Think back to a book you have read that was so absorbing, so beautiful that it made you want to be a participant in the story. I often feel like I want to befriend a character in a book that I am reading, but it is rare for me to wish that I could just pack up and move to live within a fictitious community. Reading The Brave by James Bird was definitely one of these rare experiences.
The book begins with Collin, the main character, being expelled from yet another school in California. In what seems to be a not uncommon scenario in today’s schools, Collin has been asked to leave because he is being bullied. You read that right, Collin is the one being bullied. He is unable to respond in conversations without counting the letters in words that someone has spoken to him and beginning his own speech by reporting on that number. Collin can’t control this compulsion-it is painful for him not to announce the numbers- but everyone, including his father, is annoyed by the counting. Collin lives with his dad and hasn’t seen his mom since he was an infant. So finding out that he is going to live with her on a Native American reservation in Minnesota is a bit of a surprise.
From the moment he arrives, though, Collin finds belonging and acceptance. While there are still bullies at school, he has people to come home to who see his counting as just something that he has to deal with and not as something that is wrong with him. It is a stumbling block that he will get past when and if he is meant to. In the meantime, he is exactly who he is supposed to be. It isn’t just Collin’s family who sees him this way, it is also the wildly wonderful young woman who lives next door. She spends most of her time in a treehouse where she paints and feeds members of her family (many of whom happen to be butterflies).
This hints at the mysticism that is included in the book, but I would shy away from using words like fantasy or magic. There are ghosts and metamorphoses, but they are handled so gently by Bird that none of it ever seems unbelievable. These parts of the story always feel right; like nothing else could be so real or justified. Collin helps us to accept these elements because they are also so new to him. Near the beginning of the book, Collin asks his mom if all of her feelings and intuitions are a “Native American thing” and she responds by pointing out that he, too, is Native American. The way we see the world might be influenced by our cultural backgrounds, but in the end it is always up to us. We choose how we view ourselves, each other, and the events that shape our world.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Identity 4: I express pride and confidence in my identity without perceiving or treating anyone else as inferior.
Diversity 8: I respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.
Diversity 9: I relate to and build connections with other people by showing them empathy, respect and understanding, regardless of our similarities or differences.
RL.2- Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
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.