It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and Sheila at BookJourney
I remember the days of having pen pals and racing to the mailbox to see if my latest letter had elicited a response from a pen pal in far away Germany, Japan, or Denmark. Sometimes, stickers or photographs would be included, and sometimes (oh, joy!) a small package would arrive brimming with exotic candy and unusual treats. In this age of Snapchat and Instagram, none of my students have, or even seem interested in, pen pals. And that is sad, especially when one reads of the way a pen pal can be a window into a life you can never imagine.
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives is the perfect example of just such a window that opened up new worlds for its authors – Caitlyn Alifirenka, a “typical 12-year old American girl, far more interested in what I should wear to school than what I might learn there”, and 14 year-old Martin Ganda of Mutare, Zimbabwe. At first, Caitlyn writes breezy letters filled with her friendship dramas, trips to the mall, and school gossip. And, at first, Martin tries to keep his real life from his pen pal. His family struggles to put food on the table, and there are times in which it is a choice between paying school fees and covering the month’s rent.
But, bit by bit, letter by letter, Martin shares the difficulties of eking out the bare necessities of life in a country ravaged by economic and political problems. For Martin, a gifted and brilliant student with hopes and dreams of furthering his education and having a different life, every day is a struggle to have enough food, and hold on to some semblance of stability. Once Caitlyn is able to read between the lines and discover what Martin is really up against, her generous spirit and sense of compassion and fairness propels her into activism. Together with her remarkable parents, she is able to affect change in Martin’s life and his prospects for a better future.
The book is arranged in chapters told in the voices of Martin and Caitlin, with snippets of their actual letters woven in. i loved the way the story of this friendship grew over the years, with each friend learning more about the others’ world. I especially loved the way Cailyn’s understanding of Martin’s life expanded her own thinking about what is important, what really matters. So many of the kids I teach are in the same sort of bubble of privilege and entitlement as Caitlin was, so it would be an eye opening experience to read about Martin’s life – about the way, really, that so many of the world’s children live.
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives is a must have book for classroom libraries- I am so glad that I had a chance to read it, and can’t wait to share it with my students. I can envision many meaningful class discussions about social activism and awareness. Perhaps I can even encourage my kids to start thinking about pen pals!