Winter break gave me the chance to dive into the box of books I had had shipped home from NCTE, which was just the kind of vacation activity I enjoy most: reading!
The first book I reached for was The King Of The Birds, Acree Graham Macam’s delightful picture book:
Natalie Nelson’s gorgeous cover had caught my eye as I was wandering through the maze of book displays at NCTE, and I remember stopping to leaf through it even though I had promised myself that since I had already bought too many books already and blown the book budget, I would absolutely NOT buy this book. It took just one page to break that promise, for how could I resist the glorious story of how Flannery O’Connor came to add to her collection of birds (it was news to me that O’Connor even collected birds – lots of them – when she was a young girl) with a peacock? Unfortunately, this is a peacock who refuses to preen, until O’Connor wakes up in the middle of the night with a solution:
This is the perfect book to share with my students on a bleak winter day when they are tired of school and everything about school and need a jolt of color and diversion.
Georgia Congressman John Lewis led the iconic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and has continued to lead us in our march towards a more just society. His story is now also told in a three volume graphic novel, which is a wonderful way to keep it alive and part of the conversation in classrooms. One of my favorite anecdotes from March was the one about how Lewis discovered his love and gift for preaching, which is the basis of Jabari Asim’s new picture book Preaching To The Chickens:
Jabari Asim’s poetic telling of Lewis’ story resonates because we know the great work that was to come from this humble beginning:
Like the ministers he heard in church, John wanted to preach, so he gathered his chickens in the yard.
John stretched his arms above his flock and let the words pour forth. The chickens nodded and dipped their beaks as if they agreed. They swayed to the rhythm of his voice.
John’s henhouse sermons became so regular that his brother and sisters took to calling him Preacher. He didn’t mind. He knew that someday he’d speak before thousands. He hoped that his words would stir people’s souls and move them to action.
E.B. Lewis’ exquisite paintings allow the reader to linger and savor the power of this story all the more:
I had heard so many amazing things about Jason Reynolds’ Ghost, that I knew I would love it…and did.
Castle Cranshaw prefers to be known as “Ghost”, on account of his amazing ability to run, and run fast. Ghost does not see himself as a team player for any sport, not even basketball (which he loves). That’s just not who he thinks he is, a team player. But then he comes across a track team led by a cab driving coach who seems more than just a cab driving coach. And, as he is drawn into the team and its ethos, he comes to learn about himself, about the anger that boils up inside him when he thinks of his father, and how he came to be so fast in the first place – running away from his father.
Ghost is one of those rare books that one reads and connects to on so many deep and important levels: it’s a story about discovering one’s true self, and about confronting one’s darkest secrets; but it’s also a story about perseverance and having faith, and how important it is for children to have adults in their lives who can nurture their desire to persevere and to have faith in people.
Late in the story, coach tells Ghost, “…you can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.” Ghost is a powerful reminder that our kids need adults in their lives who can help point them towards what they want to be.