Celebration: Following the questions

celebrate link up

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!”

 Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

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.”

Every Day is Malala Day  Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

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:

 Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

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.

 Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

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

 Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

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?

22 thoughts on “Celebration: Following the questions

  1. Carrie, I read Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors as part of my Mock Caldecott with second graders and then recently read it with my fourth graders as part of another unit, in both instances the reactions were the same: confusion and anger. The students were confused by such antiquated thinking (although it still exists) and angry that women would be deemed as less smart or less capable.I love what was happening in your classroom this week. I wish I had more time with my students to engage in longer conversations.

    • Thanks for sharing this Jennifer. Isn’t it great how this book can be read and enjoyed by students of various ages? They do get so incensed! I loved the passion! I feel lucky to keep stretching this thinking/learning through books.

  2. Carrie, I love Ruby’s wish and read it every year around the time we celebrate Lunar New Year. My kinders too are amazed about the “long ago time in China” . I love how you connected this with the other books you discuss. I know some and will check out the others. Living in our community of female doctors, lawyers and professors, this surprises them! They don’t know it still continues in parts of our world. 😦

    • How lucky they are to be surprised and not touched by the discrimination that still exists. But I think it is important that they realize just how lucky they are. Books like this allow for this discussion. So glad you are also a fan of Ruby’s Wish. A powerful book.

  3. Conversations like these are the best learning, aren’t they? The thinking, the questioning and sharing-empowers kids so much, and shows them also that other children do not have the freedoms we enjoy. The class where I’m working have been studying poverty and will interview some homeless people next week on a trip. I’m excited about this rich experience. I know you shared Ruby’s Wish with me, and will definitely find it, Carrie. I am not aware of the Malala picture book, so will look for that too. Thanks much, & happy mothers’ day!

    • I do think this book will really speak to you Linda. It is a book that just must be shared. I am thinking of getting this Malala book for my classroom. It will be frequently read I think.

  4. Hello Carrie! Your posts always speak to me, but this one especially! I think it’s our duty to highlight strong female characters who help ignite these powerful discussions in our classrooms. Ruby’s Wish and Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? are two of my personal favorites! Don’t you just love the feeling of introducing children to these women? Others titles I adore are The Tree Lady, Stand Straight Ella Kate, The Mermaid Queen, The Librarian of Basra. Have you enjoyed The Umbrella Queen (fiction by same author as Ruby’s Wish…simply delightful!)? Thanks for sharing your passion for quality books and your amazing classroom. You are such an inspiration!

    • Wow, Lisa – this comment made my day! Thank you! Thank you also for sharing these titles that you love. I adore Tree Lady too and just bought Librarian of Basra for my collection. I don’t know Stand Straight Ella Kate and haven’t read The Mermaid Queen yet. I have read The Umbrella Queen – just putting it together now that it is the same author! Thanks for all of these suggestions.

  5. Great reads and powerful conversations. It’s so wonderful they want more. We’ve had similar conversations reading about Malala in Scholastic. We read A Long Walk to Water which speaks to the same situation in the Sudan. It’s so important to see that what our students have shouldn’t be taken for granted. Some have to fight for the right!

    • Agreed! World and historical perspective are so important – even at a young age, children can grasp concepts of equity and discrimination. My son is reading A Long Walk to Water right now. I still have to read this title – I know it is so powerful.

  6. Loved this post so, so much! Powerful things happen when we foreground questions and step back to allow our students space to talk. Such amazing thinking and insight! Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? is one of my favorite titles of the past year. Looking forward to reading the other books you shared (plus the ones recommended in the comments!).

    • Thanks Elisabeth! I have been waiting months to share Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? – it was finally the right time and wow, the engagement is so great! And we’ve just begun the book! I am excited to continue reading more titles related to where our conversations take us.

  7. I have this book somewhere and haven’t read it. Shame on me. Thank you for taking the time to celebrate in such a complete way. I need to think about how I want to use this book as we end our year. I’d love for the kids to think about wanting an education instead of being forced in to one.

  8. Great celebration of the power of the read aloud. Isn’t that what we really want – to help the children grow into open-minded, thoughtful, principled and caring individuals? Your choice of book(s) allows deep and meaningful discussions of real-world issues that probably stay with the kids for a long time. Wishing you more wonderful moments with the book and the students next week.

  9. I love the books you share in this post, Carrie! The last one, and its ensuing conversations, are priceless! What a wonderful way to get your students engaged! Your post brought to mind the “Kids React” video series on YouTube! I love learning from their wisdom 🙂

  10. Pingback: Monday May 12th, 2014 | There's a Book for That

  11. Pingback: Monday May 26th, 2014 | There's a Book for That

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