I often find myself sinking into despair when thinking about the news these days. I can only imagine how overwhelming it must be for children and young adults who are experiencing their formative years in these troubled times. That makes it all the more important that we find stories of people who are doing all that they can to make the world a better place, even in the midst of great suffering.
Two books that I read this week seem, at least on the surface, to focus more on terrible events than on compassion and heroism. Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin, is a young adult historical fiction novel about a Jewish family that flees Poland in 1940 to seek safety in Shanghai, China (here is a New York Times article that gives more information on Jews in Shanghai). Lillia, the protagonist, and her family live in crowded conditions without a steady supply of food or a method of maintaining hygiene. China had already been invaded by Japan at this point in time and after Japan joined the Axis Powers, fears of concentration camps in China must have been extreme. Lillia and her family suffer tremendously, but there is still an element of hope and a belief in humanity communicated throughout this book. The Jews of Shanghai started a school to make sure that their children still had some elements of a normal life. American aid workers stayed in China even after the United States went to war against Japan and continued to provide supplies and medical care to the Chinese. The Japanese, encouraged by Germany to exterminate the Jews of China, refused to do so.
Never forget or never again are phrases that are often used after wars or other horrible atrocities. Seventy years after the Holocaust, countries around the world are still participating in ethnic cleansing and genocide. Other countries are still refusing to accept refugees from these persecuted groups. Maybe the phrase should be: never forgotten, but frequently ignored. There I go again, focusing on the negative. Don Brown’s graphic novel, Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, does not cover up the extreme violence taking place in Syria or the reluctance of many nations to accept those who have fled. These stories should not and cannot be ignored. However, he also recounts tales of police officers who offer food instead of pulling their weapons or of volunteer teachers who work with traumatized youth to prevent them from losing educational opportunities.
These are the kinds of stories we need to share with our students. Stories of people who don’t just fight against hatred, but teach and practice love.
Justice 12: I can recognize, describe and distinguish unfairness and injustice at different levels of society.
Action 17: I take responsibility for standing up to exclusion, prejudice, and injustice.
RL.3- Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
RL.6- Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.