I love ending each week thinking about all that I have to celebrate. Join Ruth Ayres who shares a Celebration Link up on her blog each week. Thank you to Ruth for the inspiration.
This week I am celebrating the power of books to cause a stir. To inspire questions. To promote thinking and lots of discussion.
Last weekend I read a title that I just knew I had to share with my class: Ruby’s Wish written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
I brought it in early in the week to read aloud. Students were surprised by so much in this book about a little girl in a prosperous Chinese family wants an education like her brothers and male cousins. She doesn’t want to settle with only marriage and motherhood. This story was especially powerful because it is based on the life of the author’s grandmother. A beautiful example of a little girl who speaks up and the grandfather who hears her. The children were shocked that at one time in China’s history, a man could have multiple wives. They were most surprised that boys could go to University when girls could not. When Ruby received an admission letter for University from her Grandfather, there was lots of nodding. And then the questions. The biggest one: “But why could the boys go to school and the girls couldn’t?” I asked the children if they would like to read more books that explored this question. The room erupted, “YES!”
And so, the next day I brought in Every Day is Malala Day by Rose McCarney with Plan International and read it to the students. This book is a photographic thank you letter to Malala Yousafzai for her courage and her determination to speak up for the rights of girls to have an education. Both text and photos (of girls all over the world) are powerful.
“People everywhere wondered why it was so hard for girls to have an education. But you and I know the answer. In many countries bullets are not the only way to silence girls.”
This book inspired outrage. Confusion. Upset and indignation. And rich, important discussion. I overheard two little girls talking about this book as they looked at it again together.
“It’s the ladies who should be having the most education because they are mostly watching the kids and kids have lots of questions. The Moms need to know stuff.”
On Friday Morning, with the intention of sharing Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, I put this statement on the board in the morning:
As students noticed it, it became very interesting in the room. There was whispering. Some children raced over to me immediately.
“Ms. Gelson, why did you write that on the board? Womens can be whatever they want!”
More children started to express their upset and confusion.
“I can be a Doctor. I’m a girl. I can be.”
“Really, I can’t be a Doctor?”
“Oh no. The girls are going to be mad about this. I don’t think it’s true.”
“No. It is true. My Mom was told she couldn’t be a Doctor in her country.”
“Are the girls only allowed to be nurses? That’s stupid.”
I had to reassure everyone that I didn’t believe this statement but had put it up as a writing prompt. I asked them to go write for 10 minutes about their thinking. Many leaped up to share their thoughts with each other as they wrote.
Excerpts from some student writing are shared below. Note that I am sharing the writing from both boys and girls here:
“Why can’t women be doctors? It is silly. It can be possible for women to be doctors. Women can be whatever they want.”
“Silly! Sad! Because the girls don’t get to be doctors and the boys do. The girls just have to be the stinky old nurses. Why can’t the boys be the nurses and the girls be the doctors?”
“Women can be whatever they want if they put their heart to it! That makes me mad. That’s so silly. That’s not fair. Why would they think that? Wwwwwwhy!!!??”
“Some womens can be doctors if they’re more smarter than the boys. All that matters is about knowledge. It doesn’t matter if you are female or male.”
“Why? It makes me mad because they can. Girls are smart. They should have an education.”
“It seems really unfair if this is true. Because if boys are doctors, girls can be doctors too.”
This little thinker worked out her questions and thinking as she went.
“Why only boys can be doctors, not girls? Can girls and boys be doctors? Can it be girls too? Girls can be doctors too”
This girl who wants to be a doctor, wrote this very powerful statement”
“That is silly. I am a doctor. Why can boys be everything? I am happy because I live in Vancouver. And in Vancouver, I can be everything! And in Vancouver in 2014, I can do everything!”
We came back to the carpet and I pulled out the book to read. But one little girl insisted she had to ask something before we started:
“What is it with all of these books talking about girls who can’t do things and can’t have education and stuff? Girls here can go to school just like boys.”
Then the beauty of classroom conversation took over. I sat back. Some children shared about their mothers in other countries not having the same possibilities. Some children reminded everyone that it is different in history and different in other countries. There was lots of talk and lots of buzz and finally we were able to begin this book.
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
We only read the first five or six pages and I had to promise that we will finish it next week. The best request?
“Can we talk more like this next week too?