This is my post from January of 2011. It got a lot of comments because it hit a nerve. We are in this business, all of us, to help children, and to help ALL children. So even though most teachers and school librarians are taking a well-deserved vacation right now, and writers are taking off here and there (next month we're going to the Galapagos to revisit those gorgeous islands, and to speak), our hearts never take a vacation, do they? Speaking of hearts, knock wood, no more problems with that organ here. See you in the fall!
When I was thinking about what I would write for this post, after a month filled with family medical stuff, which included intense nerve pain for a month (me); a middle of the night dramatic collapse (husband) followed by 34 hours in a NYC Emergency Room (if only I wrote for grown-ups I'd have enough material for the rest of my life just from the set of rotating characters in the bed next to us), I decided I would take the easy way out and ask some teacher friends of mine to give me a list of books they wish someone would write.
living at the poverty level
severely lacking in life experiences/background knowledge (some never heard of a groundhog, in 5th grade!!!)
very below grade level
lots with learning disabilities (due to mother's choices while pregnant or lack of nutrition when young or experiences sustained - eating lead paint chips - ??? who really knows...there's just soooo many of this type of child in our school)
often very street-wise
severe lack of boundaries within the home
First hand experience with a lot of violence - seeing dad burn mom, seeing sister shot in gang-related issue, shots outside of their homes, beaten/cigarette-burned themselves, often by those they 'love'
people doing drugs/drinking while kids are right there...."
And yet, they go to my friend Jane's class and she brings the world of history to them. However she can. And those kids, kids who get free breakfast and lunch at school, kids who probably have no books at home, have parents who work two jobs, or don't work at all, kids who have close relatives in jail, etc., these fifth graders are hungry to hear about success. They are captivated by heroes, real-people heroes with foibles and hard lives; people who make bad choices, who struggle and ultimately achieve success.
Let's see what we can do to help--fellow writers, publishers, librarians and teachers. Please, first of all, suggest some books you think Jane might be able to use in her class. Remember that although she teaches fifth grade, she needs books that are written on lower reading levels. (A quick aside, my friend who teaches fourth grade in a private school said she also needs books on historical and scientific topics on lower reading levels.) Second, let's all look for ways to write and publish books, on lower reading levels, about people these kinds of kids can relate to. As I finish this post (on Monday morning) my son just put "Shed a Little Light" by James Taylor song on the stereo--