In her thoughtful article for the New York Times entitled, What I Learned From Kristi Yamaguchi, Nicole Chung writes movingly about the power of seeing oneself represented in the books we read:
Representation, when you finally get it, can be life-changing, allowing you to imagine possibilities you never entertained before. If you’re seen as irrelevant, on the other hand, or rarely seen at all-if your identity is reduced time and time again to a slickly packaged product or the same tired jokes and stereotypes-it can be harder to believe in your own agency and intrinsic worth.
As a teacher, I see this play out in my classroom almost on a daily basis when my students choose what they want to read or respond to what they’ve read. For what seemed like a very, very long time, the list of kids who were not represented in any of our classroom books was a long one. Although we have quite a distance to travel yet, I am happy to say that this is finally changing. Last week I found two new books at our town library, both of which featured same-sex parents.
Sarah Dooley’s Ashes to Asheville begins when twelve-year-old Fella (short for Ophelia) is hauled out of bed late one night by her sister Zany. Fella has been living with her grandmother ever since her Mama Lacy’s death. She misses her Mama Shannon and her sister Zany, but Fella’s grandmother (and the court) insists that Fella would be better off with a blood relative instead of Mama Shannon. All Fella has left of her mother is an urn of her ashes, but Zany aims to change all that with her plan to drive Mama Lacy’s ashes back to the place where they all lived happily together, their hometown of Asheville.
Of course, their road trip turns out to have more twists and turns than either of them could have anticipated, and it takes the unlike partnership of Mama Shannon and Grandma Madison to bring Zany and Fella back home again – home to the mama they have left.
I loved the humor in this story, and the way Dooley writes about life with two mamas: not everyone was kind, and there were some places where they were more accepted for the loving family they were. But, they were a real family, no question about that. Ashes to Asheville is a wonderful book for any classroom library, and I’m glad to have added it to mine.
Nanci Turner Stevenson’s Georgia Rules is set in country I personally love and hold dear – the North Country of upstate New York and Vermont. The story, however, begins in Atlanta. Maggie’s mother and step-father’s divorce leads mother and daughter back to the Vermont farm Maggie’s late father had willed to her. It’s the farm that has been in the family for many generations, and Maggie’s father seemed to have an inkling that Maggie would love it too, and come home to at last.
At first, neither Maggie nor her mother (a Southern belle from head to toe) find anything about the farmhouse or rural Vermont to like one bit. But, little by little, Maggie discovers more to know and admire in the father she hardly knew, just as she comes to treasure the landscape and serenity of the farm. Georgia Rules is full of vividly imagined characters and lively action – it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.