You know that feeling when you pick up a book that's about a truly underrepresented minority in YA (Young Adult) lit, and your hopes are SO HIGH but your expectations are SO LOW? That's how I went into listening to the audiobook of "A Very Large Expanse of Sea" by Tahereh Mafi.
From the get-go, I loved Shirin. She's a potty-mouth, withdrawn teenage girl who has BEEN THROUGH SOME STUFF. This survivor was assaulted in the wake of 9/11 for wearing a hijab, nearly killed. Dealing with the outside fear of her religion every day leads Shirin to the safety of solitude by the time high school hits.
Shirin is very interesting to me. As a high school teacher with a few Muslim students in my school, I sort of listened with the context of, "Is this what they go through?" Honestly, the book's events are very realistic without being over the top. Some crazy things happen, but they are not outside of the realm of possibility. For example, Shirin's love of breakdancing turns into a passion as she joins a breakdancing team. What an amazing catalyst for empowerment! (Side note: I remember the first time I saw women in hijabs playing roller derby. I cheered and may have shed a tear of intense pride.)
Conversations take place throughout AVLEOS that give the reader more information about what it's like to wear a hijab, why some girls wear them, and what the consequences are for not wearing one. Basically, any question you've secretly wanted to ask a woman wearing a hijab are addressed in the book in a natural way.
Overall, what I liked best about the book isn't the love story or the acceptance Shirin gains from her peers. It's simply an the authentic voice and experiences of Shirin. Anyone can read "A Very Large Expanse of Sea" and benefit from it. I have it in the high school library where I work and am committed to promoting it. My students have a lot of experience with Latino culture and Nebraska culture, but not with other cultures that are now being represented in our school. This book is a great way to acquire understanding both of what it's like to be a Muslim high school girl and to examine how the people around her react to her presence.
Mark my words:
YOU WILL SEE YOURSELF IN THIS BOOK.
Will you like what you see?